Why Kurdish politicians should start learning the language of development
Turkey is in a process of reconciliation. After 30 years of armed Kurdish uprising, the country is in a state of cautious optimism. This is Turkey’s second attempt in the last 10 years to move toward a solution. The first one failed after a series of public diplomacy disasters. The government was at the time unaware of the nonlinear dynamics of reconciliation processes. I hope that this time is different.
If peace does come about, should we expect a dividend? Yes. But who has the most to gain from the process, Gaziantep or Diyarbakır? Gaziantep, definitely. The economic impact of the reconciliation process is best analyzed by comparing the investment climate in different cities around Turkey. At TEPAV, we have been assessing investment climates at the city level for the past two years. A comparison between İzmir and Diyarbakır’s investment climates shows that there is going to be a peace dividend. A comparison between Gaziantep and Diyarbakır, however, indicates that Diyarbakır has less to gain than Gaziantep. The problem in Diyarbakır is not only political uncertainty due to the conflict but a severe lack of connectivity, a structural problem.
Let me explain by starting with a short lesson on the geography of the conflict. İzmir is on the Aegean coast in western Turkey, while Gaziantep and Diyarbakır lie in the southeast of the country. Internal migration has been the major driving force of Turkey’s economic growth in the last five decades and the population is ethnically mixed throughout the country. İzmir and Gaziantep however, are mostly Turkish while Diyarbakır has a mostly Kurdish population. As the armed Kurdish insurgency is centered in the southeast, İzmir is far away from the conflict while both Diyarbakır and Gaziantep are close to the action. There are two dichotomies here: one between east and west and the second within the east.
The first issue distinguishing Gaziantep and Diyarbakır from İzmir is access to finance. In İzmir, 17 percent of respondents have access to bank loans. That figure declines to 3 percent in Gaziantep and less than 1 percent in Diyarbakır, and a similar pattern emerges in the access to insurance services. So uncertainty is high and access to services low in the in the immediate conflict area. Anecdotal evidence supports that. I know of a businessman whose wife called him about five times during his five-hour trip between Ağrı and Diyarbakır out of concern for his safety. If the peace process can lift that uncertainty from people’s shoulders, we can expect a healthy peace dividend.
There is also a dichotomy within the east, between Gaziantep and Diyarbakır. Gaziantep has 43 companies that make it onto the list of top 1,000 largest industrial companies in Turkey, while Diyarbakır has only one company on that list. A similar difference exists in the export performance of the two provinces. Why? Only a few cities in Turkey have access to high-quality expressways and Gaziantep is one of those few. Thanks to late President Turgut Özal’s highway vision from the 1980s, Gaziantep is connected to the port cities of Mersin and İskenderun, and also to the Habur gate, opening up the Iraqi market. But Diyarbakır is currently not on this highway route, which is expensive to construct, as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan knows very well. So here is the miracle for you. Thanks to Özal, Gaziantep is getting a bigger share of the peace dividend than Diyarbakır. Gaziantep is more ready than Diyarbakır to reap the benefits of peace.
If the political problem is solved, Diyarbakır will have to deal with its structural problems, just like everyone else. Connectivity should be its main concern. Kurdish politicians should start learning a new language. The language of economics and development.