The Office of the Prime Minister delegated management of the Village Return and Rehabilitation Project to the giant South East Anatolia Project (Guneydoğu Anadolu Projesi-GAP).88 GAP could not supply Human Rights Watch with any written overview of the Village Return and Rehabilitation Project, but GAP officials were very willing to talk with Human Rights Watch about their contribution to the project. At an interview on July 9, 2001, at the Şanlıurfa headquarters of GAP in southeast Turkey, Mehmet Açıkgöz, agriculture and social projects group director, and Handan Giray, agricultural economist, told Human Rights Watch that the Village Return and Rehabilitation Project had first been conceived in 1997 when provincial governors began to establish return projects on their own initiative and the government resolved that a more consistent and coordinated approach was required. 89
Once tasked with the project of designing a return program, GAP decided that it was necessary to collect further information about the scope of the problem, and to this end put the task of preparing a feasibility study out to competitive tender. The tender was awarded to the Turkish Social Sciences Association (TSBD),90 a nongovernmental organization that finances and implements a wide variety of social research. In October 2002, most of the project data and feasibility plan had been delivered to GAP, with some cartographic work still outstanding.91
The TSBD director, Professor Oğuz Oyan, described the feasibility study as developing "a standard approach without going to a lot of expense. An attempt at something practical."92 His staff was engaged in a one-year project to collect data and make proposals for a model for future village reconstruction. They had talked to displaced people in provincial centers and had selected one hundred empty villages from a list of three hundred for more detailed study. Professor Oyan emphasized that one hundred was the number of villages chosen for deeper study and not the number of villages considered appropriate for repopulation. From the initial one hundred, they selected one village per province in the affected region, and for each of these the association was developing a reconstruction plan on the basis of large scale maps. According to Professor Oyan, the plans were mainly focused on the physical aspects of reconstruction-the layout of the houses and infrastructure including electricity and water supply, roads and sewage disposal-and did not go much into details of implementation.
The collection of concrete data as the basis for feasible proposals is praiseworthy, welcome and long overdue. By contrast with previous schemes the TSBD has taken the trouble to talk in depth with at least some of the displaced persons in order to discover their needs.93
But it is not clear that the feasibility study will serve the interests of the majority of the displaced. According to Professor Oyan, the Prime Minister's Office and GAP did not give TSBD detailed terms of reference for the feasibility study, but there is a risk that the research is being skewed by a number of built-in assumptions and omissions.
First of all, the project leaves the most basic questions unanswered: how many people were displaced, how were they displaced and who are they? The Parliamentary Commission on Migration shed some doubt on the official figure of 378,335, calling it "problematic" and suggesting that it may be an underestimate. Göç-Der estimates the number of displaced to be four-and-a-half times higher, at 1.7 million. The TSBD did not know whether the government had kept any complete register of displaced persons. In the absence of such information about the true number of people displaced, it is difficult to see how the government can set an effective budget for reconstruction. Without contact details for the displaced, government agencies will not be able to communicate with them in order to collect information, nor keep them informed of policies and potential benefits for which they qualify.
If the government ignores the original circumstances of the displacement, it ignores its responsibility to provide full restitution. As indicated above, the U.N. Guiding Principles state that the government has a duty to restore property and possessions, and that where this is not possible, it should provide or assist people to obtain appropriate compensation or another form of just reparation.94 In his meeting with Human Rights Watch, Professor Oyan was skeptical about the possibility of such reparation given Turkey's financial situation. He cautioned that the feasibility study had not been prepared in the light of the U.N. Guiding Principles, and that the TSBD's allocated task was "not concerned with human rights-though we are sensitive to human rights."95
It seems likely that the research sample may be at least unrepresentative and perhaps badly lopsided. The TSBD's plan will be based on interviews with displaced persons, and if this group is not representative of the overall population of displaced persons then it will produce misleading results. The TSBD identified the villagers for interview and the settlements for consideration as models from lists and petitions supplied by local governors. Local governors clearly have better relations with former village guard villages displaced by PKK activities than with non-village guard communities displaced by the security forces, and they usually do not accept petitions from villagers who declare that they were displaced by security forces. Asked if villages that were less favored by the authorities had been included in the pilot study, Professor Oyan admitted that "there would be no point in us developing a plan for a village that the local governor does not consider appropriate for resettlement."96
Villages in southeast Turkey often consist of a large settlement surrounded by many smaller mezra (hamlets). Those state officials that agreed to speak to Human Rights Watch left no doubt that an unwritten priority of the Village Return and Rehabilitation Project is to engineer out these smaller units. The deputy governor of Van province was quite blunt: "We do not regard the mezra warmly."97 He stated that repopulating far-flung mezra did not look like a good investment in view of the expense of supplying them with medical support, postal services, utilities, and education. He and others also mentioned the difficulty of protecting these settlements. It is clearly easier to provide military supervision of a large village close to lines of communication. The authorities' security concerns may be justified (or not, given the relative peace of the last four years). But this policy seems to have been agreed over the heads of the displaced villagers. The government is smuggling an extra state imperative-closing down remote rural settlements for reasons of security and economy-into a project publicized as one of "return."
When asked if villagers determined to return to their homes in mezra would be prohibited from return, the TSBD, like the Van deputy governor, emphasized that nobody would be prevented by force from returning to their homes wherever they might be, but that remote settlements were unlikely to win any government assistance. At the moment many inhabitants of mezra are not being permitted to return. In the future they may be presented with the choice of becoming a tenant of government housing in a central village with the expectation that they commute to their fields and pastures (not a practical proposition for those whose property is at a distance of several kilometers), returning to the destroyed mezra with no assistance at all, or abandoning all hope of return and continuing their precarious urban existence.
In view of the description of the feasibility study as a "practical" scheme, it is curious that the government had not given the TSBD a budget for the project, and had not asked the TSBD to prepare one. (Professor Oyan said that in spite of this the TSBD was anyway considering preparing a budget.)98 The lack of budgetary information is not consistent with the stated objective of avoiding expense (unless the aim is to avoid expense altogether) and puts a question mark over the government's commitment to implementation.
Finally, the Village Return and Rehabilitation Project is moving so slowly that there must be some doubt whether it will ever bring practical benefit to the displaced. The TSBD planned to finish its initial field study in March 2002 (five years after the Return Project's original conception). It would then provide an assessment of one hundred villages and proposals as to how the return process might be carried out in twelve model villages-no more that 12 percent of the emergency region governor's estimate of evacuated villages (820), or 3 percent of the figure for all evacuated settlements including mezra (2,345). The relevant ministries would then presumably begin deliberation about implementation of the program as a whole, and bargaining for resources. As this report went to press, in October 2002, it is unclear whether this process was in train. Until a comprehensive and fully-funded plan is up and running, villagers will remain cut off from their homes and livelihoods. The Parliamentary Human Rights Commission reported that the Interior Ministry's Village Return and Rehabilitation Project goal for 1999 was to secure the return of 1,017 families. 99 At this rate, the 10,539 families who have petitioned Göç-Der might expect to wait up to a decade before they could return to their homes, unless, as is widely feared, the Village Return and Rehabilitation Project will be limited to only a small number of selected settlements.
The Village Return and Rehabilitation Project has taken five years to get twelve model villages onto the drawing board. Those villages, for the reasons given above, are likely to be villages favored by the state because of a history of village guard membership. It would not be surprising if the other villagers, who do not have a special relationship with local governors and security forces, never benefit from the Village Return and Rehabilitation Project, and never return.
88 GAP is a corporation under the authority of the Office of the Prime Minister that is primarily responsible for coordinating the program of large-scale hydro-electric and irrigation projects in southeast Turkey. "The aim of this programme is to spur regional-development planning, management and project implementation to consolidate local capacities and to engage them in development processes. The programme seeks to do this through a matrix of projects concerned with economic and social growth, implemented at the local level in the provinces of the South Eastern Anatolia (SEA) region. The challenges of regional development persist and especially with regard to basing regional-development planning and investment on sound participatory mechanisms. Strengthening the catalytic role of U.N.D.P will result in more sustainable and participatory local-development schemes. With U.N.D.P support, programme partners will target vulnerable groups better in their project designs. This makes it possible to incorporate the goals of the World Summit for Social Development (WSSD) in programme interventions and to build necessary linkages among the many activities and subprojects supported under the programme. This in turn will lead to a more measurable impact." (Executive Board of the United Nations Development Programme and of the United Nations Population Fund [U.N.D.P/U.N.P.F], December 13, 2000, First country cooperation framework for Turkey (2001-2005), DP/CCF/TUR/1, para. 29).
93 In a letter to Human Rights Watch, dated December 24, 2001, Professor Oyan emphasized that TSBD's study for the Village Return and Rehabilitation Project is "primarily a research and planning project whose findings might provide guidelines for a more comprehensive implementation." He stated further that participation was of the utmost importance for the TSBD, and that they had interviewed 1,097 heads or representatives of households.