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In Remote Eastern Turkey, Villagers Eye EU Visa Deal With Interest

  • Henry Ridgwell

In the Kurdish village of Goma Seydo, high in the mountains of Turkey’s Erzurum province, life hasn't changed much in centuries.

Work revolves around caring for the livestock and shepherding them onto new pastures. The houses are built of stone or mud brick . Animal dung is piled in heaps around the village, ready to burn on stoves and open fires when the harsh winter sets in.

For the young men of the village, the lure of a new life in Europe is strong.

“Half of the people from this village are over there already. Our friends and relatives are already in France and I would like to go there to join them,” says 24-year-old Tugay Korkmaz.

In total more than 100 people from the village now live in Europe, almost half the population. In the 1990s, dozens of boys left the village for France or Germany at the height of the Kurdish PKK insurgency against the Turkish state and tried to claim asylum.

Most failed, but stayed on illegally and married to gain citizenship, later divorcing and re-marrying Turkish women, before returning with their new families to Europe.

A better life

Yavuz Ozer, also 24 years old, moved to France when he was 11. He returned to his home village earlier this month for the Muslim festival of Eid.

“Life is comfortable there, there is work and we have jobs," he said. "I have been here for a week now, but I could not live here anymore. I am already bored.”

The deal struck between Turkey and Europe in March aimed at stemming the flow of migrants, includes visa-free travel for Turkish citizens to Europe. Keremi Sarac says that would prompt many more people to leave villages like Goma Seydo.

“If the visa system is lifted, many people here would go to Europe. Those who have work here and a good profession, they would stay. The rest would leave,” he said.

Sarac’s mother Dilsah has seen four of her children leave the village for a new life in Europe. She too harbors dreams of travel.

“I tell my children that I want to go to see them. I want to go to Izmir, and to France. We will see what happens,” she said.

Ankara has threatened to tear up the migrant deal if Europe does not grant Turkish citizens visa-free travel in the coming months. Brussels has delayed the move, demanding changes to Turkey’s sweeping anti-terror laws, while also voicing concerns over the crackdown on the opposition following the failed military coup in July.

In the peaceful hills of Goma Seydo, the people are watching developments carefully. Many sense an opportunity for a new life.

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