The unemployment rate stands at 70% of the adult population in the shantytowns that surround Diyarbakir, the largest city in the predominantly Kurdish southeast of Turkey, according to a recent study by Istanbul’s Bosphorus University (Milliyet, September 29).
Socioeconomic underdevelopment has long been regarded as one of the main factors fuelling recruitment to militant organizations in Turkey. In addition to the nationalist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), both violent Islamist groups and extremist left-wing organizations recruit primarily from eastern and southeastern Anatolia, where levels of income, employment, and access to education and basic services are significantly lower than the national average.
During the 1990s the situation was exacerbated by the conflict between the PKK and the Turkish security forces. Over 3,500 villages are believed to have been forcibly evacuated by the Turkish security forces as part of a scorched-earth policy to limit the ability of mobile PKK units to source supplies from the local population. There were also many instances of villagers fleeing to the cities after coming under attack from the PKK for refusing to provide militants with food and support. A total of approximately 1.5 million people are estimated to have left their villages for reasons related to the PKK’s insurgency. Some migrated to the cities of western Turkey. However, many joined those already moving off the land for economic reasons and settling in the burgeoning shantytowns that now surround all of the major cities of southeast Turkey.
Diyarbakir has been the worst affected. In conversations with Jamestown, local municipal officials estimated that that the population of Diyarbakir has more then tripled in the last 15 years to approximately 1.3 million. The municipality is currently controlled by the Democratic Society Party (DTP), which both its opponents and many of its supporters regard as being closely affiliated with the PKK. Local municipal officials claim that, as a result, they are starved of central government funds and are unable to invest in improving an overburdened infrastructure.
The recent survey by Bosphorus University covered 5,706 households, comprising 36,221 people, in five of Diyarbakir’s poorest neighborhoods, where most of the population are first-generation migrants from the countryside.
The survey found that 309 households (5.4%) had no income at all, while 1,787 (31.3%) had total income of less than $200 per month. Almost all of those who had jobs were working in the unregistered economy, mainly as day laborers on construction sites and as street vendors. Only 933 households (16.4%) had total monthly income of more than $400, which is considered the poverty line in Turkey. In contrast, a survey by the Turkish Statistical Institute (TURKSTAT) found that average household expenditure in Turkey as a whole stood at just over $1,000 in 2006 (Radikal, September 19).
A total of 79.7% of the households surveyed in Diyarbakir reported that they depended on handouts for basic needs such as food. The Turkish state has no comprehensive aid program for its poorer citizens. Most of the programs of handouts of food and fuel in the winter are run by Islamist charities. The majority are associated with the non-violent Sufi brotherhoods known as tariqah. However, in recent years, violent organizations such as the Ilim group — which is commonly referred to in Turkey as “Hezbollah,” although it has no affiliation with the Lebanese group of the same name — has also stepped up its social aid programs in southeast Turkey. In April 2006 the Ilim group managed to mobilize 80,000 people in Diyarbakir in a street protest against the cartoons published in the Danish press ridiculing the Prophet Muhammed.
The Bosphorus University study in Diyarbakir found that 6,050 of the adults included in the survey (approximately half of the total) were illiterate, of whom 4,712 were women. A total of 18.1% of the households reported that they had at least one child of school age who did not attend school. The survey estimated that in Diyarbakir as a whole there are 30,000 children working on the streets.
Perhaps most importantly, the survey suggested that few of those interviewed had much hope of a better future. A total of 63.4% of those who had migrated from the countryside said that their economic situation had deteriorated since moving to Diyarbakir. When the heads of the households were asked whether they were hopeful of an improvement in their lives, 29.2% said that they were; 20.2% thought that the situation would become worse; and 50.6% did not expect any change at all (Milliyet, September 29).