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With Peace Comes Hope of Prosperity in Diyarbakir

  • Dorian Jones

Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast region, has started to benefit from the return of peace after being the center of a long Kurdish rebel conflict. The city has started to enjoy prosperity and development. But, a recent wave of violent protests has called into question those successes.

A construction boom in Diyarbakir is one of the most visible signs of the fruits of the ongoing peace process between the government and the Kurdish rebel group the PKK.

Diyar towers, which offers luxury apartments, is the latest construction project of Ali Karakas, who grew up in Sweden after his family fled political oppression in the 1990s.

Hopes of peace and with it, business opportunities, brought him back home.

"2007 was the beginning of the mood of optimism. It was the period where investment incentives were offered by the state and the peace process initiated. These gave us hope as businessmen. Diyarbakir is a big market with a big population, and the need for housing continues to rise. Every year 10 to 15 thousand apartments are built in Diyarbakir," said Karakas.

With UNESCO considering making Diyarbakir’s famous city walls a World Heritage Site, a potential tourism boom could also be in the offing.

The city’s old quarter is also witnessing signs of hope, with cafes opening in the myriad of back streets, once the place of vicious fighting between state and rebels.

The ruling AK Party claims as people become prosperous, they are less likely to support a return to conflict.

That is why Fatma Oncu, an AKP national committee member from Diyarbakir, says they have made economic development a key priority.

"We have to consider the impact of government policies here. In an economic sense there are policies from tax incentives to other contributions as well as treating this region as a privileged place. These have the biggest impact on growth. My personal thought is that growth is shaped by creating a security zone," said Oncu.

But Diyarbakir witnessed a return to political violence in October with clashes claiming nearly 50 lives. While there have been some winners, many have seen little of the peace dividend.

Diyarbakir’s Baglar district is home to hundreds of thousands of people - many of whom were told by security forces to leave their villages in their fight against the PKK.

The DTK, an umbrella organization for pro-Kurdish groups, is linked to the PKK. Hilmi Aydogdu, co-chair of the DTK, says without political concessions, prosperity will not bring peace and stability.

"The war, yes, has something to do with poverty and richness but the war in Kurdistan was not only a matter of hunger. The war in Kurdistan was a matter of nationality, of language, of identity, of culture! It was a matter of securing democratic rights under the protection of constitution. Unless these demands are met, economical richness and welfare cannot eliminate the reality of this region, "said Aydogdu.

The recent clashes are weighing heavily on the minds of many who have invested in Diyarbakir and in peace in the region, says construction company owner Karakas.

"The recent developments concerning the peace process worry us a lot. The halting of the peace process would mean the end of trade for us among other things. Now we have reached a very positive state, people consume and shop in a very secure environment. The halting of the peace process would mean the loss of this feeling of security and the trade to get into a bad track, " he said..

Diyarbakir was once one of the region’s wealthiest and most prosperous cities. The hope is that a permanent peace will bring back past riches. But like the peace process, that hope is hanging in the balance.