Income Disparities in Southeast Turkey
Kurdish Herald Vol.1 Issue 1, May 2009 - Report by Natsumi Ajiki
There is a lot to celebrate about the prospect of KRG-Turkey relations. However, it bears mention that there are serious issues within Turkey which must be addressed if and when Turkey attempts to solve its own Kurdish question, as it is sometimes called, that have little or no connection to Iraqi Kurdistan. One of the most significant issues falling within this category is the income disparity between the Kurdish and non-Kurdish regions within Turkey.
While precise data concerning the economic circumstances of various regions in Turkey is difficult to come by, the available data, albeit somewhat dated, shows great gaps between the per capita income levels between citizens of Turkey living in predominantly Kurdish districts as compared to those in non-Kurdish districts. The New York Times on November 2, 2007 published an article on the matter, “As Kurds’ Status Improves, Support for Militants Erodes in Turkey,” which stated that as many as 60% of the Kurds are still below the poverty threshold in Turkey.
Furthermore, The Human Development Report, a publication of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) for 2008 examines income disparities within Turkey on the basis of 2001 GDP per capita index value provided by TURKSTAT. The TURKSTAT data on regional income levels are composed of 26 Level 2 Statistical Regional Units, with a regional unit being comprised of one or more of Turkey’s 81 provinces. Then, each regional unit is indexed against the mean (Turkey=100) as shown as below.
If we define a Kurdish regional unit as a province with a majority Kurdish population, then, according to the data, all of the Kurdish regional units’ per capita GDP are lower than non-Kurdish regional units, ranging from 34 % to 67% of the mean per capita GDP for citizen of Turkey. The poorest three regional units are all predominantly Kurdish: Agri/Ardahan/ Igdir/Kars on Turkey’s eastern border, at 34, followed by Bitlis/Hakkari/Mus/Van in the southeast at 35, and then by Batman/Mardin/Siirt/Sirnak nearby at 46. Additionally, when Kurdish regional units are compared to the richest regional units, such as Bolu/Düzce/Kocaeli/Sakarya/Yalova (near Istanbul) at 191, Izmir in the west at 150, and Istanbul at 143, income disparities are even more significant.
Indeed, the pure data in and of itself does not tell the full story. It must be recognized that a large number of Turkish police officers and military and intelligence personnel who are stationed in Kurdish provinces receive much higher wages than locals. Members of the Turkish security forces who work in Kurdish areas are almost always from majority Turkish areas of the country. They are frequently housed highly fortified, protected compounds within Kurdish areas and do not live among the masses. If their incomes are considered in the calculation of the means for the regions, this data may actually overestimate income levels in Kurdish provinces and thus understate the true magnitude of the regional income disparity.
Legal, social and political institutions need to articulate and guarantee a course of public policies that will effect greater equality and long-term economic security. This means taking concrete steps in terms of income distribution and redistribution, access to educational and professional opportunities, and social assistance in order to alleviate poverty. Without such efforts, economic inequality will continue to drive strife within Turkey and provide an obvious counterpoint to those who assert that today’s Turkey is a monolith that is merely threatened by a vaguely defined “terrorist” threat.
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