Military operations have ended in several southeastern towns, while ongoing in a few. In recent days the government has announced a comprehensive package to start reconstruction and rehabilitation in areas affected by terrorism.. Daily Sabah spoke with Cevdet Yılmaz, the minister of development, who is currently coordinating these reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts, to learn about their efforts.
Daily Sabah's Ali Ünal (L) speaking to Development Minister Yılmaz.
Yılmaz said that they will mend the wounds which terror has caused as soon as possible, while adding that the government will do whatever it takes to restore the affected regions. Yılmaz stated that they will be taking certain humane security measures to provide permanent security in the region, and highlighted how peace is essential for economic development, as it offers the greatest incentive.
DS: First of all, today is March 21, Nevruz. What are your opinions regarding this festival?
Nevruz is commonly valued throughout the region. What does Nevruz symbolize? The revival of nature, resurrection, life and a bonding agent for people… This is the essence of Nevruz. Yet once again, terrorist organizations or certain powers are trying to make it an occasion of destruction, conflict and discordance. I would like to emphasize that these kinds of acts are contradictory to what Nevruz symbolizes. Nevruz means life and liveliness, we do not have anything against the people who celebrate these aspects of it; however, certain security measures will be taken. We will not allow the chaos to settle in the region and creating an environment similar to the one in Syria.
DS: Before going into the reconstruction of the region, I would like to ask a question regarding your estimation of damage in the region. What is the current situation?
Unfortunately in some districts in the Southeast, the terrorist elements have deliberately blended in with the crowd, entered people's houses to cause casualties. Our security forces did what a democratic state with the rule of law should do. They fought against terror, while distinguishing civilian from terrorist, friend from foe; however during this process, some damage was inevitable. Now we are working to repair the damage caused to people's properties.
For example in Silopi, the counterterrorism operations are complete and the curfew is mostly over. After the operations, we did some damage assessment. Experts from the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning went to the field and cooperated with local authorities and property owners. Following the damage assessment, we declared Silopi was an at-risk area. This means that there is a new reconstruction plan for the region. The Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning is currently working to improve the said district with recreational facilities, parks and roads. This is the current situation.
Regarding the damaged flats, we are currently working on providing monetary compensation to owners whose properties suffered damage less than 10,000 Turkish Liras. For the heavily damaged buildings, we are thinking about building new housing, which will be designed according to the family and social structure of the region. We are providing aid to the people in terms of temporary housing and addressing certain social issues.
In Cizre, the situation is a bit different, as it is more heavily damaged. The operations there ended quite recently and I have visited Cizre a couple of times, talking with fellow citizens and shopkeepers. Currently, we are working on the damage assessment. We will have a similar process there with Silopi.
Unfortunately, many cities and districts in the Southeast are suffering from serious urbanization issues. This is due to the sudden emigration in the 1990s and the negligence of local administrations. As these administrations failed to develop a well-planned urbanization process, they caused irregular urbanization. With or without terror, we have to implement a well-planned urbanization understanding in these cities.
DS: When will the works be completed?
First of all, there is some damage to the infrastructure. We are repairing the irrigation systems and the waterworks through İller Bankası. The General Directorate of Highways is working on the roads. As I have said, we are providing monetary compensation to the owners of a property with light damage, which is a more hasty process, as they are able to repair their properties through the provided funds. More heavily damaged properties will be replaced with housing projects, for which the Housing Development Administration of Turkey (TOKİ) is working. Their experts are in the field, surveying the area. However, the real issue is that there is a problem in finding available land for public works and investments. Much of the land is privately owned. TOKİ experts are surveying for plot to be nationalized, if it is needed. Then we will build many housing projects. Hopefully, this will also revitalize the local economy, as we advise TOKİ to hire local workers and buy building materials from local stores. We also had a similar practice in the aftermath of Van earthquake.
DS: I want to ask about the works being done in Sur, a district of Diyarbakır. Recently, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said that Sur will be like Toledo. Could you summarize the developments?
Sur is a very special and historical region; however, it is, unfortunately, defaced by irregular urbanization. We previously had some restoration projects in this district. Instead of TOKİ, we will be working with Ministry of Culture and Tourism, together with the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning, the General Directorate of Foundations, along with people who know the social dynamics of Diyarbakır. We will base our work on the 2012 protection and reconstruction plan, as it was unanimously accepted. We will enact a restoration project, not urban renewal. It will bring out the historical face of Sur, while contributing to the development of Diyarbakır.
We want to transform Sur into a cultural and artistic center, which hosts a number of museums, while protecting its historical aspects. Sur and its Hevsel Gardens are cultural heritages, which were certified by UNESCO. Through enacting our plans in Sur, we believe that we will contribute to the growth of Diyarbakır as well.
DS: There are thousands of people who left their houses in order to not be affected by the operations. What are your plans about them? How will the return of the migrated families be realized?
I am always visiting the cities and districts in the region, and based on my observations, there are three different aspects to this matter.
The first is the physical aspect, which I have talked just before: urbanization, improvement of the physical environment. The second is the social dimension, which is about our impoverished citizens, youth and different segments of the society. Third is the economic aspect, which is about the revitalization of the local economy, including local shopkeepers and entrepreneurs. We will hopefully integrate all of these aspects and realize them.
There are two dimensions to social issues: short-term and long-term issues. For example, regarding the short-term issues, we could not hold the university exam in Şırnak due to the conflicts and they had to go to other cities. We provided 8,300 students with fare and accommodation. On the other hand, we are providing aid for temporary housing. Citizens who do not have the means to rent a flat or cannot live in their flat due to heavy damage, can apply to their local administration for financial aid. We are currently providing 1,500 citizens with this aid. There is also food and other forms of assistance. Some foundations are supporting us in this matter. Beside temporary aids, permanent education and healthcare policies are very important. We are working on these services to make them function as they were before, and even improve over time. I would like to thank the doctors and teachers in the region, who did their jobs under harsh conditions.
Regarding education, unfortunately the average stay of a teacher in the regions is fairly low. In Şırnak, the average is 17 months, which means a student sees three teacher changes in every four or five years. We are also working on how to address this issue.
DS: There was news that one person in every household would be employed. Could you inform us on this project?
We have provided employment to the members of destitute families through Turkish Employment Agency in these regions. For example, 400 youth were employed in Silopi and we will provide the same opportunity to 800 more on March 21. We are thinking of providing vocational education, which will prepare them for the future. They will be employed for 9 months. Similarly, we want to employ 2,000 youth also in Cizre.
As you know, the operations are over in İdil. We will employ 700 youth there, as well. This will be more helpful than social assistance, as it prepares them for the future.
DS.: As a part of the security measures, there were talks about the establishment of new police security checkpoints and some decisions were even published in the official gazette. How will this process proceed?
Without security, you cannot have quality living space, practice your democratic rights, or succeed in development. Therefore, security is an essential for human beings. We are taking the necessary security measures in this region. In order to not relive the same terrorist activities in the districts in the future, we are taking some permanent measures.
I would like to stress out that it should not be confused with the past understanding of security. We are employing a humane understanding of security, which values the lives and rights of our citizens. The terrorist organization is hurting the people of the region the most, and it is deliberate. They want the people to stay poor and even get poorer, so they can exploit it. We on the contrary are working for a more secure environment, in which the children can go to their schools without any problems, the patients can receive medical service and business people can do their business.
Silopi is a perfect example. It is a town right beside the Habur border gate, which is one of the most important border gates of Turkey. There is no reason for it not to thrive, as it has a central logistical location. Silopi is only 10-15 kilometers away from the Habur border gate, which in the past witnessed $11 billion worth of export. Therefore, we are talking about a region which has fertile land, a young population and the potential for trade with Iraq. However, the scourge that is terror obstructs this region's development. Therefore we will take any security measures necessary and mend their wounds. We will also continue to implement our long-term development policies. There is a strong and beautiful connection between security, economic development and democracy. I believe that the better we see this reality, the better our chances in becoming a society resistant to terror.
DS.: Lastly, could you inform us on what will be the new moves in the region for the business world and investors?
Firstly, a peaceful environment is the basis for economy. It is actually the greatest incentive. When a secure environment is absent, no private investors will invest and no qualified employees will work in the region. This will cause the trade to not function as it should. Therefore, we need to establish peace.
Secondly, as I have mentioned before, we have certain short-term measures, such as providing employment, which will revitalize the local economy, helping the business. Thousands of youth will work and spend their money for supplies, which in turn will increase the economic activity. We are providing interest-free loans for local shopkeepers. Similarly there are efforts to delay their premium and tax debts. We also want to implement microcredit to female entrepreneurs.
I believe that women and the youth are two key demographics in this process. We are taking every measure, both temporary and permanent, to improve their socio-economic conditions. We are hoping to accelerate the processes which were halted by terror, such as projects, regional incentives and factories for entrepreneurs; therefore, enacting our economic policies effectively in the region.
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