The Turkish government has produced various return initiatives since 1995, all badly flawed by lack of funding and insufficient political drive. 83 Their main purpose was apparently to give an impression of government action to deflect questions from petitioning villagers, parliamentary deputies from the southeast, and foreign diplomats, as well as pressure from metropolitan populations and municipalities concerned about the influx of peasants who squat on vacant land and put up gecekondu, or shanty dwellings.
Tansu Çiller's government announced a "Central Villages Project" in November 1994, but this was indefinitely postponed when it failed to receive Council of Europe funding. When the "Village Return Project" was announced in 1995, State Minister for Human Rights Algan Hacaloğlu urged his colleagues working on the scheme to ensure that this time there should be a genuine effort to solve the problems of the displaced: "We should stop making fake, artificial attempts just to convince the European Parliament,"84 he declared, but nearly a year later, the governor of Diyarbakır province conceded that "no matter how regrettable, from that day [of the announcement of the project] to today nothing has been done and the project remains on paper only."85
The latest government program for the displaced is the Village Return and Rehabilitation Project, announced in March 1999. The prime minister's press introduction for the Village Return and Rehabilitation Project closely resembled that of the ill-fated "Village Return Project," stating: "Within the framework of the project, those families who wish to return to their villages will be determined; infrastructure facilities of the villages will be completed; housing developments will be increased with the labor of families; and social facilities especially in health and education will be completed to increase the standard of living of the local people. Moreover, activities such as beekeeping, farming, animal husbandry, handicrafts and carpet weaving will be supported so that these families can earn a living."86
To Human Rights Watch's knowledge this is the only publicly available official, written information about the Village Return and Rehabilitation Project, although it was initiated more than three years ago. In the absence of any details on paper setting out the aims, methods, resources, or schedule of what is supposed to be a major construction and rural development project to serve hundreds of thousands of citizens, it must be questioned whether the government is truly committed to the project. Public officials responsible for implementing the Village Return and Rehabilitation Project, when contacted by Human Rights Watch, were unable to supply a policy paper or project summary. Neither the leading nongovernmental organizations in the field of internal displacement in Turkey (GİYAV, Göç-Der, HRA), nor those municipalities hardest hit by migration from the countryside, have received comprehensive information about the scope and work of the Village Return and Rehabilitation Project. The lack of written information reinforces Human Rights Watch's impression that the Village Return and Rehabilitation Project is not a major coordinated interdepartmental enterprise, but rather an ad hoc scheme that officials can quote in response to questions put by parliamentary deputies, journalists, and intergovernmental organizations.
Some displaced villagers suspect that the Village Return and Rehabilitation Project is a disguised form of forced resettlement, devised to keep them permanently away from their former villages. These suspicions were increased when Prime Minister Ecevit submitted a draft housing law to parliament in July 1999, four months after introducing the Village Return and Rehabilitation Project. The draft law would provide for the resettlement of former nomads, Turkic immigrants from abroad, and people internally displaced by security forces, but it ensures that anyone who refuses to go where they are told loses immediately all rights to rehousing. Article 13 of the draft law states that the Council of Ministers will decide who is to be counted as having been moved "for reasons of national security" in accordance with recommendations by the National Security Council. Article 14 states that "if [the displaced] do not accept to live in the places directed by the Office of the Prime Minister, their rights [to resettlement] will be cancelled by the local housing commission. Families in this situation may not make a second housing application."87
In June 2001 Human Rights Watch asked for a meeting with the Office of the Prime Minister to discuss the Village Return and Rehabilitation Project, but was told to submit its questions in writing. In October 2001 Human Rights Watch wrote to the Office of the Prime Minister asking a series of questions about the Village Return and Rehabilitation Project, but received no reply. (See Appendix A)
In Turkish politics it has always been imperative for politicians to be seen to be doing something on behalf of the poor exploited villager, so when questioned about the displaced, ministers and government officials have repeatedly referred to the Village Return and Rehabilitation Project and given statistics suggesting that there is a substantial flow of returns with government support. In fact, three years since its introduction the project remains, like its predecessor "on paper only," no more than a feasibility survey.
86 See Press Release issued by the Office of the Prime Minister, www.byegm.gov.tr/YAYINLARIMIZ/newspot/1999/mar/News3-4.htm, March 1999 (accessed November 2000).