Bordering 3 nations, eastern province of Iğdır trade suffering

Bordering 3 nations, eastern province of Iğdır trade suffering

IĞDIR – Hürriyet Daily News
Bordering 3 nations, eastern province of Iğdır trade suffering

A view from the Mount Ararat in Iğdır. Iğdır enjoys a location with borders with three countries: Iran, Armenia, and the Nakhchivan autonomous region. AA photo

Situated on the border of three neighboring countries, the eastern province of Iğdır continues to remain one of the least developed parts of Turkey, unable to reap the benefits of border trade. 

A panel organized Tuesday by Garanti Bankası under the motto “Anatolian conversations” revealed that the city’s economic grievances were not limited to restrictions on border trade, but also that the city suffers from general misgivings in the Turkish agricultural sector.

“I came all the way from İzmir and it pained me to see all this land empty,” said Mahmut Eskiyörük, the head of a milk cooperative in İzmir. Situated in Northeastern Anatolia, Iğdır, in contrast to other neighboring cities, enjoys a mild climate, which enabled its farmers to work, even cultivating cotton until the early 2000s. However, 25 percent of arable land currently remains idle in Iğdır.

“The main problem in the sector is the fact that a large majority of it is made up of small size producers,” said Eskiyörük, explaining how the Tire Milk cooperative united the forces of small producers under one roof, enabling them to increase profits. 

“Small producers will either have to grow, join together, or perish against big producers. In Turkey when I talk about cooperatives, people ask whether I am a communist,” he added, underlining that although Turkey’s conditions necessitate the establishment of cooperatives, there are still too few in Turkey.

Prominent economist Asaf Savaş Akat, meanwhile, explained the benefits of border trade by giving Switzerland, which trades with all its neighbors, as an example. Iğdır enjoys a location that makes it Turkey’s only city with borders to three countries: Iran, Armenia, and the Nakhchivan autonomous region, which is part of Azerbaijan. The border with Armenia is closed due to Turkey’s refusal to open borders until there is reconciliation between Yerevan and Turkey’s ally, Azerbaijan. 

However, Turkey’s exports to Armenia are estimated to be around $300 million, as indirect trade is conducted via Georgia. 

Doğubeyazıt, an hour’s drive from Iğdır, has Turkey’s biggest border gate, Gürbulak. Iğdır has no border gate with Iran, and trade also proves difficult because of the embargo imposed on Iran due to Tehran’s controversial nuclear program. Trade with Nakhchivan, meanwhile, remains limited.

City has great tourism potential 

Increasing border trade is key for Iğdır to get out of its economic vicious circle, but local authorities do not seem optimistic about any change in the situation as long as political problems remain unsolved.
“We believe Iğdır should also make use of its tourism potential,” said Nafiz Karadere, the executive vice president of Garanti Bankası. The spectacular Ishak Paşa Palace is just half an hour’s drive from Iğdır.

“The Ishak Paşa Palace embodies One Thousand and One Nights romanticism,” says a review on the Lonely Planet website, and although initial restoration work has been the subject of criticism, the Palace’s setting - perched on a small plateau gazing at Mount Ararat across the Anatolian plains - is definitely worth a visit.

While Iğdır enjoys a breathtaking view of Mount Ararat, mountain climbers prefer the neighboring Doğubeyazıt as base to make it to the summit, as it provides a shorter route. Still, the local authorities claim that if a new route were to open from Iğdır it would provide for a much more scenic journey.

The city is also a victim of the fact that Mount Ararat overshadows the “little Ararat,” also known as Mount Sis, which stands next to it. Little Ararat is Turkey’s sixth tallest peak, and local authorities are looking to attract visitors to it. The district governor of Aralık, a small district of Iğdır, invited mountaineering groups two weeks ago to climb to the top of Little Ararat, a first for 30 years. 

The area is populated by Kurds, and clashes with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have negatively affected the region’s stability. The peace process, however, seems to have made itself felt, with local authorities saying it was now possible to travel at night.