Fish, nuts and jobs; elections in Trabzon

TRABZON – Turkish Daily News | 7/9/2007 12:00:00 AM | GÖKSEL BOZKURT

Trabzon is in the center of Turkey's Black Sea region, surrounded by mountains and it influences the economy and politics in the region. On one side, one sees the sea that provides a livelihood

Trabzon is in the center of Turkey's Black Sea region, surrounded by mountains and it influences the economy and politics in the region.

On one side, one sees the sea that provides a livelihood for the fishermen and on the other there is a steep slope full of hazelnut trees. The problem here is that neither fish nor hazelnuts are enough to make ends meet for Trabzon's people.

Just like many places around the country, coffee houses are full of unemployed youth. The region is the country's and the world's hazelnut center but as a result of the crash in hazelnut prices and the total lack of industry, the people of Trabzon are far from happy.

A recent spate of crimes has also dramatically affected the mood of the people. The murder of a priest of the Santa Maria Italian Catholic church in Trabzon by a teenager, the murder of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink by another teenager from the city and several efforts by mobs to lynch rights groups trying to protest against the conditions in prisons.

The people blame unemployment for their restless youth. “The people here face serious economic difficulties. There is high unemployment. Consequently, some are exploiting these teenagers,” said Kemal Karan, a shopkeeper in the Çarşıbaşı district.

Unemployment is one of the main factors in children and teenagers being used in illegal activities, says Trabzon Chamber of Commerce President Şadan Eren. “Trabzon receives a large number of migrants from all over Turkey. That's one of the main reasons why the rate of unemployment is rising,” he said.

Eren also said that the issue of hazelnuts was very important to the region, noting that the lack of industry necessitated serious amounts of assistance.

According to a study prepared by Professor Ahmet Ulusoy from Karadeniz Technical University, 26,000 businesses shut their doors from 2000 to 2006, reflecting the state of affairs in Trabzon.

Rise in nationalism:

The escalation of terrorist violence and several funerals of fallen soldiers have demoralized the people and provided a boost for nationalist sentiments to creep in and this is reflected in the projections made for the province in the parliamentary elections on July 22. A recent funeral of a soldier killed in the southeast was attended by 30,000 people.

In 2002, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) won six seats and the Republican People's Party (CHP) won two.

Locals believe this time around the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) will join the two. Out of the eight seats the province has, the AKP will win four, the CHP two and the MHP two, locals say.

When asked how the AKP could still be the leading party despite being criticized so often for its hazelnut policy, locals say the government's refusal to pay more for hazelnuts is more than made up for by its coal and education assistance.

The growth of the national economy has also helped the AKP.

“I am actually a CHP supporter,” said businessmen İsmet Bülük. “But I will vote for the AKP because during its term, I was able to buy a taxi license by taking out a bank loan.”

Promises focus on fish and nuts:

The competition among political parties raising the promise stakes is heating up in Trabzon too. The promises are mainly on hazelnut prices and fish. There is also some talk about transportation.

Hazelnut prices in 2005 were YTL 7 per kilogram and dropped to YTL 2 in 2006, sparking protests in the region. This year, it is around YTL 3.5. The price being half of what it was in 2005 is a serious problem for growers.

The Young Party's (GP) parliamentary candidate from Trabzon Ayhan Çağılcı does not hold back any punches on the issue and promised to pay the growers YTL 8 per kilogram of hazelnuts and sell it overseas for $13. Another project he envisages is to bring the railroad to the western Black Sea province of Samsun, four-and-a-half hours from Trabzon.

The AKP's provincial leader Erdoğan Beder admits hazelnut prices are a serious problem for them, but dismisses suggestions that it will cost them a lot of votes.

“We will win at least seven of the eight seats here,” he claims, adding, “The Agricultural Products Office (TMO) purchased YTL 600 million worth of hazelnuts. If it had not been for that, the price would have fallen to YTL 1.”

Beder promises to center their tourism strategy on the Sümela Monastery and launch a regional campaign to boost revenues. He also says the Çamurlu shipyards will be built, creating 5,000 jobs.

The CHP's deputy from Trabzon Şevket Arz claims support for the AKP has fallen significantly, noting that the AKP received 163,000 votes in the 2002 general elections and 146,000 in the 2004 local elections.

“The CHP will be the top party here in the upcoming elections. The government ruined hazelnut and tobacco growers. Unemployment is at record highs. The Trabzon municipality wanted to employ a few people the other day. There were 10,000 applications,” he said.

Another CHP deputy from Trabzon, Akif Hamzaçelebi, said the government had lost support due to its stance on terrorism, hazelnuts and the presidential elections, claiming that the CHP expected to win at least half of the eight seats in Trabzon.

The MHP is expected to be the principal beneficiary of the rise in nationalism.

MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli held a rally in Trabzon a week ago, attended by a crowd of around 15,000 people. At the rally, Bahçeli severely criticized Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the government for failing the nation on terrorism. Locals says this is the biggest ever crowd the MHP attracted in Trabzon. If it manages to pass the 10 percent election threshold, the MHP is expected to win at least two parliamentary seats in Trabzon.

The Democrat Party (DP) candidate is Eyüp Aşık, a former Motherland Party (ANAVATAN) deputy and minister, but almost no one gives them any chance because many believe they will fail to clear the threshold. The Saadet (Happiness or Contentment) Party (SP) candidate is Şeref Malkoç, former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan's lawyer, is seen as unlikely to stand any chance against the AKP.

Lack of momentum in CHP:

Trabzon is further proof that election cooperation by the CHP with the other main leftist party, Democratic Left Party (DSP) has failed to catch the imagination of the people. The DSP withdrew from the elections to support the CHP but the initial momentum it generated has failed to transform into rise in support.

The CHP won two seats in 2002 and most expect it to do the same this time around. Only if two parties manage to pass the election threshold, the CHP may win three seats in Trabzon.

New fad in Trabzon: Beard

As one walks in the Kunduracılar Shopping Center, one clearly sees the election mood sweeping the province. The people of the Black Sea are passionate, even about politics.

Barber Şenol Bayram in the shopping center says, “Unemployment has destroyed us. No one comes to my shop any more. The unemployed don't come here to shave. Beards are the new fad in Trabzon.”

The unemployment problem seems to estrange even those closest to it. Kemal öl, who sells lemons in front of the AKP headquarters in Trabzon, says, “There is an economic crisis. We cannot earn any money. I will vote for a party other than the AKP.”

Women of Trabzon:

There are many women in Trabzon who grow vegetables in their gardens and sell them in markets. Ayşe speaks of a customer in the market who believes YTL 0.75 is too expensive for a kilogram of cucumbers. “Should I give it for free?”

She turns and says, “Just look at it. It is very hard to earn a living here.”

Speaking to several women with headscarves at a teahouse, one realizes that day-to-day problems are more important to the people of Trabzon than the problems debated in Ankara. One person says, “I will not vote for the AKP because they failed to solve this problem,” showing her headscarf. Others intend to vote for the AKP.

The AKP's top candidate in Trabzon Faruk Nafiz Özak, the infrastructure minister, is much respected in the city and women say they will vote for the party because of him.

Everywhere you turn you see shopkeepers complaining about lack of customers. Selçuk Yurdakul, a shopkeeper at the Kunduracılar Shopping Center, says, “I am going to vote for the MHP.”

Pensioner Coşkun Aksay said economic problems had destroyed him. He is not happy with the candidates of political parties and says he is undecided even though he has been a loyal True Path Party (DYP) supporter.

  Youth disillusioned:

Rampant unemployment is especially devastating for the youth, most of whom spend their time at coffeehouses.

Speaking to a group of young people at a coffee shop, one gets a sense of their disillusionment. Cem Tosun says he is unemployed and jokingly adds, “When I go to the ballot box, I will vote for the party with the prettiest logo.” He says he doesn't expect anything from any of the parties. He asks, “What have they solved until now? What did they do in the past that would fill me with hope about the future?”

Dilek Erdem works part-time as a waitress. “I will not vote, because the current political structure does not produce solutions.”

Okan Baykan is more political. “I will vote for the Freedom and Cooperation Party (ÖDP). The main parties cannot solve anything. Trabzon was a leftist stronghold 20 years ago. Now it is all mixed.” His cousin Mutlu Bayran says he will choose between the CHP or the MHP, noting that for him the important thing was nationalism.

Politics fine up to a point:

The people of Trabzon love talking about politics but what they truly adore is Trabzonspor, their football team. Every street, shop, window has its compulsory Trabzonspor flags.

Mutlu Baykan says he doesn't care which party wins the election as long as Trabzon becomes the champion.

Unfortunately, Trabzonspor, considered one of the top four teams in the Turkish league, have been underachieving for the past few decades and have lagged behind their Istanbul rivals Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray and Beşiktaş for years.

This year it finished fourth, disappointing Trabzon and its many supporters yet again.

Salih Kurt who works at the industrial zone in the city says every party has its own problems. “If one puts a single spoon of yogurt into a barrel-full of milk, the taste turns sour. The people of the Black Sea like upfront people and only honest and upfront politicians understand them. ”While there is a lot of uncertainty in the minds of the people of Trabzon, one can be certain that parties' policies on economic problems, unemployment and the prices of hazelnuts will be the main determinants of the elections here.  



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