If, as it appears, the Village Return and Rehabilitation Project will attempt to resettle inhabitants of mezra in larger centralized settlements, it will be disquieting for many villagers. All those interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that they would prefer to move back to their own homes. Naturally, their links with their own soil are strong, but in addition, they did not relish the prospect of being forced into the company of strangers, and particularly into settlements dominated by rival tribes. Travelling substantial distances to their own fields and grazing may be impractical, and allocations of land at the place of resettlement may be unsatisfactory. They were also concerned that they may not have full freehold rights over property in their place of resettlement.
Nevertheless, the government is going ahead with a confusing variety of projects involving resettlement rather than return: "central villages," "attraction centers," and "village-townships." Some measures seem to exist only in official press statements. On July 23, 2000 Anatolia News Agency reported that Deputy Prime Minister Mesut Yılmaz had referred to an Immediate Implementation Project providing for 2,850 families in Diyarbakır, Bingöl, Şırnak, Batman, Hakkari, Tunceli, Bitlis, Van, Muş, Siirt, and Kars. In July 2001 Human Rights Watch interviewed more than fifty villagers living in, or displaced from, seven of these provinces; none of them reported being included in the Immediate Implementation Project or knowing of any neighbors or relatives who had been included in it. Due to the near-complete lack of transparency surrounding these initiatives, it is unclear how these projects relate to one another, who qualifies for them, or what their aims, objectives and budgets are to be. Government representatives interviewed by Human Rights Watch were not able to give clear definitions of these various projects and had no documentation about their legal basis. As already noted, Human Rights Watch wrote to the Office of the Prime Minister in October 2001 asking for clarification about these schemes, but received no reply.
Several "central villages" have been founded or are planned: at Islamköy and Çüngüş in Diyarbakır province, Karlıova in Bingöl province, Karayazı in Erzurum province, Başağaç in Şırnak province, and Konalga in the district of Çatak, Van province.100
Shortly after it opened, Konalga village was criticized by Van's parliamentary deputy, Hüseyin Çelik, as being inappropriate to local needs. 101 He stated that villagers were not happy to live so far from their lands and were insufficiently provided with agricultural buildings. He added that the villagers had been induced to accept this form of resettlement by their tribal chief who was also leader of a troop of village guards and brother of the headman. In July 2001 a Human Rights Watch delegate visited Konalga, a smart development of 383 houses with a population of about 2,300. The houses had piped water, a sewage system, and employment creation schemes including a carpet production workshop and thousands of newly planted walnut trees.
Çelik's assertion that at least some villagers were being coerced to live at Konalga was supported by an interview with a villager (who requested that his identity not be revealed for fear of reprisals). The villager stated that his family had accepted a house in Konalga and the gift of sheep that was made to all new residents. In order to obtain these benefits, they were required to sign bills for large sums that would be held by the local governor. However, the family chose to move closer to their fields, in their old home at the site of the former evacuated village of Konalga. The village guard chief demanded that they reside in the new settlement, and when they refused, he cut off the electricity supply to the old home and soldiers demolished the house. Rather than move back into Konalga, the family moved back to Van. They were shocked to receive a court sequestration order obtained by the governor to confiscate goods to the value of nearly U.S.$8,000 in respect of the sheep and the unoccupied house.
The headman of Konalga, in response to Human Rights Watch's inquiry as to whether villagers could leave Konalga without penalty, replied that villagers could take up residence or quit as they liked "provided that they act in good faith." He said that villagers' lands were up to seven kilometers distant. This to some extent bears out Hüseyin Çelik's suggestion that the arrangement of a concentrated settlement may not best suit an agricultural community. But Konalga actually runs a mixed economy. The income from its 163 village guards almost certainly outweighs any earnings from walnuts and beekeeping. The housing project is partly administered by the Provincial Special Administration, which coordinates security affairs. With its huge gendarmerie station, there seems little doubt that the siting and shape of Konalga was largely determined by security considerations. The same is true for another village return development that Human Rights Watch visited at Beşbudak in the Gürpınar district of Van province. This is also a community with a substantial village guard membership that was displaced as a consequence of PKK violence. Here the original village was being rebuilt by the returning villagers with materials supplied by the governor's office, but the plan is to build many new homes similar to those at Konalga in order to house villagers displaced from outlying mezra. There was a substantial military presence in the village, which was decorated with banners reading, for example, "The army and villager hand in hand."
At Konalga and Beşbudak relations between the villagers and the military seemed good, and at Konalga, the local governor of Çatak, Ahmet Altıntaş, was clearly very concerned with the well-being and development of the community. These were communities that had suffered badly from the predations of the PKK rather than state forces, and to this extent represent a minority of the displaced. According to the organization Göç-Der, the central villages of Islamköy and Başağaç are similarly dominated by families with strong ties to the village guard system. Prior to its destruction by security forces in 1992, Islamköy was home to 350 families. There are now fifty-one lodgings and thirty-two of these are occupied by village guards, who are reportedly obstructing the return of any villager who is not prepared to carry out "voluntary" (ie unpaid) village guard service.102 Başağaç village, evacuated in 1988, is in the process of being rebuilt with 179 lodgings, and the first houses were opened in June 2001. According to information obtained by Göç-Der from local sources, the population of this village now consists exclusively of village guards.103
When Prime Minister Ecevit attended the initiation of the the first village-township project at Mesüdiye, near Bolu, on the Black Sea coast in September 2000 (far from the southeast), he introduced the scheme as one that would combat, and even reverse, migration from the country to the city. The government had identified lack of rural infrastructure as one of the chief causes of migration. This scheme funded the provision of health, education, and cooperative agriculture and industry facilities. Ten villages that would not have warranted such investment on an individual basis are to share these health centers, schools, and agricultural storage facilities.
The World Bank's representative in Turkey, Ajay Chhibber, attended the opening ceremony of the Mesüdiye project in November 2001 and, according to the Turkish newspaper Akşam (Evening) of November 22, 2001, spoke optimistically about providing U.S.$300 million finance for village-townships elsewhere in Turkey. By January 2002, the World Bank had a team in the country collecting information for a proposal.
There is little information available about the aims, methods, and budget for village-townships. However, in his opening speech, the Prime Minister made it clear that some village-townships were planned for the southeast, and that they were to be part of the government's plan for the return of the internally displaced.
Human Rights Watch wrote to the World Bank in February 2002 expressing concern about its possible funding of a project that was an integral part of the Turkish government's flawed "return" arrangements, noting that the government had failed to fully inform the public about its plans and was not consulting displaced villagers, nongovernmental organizations working on their behalf, or professional bodies in the region.105
The World Bank replied to Human Rights Watch106 stating that the Turkish government had emphasized that the village-township approach was distinct from the Village Return and Rehabilitation Project and central village projects and that since there would be no overlap between the village-townships and the other projects, there should be no grounds for concern. The World Bank's letter to Human Rights Watch stated that the problems of the internally displaced were the concern of other U.N. agencies that "lead the effort in collaboration with the Turkish government." Unfortunately, as will be seen below, the other U.N. agencies in Turkey have little involvement in the return process.
Prime Minister Ecevit's own words in introducing the Mesüdiye scheme suggest that actually there is an overlap between the two projects. He explicitly described the village-townships and central villages as different solutions for the same problem:
It may be significant that the same official at the Office of the Prime Minister, Assistant Undersecretary Selçuk Polat, is apparently responsible for coordinating central village projects, the Village Return and Rehabilitation Project, and the village-townships. The local governor of Çatak, who was involved in the establishment of the central village Konalga, described it as "part of the Village Return and Rehabilitation Project and also as part of the Village-Township project, but the funding came from the Village-Township project."108 During Human Rights Watch's visit to Beşbudak in Van province described above, some houses were hung with banners announcing: "Privation, hunger and poverty are not my ordeal; the central village-township is my pride, my honor." "The cave-dwelling age is over. Long live Beşbudak central village-township."
Human Rights Watch fears that the Village-Township Project may be used to channel funds into unsatisfactory return schemes: that international money received for Village-Townships could be used, for example, to pay for infrastructure such as educational and health resources for clusters of central villages.
In May 2002, the government announced that it intended to found village-townships in three of the twelve south-eastern provinces in which most displacement occurred: Muş, Siirt, and Van.109 In August 2002, World Bank officials working on Turkey's Village-Township application informed Human Rights Watch that the bank was scrupulously avoiding involvement with village-township schemes in areas that had suffered internal displacement and on this basis had decided not to fund the Muş and Siirt projects. It did intend to fund the project in _zalp, Van province, however, since there had been no displacement in this area.110
In distancing itself from the government's problematic return plans, the World Bank's principled approach has left it in the awkward position of deliberately withholding funding from what most observers agree is the most pressing problem in the southeast. Hundreds of thousands of villagers are either living in poverty in the towns and cities or are rebuilding their homes and livelihood with little or no help from the government that (in most cases) burned them out in the first place, and no financial assistance or expertise from the major international organizations. It is to be hoped that the World Bank will now put pressure on the Turkish government to redesign its return program, and bring it into a form that the World Bank and others would feel confident in supporting.
The World Bank has long been closely engaged with Turkey's development efforts. Turkey joined the World Bank in March 1947 and has historically been a significant Bank client. Bank lending to the country averaged approximately U.S.$150 million a year between 1990 and 1997. In 1998, the bank decentralized its office from Washington to Ankara, Turkey to support expansion of its programs. Lending and projected lending increased considerably in 2000 when the bank financed approximately U.S.$1.8 billion in projects and said that lending could grow to U.S.$5 billion by 2003. In keeping with the Bank's operational policy on Development Cooperation and Conflict, the World Bank is in a position to engage directly with the Turkish government to encourage sound projects for return that are in keeping with the U.N. Guiding Principles. Positive World Bank involvement in the Village Return and Rehabilitation Project could serve as a catalyst for ensuring that the government's return efforts comply with such standards.
104 In its letter to the World Bank of February 20, 2002, Human Rights Watch asked to be informed of the grounds for this refusal, but the World Bank did not include this information in its reply of March 5, 2002.