Villages far, far away
I flew to the eastern province Van last weekend to see for myself the first comprehensive development program implemented in a clashing zone in Turkey. I was taken to Tatvan and then to villages in the Kavar basin. Three of the six villages in Kavar were vacated by the state in the 1990s; one of them was burned down, and the remaining two have been turned into “village guards.” In every family there is drama, some members have suffered from torture. Anyway, they have been exiled from their villages and sent to cities.
The Dibekli Village where 24 families live was not vacated in the ‘90s, but suffered even more. The village guard system was forced upon them. Each family migrated to the big cities, leaving behind one or two elders. Some of them returned at the beginning of the 2000s.
Member of the Executive Board of the Kavar Cooperative İkram Kılıçarslan said, “There are many who want to come back, but their houses are in ruins; more than 200 houses are in an uninhabitable condition. Another factor is security. If they knew they were safe, they would return.”
Because there are no employment opportunities in the village, young people cannot return to their villages. Dibekli village women complain that they have not seen their children, their young ones, for long periods of time…
Yassıca, in other words Ünsüz Village, was originally an Armenian village. Headman of the village Abdülgari Ataman said, “Kurds, too, at one time, oppressed the Armenians. Now, it is being taken out on us.”
Meanwhile, it was whispered that there were two Armenian families left in the village.
In the 1990s, only six or seven families were left in the village. Now, there are 40 families. There are 200 families that have not been able to return. Ataman said, “There is no pressure from the military anymore. Before, we were not able to talk to the military. We were not able to sleep at nights.”
There is no permanent work for young people; they can only work in the summer. Ataman said, “I do not want to send my son to the west. Some of them are involved in robbery, snatching, there. I did not raise him like that, but you never know.”
A village woman told us her story while tearing our hearts out: “Recently, my elder son came to visit us in the village. He showed me my younger son’s photo. I have not seen him for two years; I could not recognize him.”
They cannot even speak on the phone. There is no network. If you say landline, the poles are broken; they have to be built again.
At the lunch in Kolbaşı, in other words Avetax Village, Vesiha hanım was sitting next to me. She lives in Bağcılar, Istanbul. She stopped by her village on her way to Hakkari, where her daughter is expected to give birth. “Can you believe it?” she asked, “I have been living in Istanbul for 20 years; I have not seen Istanbul even once in my dreams.” In this life, her only wish is to return to her village, but because she does not have a house, she cannot.
Headman Gürgün Karabey told us how passionate the whole village was regarding their cooperative. He has a funny anecdote: “It is a problem to go to milk the cows. Twice a day, our women walk a six-kilometer-long road. In 2010, I went to the Bitlis Governor and asked him to open the road. He answered, ‘Yes, right, I will open the road and you will help the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party], right?’ I told him, ‘If I wanted to help, I would help regardless if you opened the road or not.’”
The Kavar basin has a population of around 1,800 people. Some 88 percent of the population has only received primary school level education. In terms of development criteria, it is one of the poorest regions in Turkey.
But there is always hope… The basin is in transformation with a five-year-development program.