Turkey has a variety of reasons to criticize its eastern neighbor Armenia, which refuses to retract its claim of the Armenian genocide in the late Ottoman era and therefore has bad relations with Turkey. The two countries have relations that can be described as frosty at best. But for eight villages in eastern Turkey, Armenia poses a wholly different problem - high cellphone bills.
Living in the immediate vicinity of Armenia means a frequent, automatic switch to GSM networks in Armenia for villagers. This in turn ends up in the bills as "calls abroad" or "calls from abroad" and leads to outrageous charges.
Residents of Küçük Aküzüm, Kalkankale, Küçük Pirveli, Büyük Pirveli, Çetindurak, Büyük Aküzüm, Kayaköprü and Aslanhane villages in the eastern province of Kars that border Armenia are frustrated with the switch. They say that inefficient base stations of Turkish GSM networks lead to weak reception and their cellphones naturally respond to the better reception offered by Armenian networks. Villagers complain they have to pay bills as high as TL 400 ($146) a month. Teoman Gelekçi, headman of Küçük Aküzüm village, said they contacted companies for improvement of cellphone network infrastructure, although nothing has happenedd. He said that setting up a new base station that would offer better reception would resolve their problem.
Celal Kılıç, headman of Aslanhane village, said cellphone reception long remained weak in his village and they had to climb up to higher ground to make a call through Turkish GSM operators.
Hasan Karabağ is among the villagers complaining of the high cost of mobile phone calls. "We have to pay a bill between TL 300 and TL 400 every month. My callers are worried, too, because they are charged with calling abroad when they called me," he said.
Turkey's three GSM operators boast a high rate of reception even in remote villages and it remains to be seen whether they would respond to the call of the villagers in Kars.