The Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP) in Turkey has transformed the once marginalized and impoverished region of Turkey. GAP President Sadrettin Karahocagil explains that his project is an example for countries all over the world to follow.
Turkey has been one of the success stories of the global economy for much of this century. The GAP project is often seen as a project with specific benefits only for the southeastern Anatolian region. But how would you assess the contribution of the GAP project to Turkey’s overall economic development and growth so far this century?
It began as an energy and development project because we have 20% of Turkish water in the region; the region is rich in water. Economically, 20% of Turkish irrigable land is in the region.
We use water for energy at the same time as we use it for agriculture. In this sense, the region produces 50% of our hydro energy.
Sometimes, 25% of all energy is produced here, but I think that number has been reduced now because Turkish energy needs have been growing.
The use of solar panels and wind turbines has been growing; we’re producing more energy in that way, but the ignition for this project was the energy need in the 1970s.
From the agricultural point of view, the region produces 70% of Turkish cotton now. Cotton production is very high, and Turkey needs a lot of cotton because of our textiles industry, though we still import a lot of cotton.
The region has helped the textiles industry in that way.
Now we also have very high corn production as well. This corn is destined for the sugar industry. Corn production is growing, so it helps the sugar industry keep its raw material costs down.
One of the region’s biggest advantages is our youth. The average age in the region is about 19 years. We are a very young region. So we have employment needs.
How will the GAP Action Plan for 2014-2018 enhance the development of the region even further?
Actually, we have just finished one action plan. $10 billion was spent on the first action plan based on infrastructure, like irrigation and transportation.
But we have spent more than $6 billion in other areas, like education, employment, SMEs, culture and sport. We’ve covered many areas and developed social support programs.
We’ve spent more than $300 million on this program. We have financed more than 2,200 projects all over the region. So we have done lots of new projects. Of course we had a master plan prepared in the late 1980s.
But times change, and we needed to readapt. We have revisited the 2002 plan, and we have revisited again the 2008 action plan. The action plans are very important.
They show the vision that our government had at that time, and the important thing is that you can prepare an action plan, but they need financing to work.
Will the election result have any impact on the plan?
No, I don’t think so. Though there’s a new government forming right now, I don’t think they’ll stop the action plan from being implemented, because it’s a good action plan.
It’s a very ambitious plan, with targets in education, trade, and exports…
Yes, they’re all things that fit into our targets. We may not reach these targets, but at least we’re working towards them.
Even with good, well-implemented programs, it’s difficult to reach the targets. Sometimes there are problems internationally, or internally in Turkey. From 2010-2011 there was a strong chance of violence in the region.
Then, with the peace process, the risk was reduced and now it’s quiet. I don’t think the tensions are high now, but we have other problems. We have done a project called the Prism Master Plan.
The result was that our image was really bad, and we learned that we should work on our image. What can we do?
We were doing something, but there were a host of other problems that wouldn’t let us realize our objectives.
We do big projects. We’re responsible for implementation, administration, progress reports every three months, and counsels with the Ministers. At the same time, we do some regional projects.
For example, we have multiple community centers, 44 of them. More than 80,000 people go to these community centers. We try to make them read and write, we give them some mathematics skills.
Of course, we like to try to enrich the women’s lives there. I say that in a literal sense, to get something from what they produce, and socially, as well. We also have nine youth centers there.
Young people from universities and the people from industry come together. We have lots of Europeans who come to the region and to our schools, to do youth exchanges.
How successful do you think the GAP project has been in fostering a sense of inclusiveness amongst the population?
It was the least developed region in all of Turkey. Now it is not. Now, I think, it’s the fourth most developed. We have a lot of agricultural production there. And our textiles industry is famous.
They use cotton there. It’s famous for pasta, they export lots of pasta there. There’s a machine industry. They are the world’s biggest producer of carpets, most of the world’s carpets comes from Gaziantep. They are all exporting.
Gaziantep cuisine is very famous, actually. Rick Stein came not so long ago. He was very fond of Lahmacun actually. Cuisine is a very important part of our culture. Gaziantep applied for recognition as a gourmet city, in fact.
We have a competitive agenda, and we have done good work. We’re sharing this idea with other underdeveloped regions.
You should witness the strength of our region. We discovered that the region was very strong competitively in three areas: in renewable energy like wind, solar and biogas – there’s very high potential there – organic agriculture, like organic cotton and textiles, babywear.
And the last area is tourism. The region is very historic. We have a temple that is 12,000 years old. It’s something different, it’s now a legend. Have you visited Stonehenge?
Well, Stonehenge is 5,000 years old. This is 12,000 years old. These are highly developed sculptures. It’s now like The Carriers of the Gods, have you read that book?
It’s that kind of myth now. They couldn’t explain how it got there. It’s from the times of the cave dwellers. There are no settlements around these temples. They put their dead there. We also have Mount Nemrut and Mardin.
We have lots of interesting historical areas. The first cultivated land in the region was planted with lentils, rice, and olives, whose original gene came from this area.
So it’s a very important region. From a touristic point of view, we have an image problem. I think you are advised not to go to the region.
An architect visited from Denmark, from the Henning Larsen firm. She waited on Saturday and Sunday to see me. On Monday morning, we met and I asked her what she had seen, and she kept saying that she’d seen none of our touristic sites.
I asked her why she hadn’t visited the first temple in the world, the first university in the world; I told her they were very famous buildings. She said that she was advised not to go out of the city.
I told her that I would give her a car and send her in the afternoon. She did what I said, and sent me a thank-you email saying that she really enjoyed it.
It’s a big loss. Why come all this way and not visit? There’s no danger. It’s safer than anywhere else because there’s a lot of police around.
You have referred to GAP as a regional development project with an international brand. How do you maintain and promote this international brand?
Of course we’re trying to reach the whole world via networks. We’re a member of the World Irrigation Forum. At the same time we like to work with international bodies like the UNDP, FAU, the World Bank, the European Union, and others.
We’re working with the Turkish International Cooperation Agency. We’d like to work with the Turkish Foreign Ministry as well. From time to time we are invited by a country, the United States, for example, to give advice on a problem in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
Because you are a role model for these places?
We have a lot of experience in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Sudan, Somalia and Iraq. Technically we’re not a corporation because we cannot make a profit, but we can give them our know-how.
For example, my colleague went to Madagascar to make a report. But we have very experienced people in all these areas.
As I said, we’re doing lots of regional projects in global energy; we’re doing a great project with the UNDP, and we’re doing an organic agriculture project.
We’re working on our image as well. We’re working on a branding project. We’re doing an integrated rural development project. We’re preparing it with FAU, but we’re implementing it by ourselves.
Actually we can give this know-how to other countries. We’re working on a cultural dissemination and training project. We’re creating and implementing a new model.
We’ve reached almost 140,000 farmers around the region. When I say small, it’s not small, of course. Of course, we don’t have a big budget.
When we do an irrigation project on 30,000 hectares of land, it costs $30 million, but this dissemination project only costs 600 million Turkish lira ($215 million) for five years. It’s not a lot of money, but it has a big impact.
We are doing a lot on cultural heritage. We’re doing cultural excavations with the government administration. Another project is preliminary eye checks for children.
These kids don’t know what is the matter with them, they can’t see the board in school. They think that everybody sees like that.
It’s good to check them out and get them treatment as soon as possible.
We’re working in all aspects of life.