HAKKARI, Kurdistan-Turkey, Dec 8 (Reuters) -
In the shadow of mountains bordering Iraq and Iran,
Turkey's Hakkari province may one day be an outpost
of the European Union. But for now, it feels cut off
from the world.
Its picturesque valleys and snowy peaks shelter
communities ravaged by more than 20 years of
separatist conflict, which has devastated
traditional livestock farming and forced many local
Kurds to turn to smuggling to earn a living.
Trade opportunities are limited. Hakkari's border to
Iraq is closed, trade with Iran is sporadic and
there are only limited road links to the rest of
Turkey across mountain passes.
"All the doors have been shut in our face and hopes
have been dashed. We are effectively being told:
'don't trade officially, smuggle instead'," said
Adnan Hatipoglu, general secretary of the local
Chamber of Commerce.
"Europe is focused on investing in the west but they
should do more for this region. People are suffering
here," he said.
In October, Turkey began EU entry talks which are
expected to last 10-15 years. Brussels has urged the
country to do more to bridge the gap between its
prosperous west and the southeast.
With annual per capita income of $800 - around a
quarter of western Turkish levels - Hakkari is one
of the poorest areas but its problems are felt
across the mainly Kurdish southeast.
Successive governments, 1,300 km (800 miles) away in
Ankara, have failed to implement bold development
plans. Incentive schemes have done little to
overcome the concerns of businessmen about investing
in a region torn apart by a rebel insurgency.
The outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) took up
arms against the government in 1984, and 30,000
people have been killed in their fight for an ethnic
homeland in the region.
Violence tailed off after the capture of PKK leader
Abdullah Ocalan in 1999 but last year, the PKK
called off a six-year unilateral ceasefire and
resumed its attacks on security and civilian
The bloodshed has erased the benefits of a spell of
relative peace and underlined the importance of
tackling the region's economic plight. Suspected
security force involvement in a bomb attack in
Hakkari last month has deepened distrust of the
"Life in the region has become unbearable.
Unemployment has reached 70 percent, livestock
farming has been decimated and villages emptied,"
FUEL SMUGGLING, CARPET WEAVING
One of the few ways to make money is by smuggling
fuel. The state turns a blind eye to the
semi-illicit trade given the deep poverty in the
Some 4,000 trucks ply their trade in the
neighbouring Van province near the border, queuing
in their hundreds at police checkpoints after
bringing in diesel fuel from Iran.
"All the drivers you see here are doing this work
because there is no other work," said 39-year-old
truck driver Servet, who declined to give his
"Our future depends on the European Union. The
trouble is that a lot of drivers have gone into debt
to buy the trucks and they are having trouble paying
the money back," he said.
Locals want the government to scrap restrictions on
when fuel can be transported as well as introduce
measures to boost investment in the region. Some
would also like authorities to open the border
crossing to Iraq to spur trade.
The government has taken some measures to encourage
local industry, for example establishing carpet
weaving centres but these have met with mitigated
In one of the workshops near the Hakkari governor's
office, dozens of teenage girls sit at looms,
weaving bright patterns into 'kilim' carpets as
instructor Fatima Adiyaman looks on.
"This is a way for them to contribute to the
household income. It gives them something to do, but
there are less women working here than there used to
be," she said.
Businessmen say the trade has suffered from
inadequate marketing faced with stiff competition
from other regions.
SHEPHERDS TO VILLAGE GUARDS
For men, livestock was historically the economic
mainstay. That too has been dealt a fierce blow with
the destruction of some 70 villages in Hakkari in
the 1990s as the state looked to choke off support
for the PKK rebels in the mountains.
Since then, the number of sheep and goats in Hakkari
has fallen to some 500,000 from two million. The
number of cattle has declined to some 70,000 from
500,000 over the same period.
Many shepherds and farmers moved into towns, but few
found work in the violence-battered economy.
The loss of income was only partially offset by the
employment of tens of thousands of Kurds as village
guards in a state militia fighting alongside
soldiers against the PKK.
Locals now warn the latest violence may undermine
widespread Kurdish hopes for the EU process,
encouraging youths to join PKK fighters holed up in
the nearby mountains of northern Iraq.
In the southeast's main city Diyarbakir, business
official Lezgin Yalcin said activity had picked up
in the service sector, construction and public
investment in recent years but this came to a halt
when attacks started again.
Much of the local economy depends on the income of
tens of thousands of civil servants and security
force personnel, which can give a misleading
appearance of relative prosperity in the city's main
business district where streets are crowded with
branches of the banks and shops found across the
"In appearance life has improved, but the new
businesses are not making any money. Much of the
local economy depends on the civil servants," Yalcin
"What the region needs is an end to the violence."