215899 7/9/2009 15:07 09ANKARA981 Embassy Ankara CONFIDENTIAL 09ANKARA356 VZCZCXYZ0021 PP RUEHWEB DE RUEHAK #0981/01 1901507 ZNY CCCCC ZZH P 091507Z JUL 09 FM AMEMBASSY ANKARA TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0156 INFO RUEHTH/AMEMBASSY ATHENS 0159 RUEHKB/AMEMBASSY BAKU 1613 RUEHBM/AMEMBASSY BUCHAREST 1136 RUEHCH/AMEMBASSY CHISINAU 0568 RUEHKV/AMEMBASSY KYIV 0046 RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 5669 RUEHSF/AMEMBASSY SOFIA 1285 RUEHTI/AMEMBASSY TIRANA 0277 RUEHYE/AMEMBASSY YEREVAN 1371 RUEHNC/AMEMBASSY NICOSIA 6736 RUEHSI/AMEMBASSY TBILISI 3206 RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL 5977 C O N F I D E N T I A L ANKARA 000981
DEPARTMENT ALSO FOR EUR/SE
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/07/2019 TAGS: PGOV, PHUM, PREL, TU SUBJECT: TURKEY: RISING UNEMPLOYMENT GLOOM IN TRABZON
REF: ANKARA 356
Classified By: POL Counselor Daniel O'Grady, for reasons 1.4 (b,d)
1. (C) SUMMARY: We recently visited the eastern Black Sea city of Trabzon, a port city that until the March 29 local elections was a region of support for the CHP. We found the newly-elected AK Party welcoming and upbeat, in strong contrast to the decidedly hostile and brooding CHP officials. A common theme that surfaced in all meetings -- with lawyers, political leaders, community leaders and academics -- was the increasing unemployment issues the area faces. A pervasive gloom seems to be descending as all sectors are feeling the effects of rising unemployment levels. Several of our interlocutors also touched on both EU membership and relations with Armenia, and all had a similar defensive and myopic perspective: that both the EU and Armenia need Turkey more than Turkey needs them, and that normalization with Armenia would only be acceptable should Armenia drop its genocide allegations and submit the issue to a historical commission. END SUMMARY.
Human Rights Lawyers
2. (C) Sibel Suicmez and Umit Kurtoglu are long time lawyers specializing in human rights issues. What they see most these days are issues related to foreigners who work (most often illegally) as domestic helpers, many of whom are employed without insurance. They said they have never heard of forced labor issues in Trabzon, and contended that they would have heard if there were any. They stated, in particular, that they have not heard of any kind of Armenian forced labor in the Trabzon region or anywhere in the country. They said that people do come from Georgia and the Southeast seasonally to pick hazelnuts and work in construction, and that Georgian women and Russians often come for "suitcase trade." There is even a "Russian market" in the center of Trabzon selling goods that have not gone through customs procedures, they noted. Still, they reiterated, in none of these instances have they heard of any issues of forced labor.
3. (C) Trabzon used to be infamous for problems with prostitution -- especially prostitution involving women from Russia and the Caucasus coming to work illegally in this sector, some by choice and some trafficked. It was a large enough problem at one point that, as the two lawyers told us, women in the area began dying their hair blonde to compete with the Slavic women, and others organized "Anti-Natasha" campaigns. Suicmez and Kurtoglu say that although there was indeed a problem, the extent of it was exaggerated and reports by the media of skyrocketing divorce rates in Trabzon were not true. However, no matter how large the problem actually was, by anyone's estimates the number of women working in this sector has now noticeably decreased. Part of this is due to an increase in attention from the government and the police. Still, the two lawyers said they found Turkey's "157" hotline for trafficking victims unhelpful, because the police see this as a public order issue and just want to get the women out of their district. They are less worried about why the women were there or what will happen to them afterward.
4. (C) Another factor in the decrease in prostitution is the declining economic situation in the city. There is less money to spend on such things, and the women themselves have started leaving for Antalya and Istanbul, where demand and pay are higher. However, the lawyers were doubtful that the problem would fully end anytime soon. They said that many of the foreign women, especially from Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus, come willingly. They noted that there are cases of trafficked women who have concluded that the conditions in Turkey are better than what they face in their home countries. The lawyers said they have seen many instances where foreign women who are caught and deported (for the crime of working illegally in Turkey; prostitution itself is legal), find a way to alter their passports and return.
The New Mayor of Trabzon
4. (C) The newly elected mayor of Trabzon, Dr. Orhan Gumrukcuoglu, is a dynamic and engaging personality. Gumrukcuoglu described Trabzon as a 4,000-year old city, home to Jews, Christians and Muslims, a commercial and logistical center that he envisions as a "small Istanbul." Gumrukcuoglu, as a Justice and Development Party (AKP) candidate, recently took the mayoralty from CHP. The reason AKP won, he suggested, was because CHP "did nothing. Zero." CHP had provided no services, he continued, sewage was flowing into the sea, and traffic and roads were becoming problems. That is why they were not re-elected. Unemployment is the biggest issue for Trabzon, according to Gumrukcuoglu. He estimated unemployment at officially around 15-20 percent, but unofficially much higher. (Note: The national average is 15.8 percent. End note.) Many people are leaving Trabzon to find work elsewhere in Turkey. In his term, he hopes to develop the historical importance of the city to create jobs and stimulate the economy. Trabzon has an international airport, and both land and sea transport connections, which he would like to market domestically and internationally. He said Iran, for example, which currently uses the exceedingly hot and humid ports of Dubai for trade transport, should instead use Trabzon ports which have facilities and weather more conducive for shipping and storing goods. Gumrukcuoglu also hopes to attract more Turkish businessmen to invest in education, health, tourism and sports in the region, all of which he feels Trabzon has high potential to develop.
5. (C) Gumrukcuoglu said that he did not see a major benefit from a potential border opening with Armenia. He brushed off the possible economic benefits by pointing out the population size difference: "Armenia is only 3 million people, Turkey is a country of 72 million." Despite this, he said people in the area would be willing to see the border open, on two conditions: 1) Armenia withdraws from the occupied land of Azerbaijan, and 2) Armenia gives up on genocide allegations. He argued that the events of 1915 could fairly be described as a forced migration, but not as a genocide. He added that during the forced migration, any generals who killed Armenians along the way had been prosecuted by the Ottoman empire. As for the alleged benefits of EU membership, he was dismissive. "The EU needs Turkey, Turkey doesn't need the EU." However, he said that everyone welcomes U.S. support for Turkey's EU bid, and he highlighted the close U.S.-Turkish friendship. He said that the more the U.S. stands with democracy in Turkey, the more popular the U.S. will become. He urged the U.S. to support all other democratic initiatives in Turkey, with one exception: the headscarf issue, which he described as "complicated and sensitive" and which he advised the U.S. to avoid.
Saint Maria Church
6. (U) The St. Maria Catholic church, on a winding cobblestone street in the center of the city, is unfortunately infamous as the site of the 2006 murder of one of its priests, Father Andrea Santoro. Now a new priest and caretaker lead the church's small congregation of 20 people. The caretaker said that security has improved since the murder. The police patrol more often, especially during mass times, and the church has not received any threats or seen any further incidents. Aside from increased police patrols, he said the church's relationship with the government is neither good nor bad, but rather there is no relationship. Within the city, he said, the church members' relations with residents of other faiths is good overall, with only occasional issues and no major discrimination or problems. He noted that although the church does occasionally get converts, the required waiting time is 5 years before full conversion can take place. Meanwhile, because of the economic situation and people leaving to find jobs elsewhere, the congregation grapples with potential decline.
7. (U) At CHP headquarters by the docks of Trabzon, a large group of CHP members were ready with a myriad of accusations for the U.S. If they are to be believed, the U.S. is at fault for everything from unemployment and the declining economic situation to Turkey's issues with secularism vs. religion. The CHP group, headed by provincial chairman Necip Yildiz, put forth accusations that the economic difficulties in Turkey, and in Trabzon in particular, are due to the fact that all Turkey's money is being spent on the problems in the Southeast -- and that the U.S. is somehow behind those problems. The group informed us that if the U.S. wanted, the Southeastern issues could be resolved, but that U.S. arms lobbies want the conflict to continue because the U.S. is arming the PKK, and probably training them as well. They also alleged that the U.S. created and supports the "criminal" Fethullah Gulen, as a tool to create a "Green Belt" of moderate Islam in the region. However, they said Turkey is "on Ataturk's path" and they would ensure that the republic as Ataturk envisioned it survives "eternally" and makes no concessions. On the Armenian issue, they said Turkey was not socially ready for normalization, although there are no problems in general between the Turkish and Armenian people. They said Armenia should look at Turkey as a friend and drop its genocide allegations. "There was no genocide," they stated firmly, but conceded that historians, if anyone, should be the ones to decide what happened. When the group spoke about the EU, it was with the same aggressive posture, saying that Turkey must be an equal member and nothing less, because Turkey would be doing "sick Europe a favor" by joining, adding that "Europe needs us, we don't need them."
Karadeniz Technical University
8. (U) Karadeniz Technical University sits on a hill overlooking the sea, and is a bulwark amid the weakened economy of Trabzon. It employs 1,800 total academic staff and has 38,000 students. While the rector, Professor Ibrahim Ozen said that the students are not active politically (and the university has not historically been a site of political activism) they do have a student council and student representatives from each department are allowed to sit in on faculty and administrative meetings as observers. He said that the overall student opinion of the U.S., as he sees it, is improving, but is held back by the situation in Iraq and the continuing American presence there, an issue of importance to the students. During the recent election issues in Iran, the students were not active, but overall do not hold a high opinion of the conservative regime there. He noted that the students have around 70 extracurricular clubs and that the Erasmus international exchange program is very popular. Ozen said the Trabzon unemployment and economic situation in Turkey has had its effect on the students as well, but in a beneficial way. The students see the situation around them first hand, and focus on their studies because they know that with limited jobs they must excel to be competitive within Turkey and abroad. Ozen confirmed that two new private universities are planned for the city, but said he does not see them as negative competition, but rather as a benefit to the area.
9. (C) Trabzon is a strategically located city with many potential areas for further development. Despite its rising unemployment, with visionary leadership and sufficient investment, the area could easily reassert itself as a significant commercial and cultural city in Turkey. The two new universities planned for the region are a major step in this direction, and the new mayor appears appropriately resolute and ambitious about increasing business interest in the city. Should Trabzon revive, however, the trafficking issue could also re-emerge, and should be monitored. The new AK Party leadership's success or failure may rest primarily on how many jobs it creates. If it fails to achieve any significant increase in employment, the area is likely to revert to the opposition.
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