The contribution of King Suppiluliuma to Hatay’s economy
Hatay is one of the cities most affected by the civil war in Syria. When I had visited in December 2011, relations with Syria had started to deteriorate and the city’s economy was feeling the consequences.
The two year-long honeymoon that came with the lifting of visa requirements following 40 years of cool weather was making everyone smile.
I recall very vividly the statements of Hikmet Çinçin, the board president of Antakya Trade and Industry Chamber. “Our relations go beyond economy since we have relatives in Syria. For instance, 70 percent of my mother’s family lives in Syria. There are so many examples like this.”
The wish of the locals for the honeymoon days to come back was never realized; on the contrary, Syria slipped speedily into civil war.
Today, Hatay hosts 300,000 Syrian refugees. The nearby district of Reyhanlı, where more than 50 people lost their lives two years ago in a bomb attack, has a population of 48,000. Yet, it has opened its door to 50,000 registered and 50,000 unregistered Syrian refugees.
This information was provided to me by Mehmet Ali Kuseyri, the head of Antakya Commodity Exchange when I visited the city recently. Kuseyri also owns the city’s popular boutique hotel, Savon.
He told me how locals had invested in tourism particularly during the honeymoon period between Turkey and Syria and how they currently face difficulties due to their credit debts.
Similarly, once the second city with the highest number of trucks, its logistic sector seems to have been hit seriously as well.
While Kuseyri said the “the city seems to be in the black list” in terms of tourism, the Hatay Archeology Museum opened its doors just a month ago.
The symbol of the museum is the statue of Hittite King Suppiluliuma, which was unearthed from Kuseyri’s cotton field. Toronto University, which was carrying out excavation work in Antakya, asked for a permission to start excavations at Tell Tayinat, which was discovered in satellite pictures, according to Kuseyri.
Three years ago, Professor Timothy Harrison unearthed the 1.5 meter long and 1.5 ton statue of Suppiluliuma from the field that belonged to Kuseyri’s family. He said the land will be expropriated due to the riches it harbors. The King Suppiluliuma statue is currently the symbol of the Hatay Archeology Museum.
Antakya is in a competition with Gaziantep, which is famous for its cuisine as well as its mosaics. The symbol of the city’s mosaic museum is a famous gypsy girl that was unearthed during the Zeugma excavations.
The world knows the “Gypsy Girl” and everyone recalls her when talking about Zeugma and Gaziantep. Her contribution to Gaziantep economy with the tourists she attracts is significant. Will this also be the case with Hittite King Suppiluliuma and Hatay?