Since, in a representative democracy, the provinces usually hold as much sway over politics as the number of representatives they are entitled to in the elections, the news the Supreme Election Board (YSK) announced was somewhat disappointing for the four provinces.
Elazığ, for which the number of representatives in Parliament has decreased to four, seems determined to compensate for the loss. The Hazar Strategic Research Center, based in the city of Elazığ, has organized a petition for the city of Elazığ to be included among the municipalities which are to obtain the status of metropolitan municipality.
The 152,000 signatures collected will be delivered by hand to the leaders of the parties represented in Parliament on April 3 in Ankara.
Assistant Professor Bilal Çoban, head of the Hazar Strategic Research Center, believes that if Elazığ can’t obtain metropolitan municipality status, it will fall a long way behind neighboring Malatya, which is expected to be granted the status. “Elazığ is the biggest city which doesn’t enjoy the status of metropolitan municipality,” Çoban notes.
Çoban claims that the loss in deputy numbers is not a result of a decrease in population. “Actually, Elazığ’s population rose by 1.4 percent last year. It’s because the population has increased drastically in some big cities, İstanbul’s by 5.5 percent, and that of Ankara by 5 percent, that provinces such as Elazığ have lost deputies,” he has said, speaking to Sunday’s Zaman.
Elazığ province, which has a total population of 580,000, with the city’s population being around 350,000, has been losing people to big cities such as İstanbul, Bursa, İzmir, Adana and Ankara. What Ali Şekerdağ, president of the Elazığ Chamber of Commerce and Industry, says about the city of Elazığ is revealing: “We are losing qualified manpower. They don’t feel they belong here, so they leave.” Elazığ is suffering from a brain drain. The reason is obvious: After completing university, young people usually can’t find a job in their line of work.
The wealthy don’t generally choose to live in Elazığ, either, because the city lacks the social facilities and entertainment places for people to enjoy themselves. “Quite a few of our businessmen prefer spending the weekend outside of the city, or fly to some big city,” Şekerdağ has told Sunday’s Zaman. Big firms having production plants or those exploiting mines in the province have their headquarters in the big cities, making the total export figure of the province look like a small $40 million. But when those firms’ exports are included, this figure rises to $280 million.
The province is rich in minerals and water resources, and much can be achieved in fields such as agriculture, animal husbandry, fish farming and tourism. A center for animal husbandry, Elazığ has suffered a huge loss in the number of cattle in the last 20 years. Up to the ‘90s there were about 250,000 livestock in the province, whereas now the figure is estimated to be around 30,000. One piece of good news for the city is that the construction of two five-star hotels, which the city lacks at the moment, is to start this year. The province also has the potential to be a tourist destination. Harput hosts a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary and the tombs of nearly 30 saints. But the problem is, it is not well connected to other destinations in the region nor does it have the social facilities to entertain tourists at night.
In the case of Van, an eastern border province, the reason behind the decrease in population is obvious: the big earthquakes the province suffered in October and November of last year. Before the earthquakes the population of the city of Van was estimated to be nearly 500,000. Mirza Nadiroğlu, president of the Van Chamber of Commerce and Industry, believes that nearly one-third of the population left the province after the earthquakes but that they will come back when the school term ends.
Van, hit by earthquakes in October and November of last year, now has seven seats in Parliament. Before the earthquakes, Van regularly received migrants from the surrounding region. If included in the new metropolitan municipalities bill, the province would be able to easily restore itself. According to Nadiroğlu, who has spoken to Sunday’s Zaman, to make a big leap forward, Van needs investments in three areas: namely, animal husbandry, tourism and border trade. “If investment is encouraged, Van is destined to be a leading city in the region,” he stated. Van is already an attraction center for tourists with its beautiful lake.
Ordu, a little province on the eastern Black Sea coast famous for its hazelnuts, will have five representatives instead of six in Parliament, the population of the province having decreased from 719,000 in 2010 to 714,000 in 2011. In recent years when investments were largely focused on Samsun and Trabzon, the region’s two leading provinces with seaports, Ordu felt a little ignored, a fact that is reflected in the words of Servet Şahin, president of the Ordu Chamber of Commerce and Industry, “We are a province, squeezed in between Trabzon and Samsun, with little investment.”
But Şahin is not without hope. “When the highway connecting Ordu to the Mediterranean and the airport is completed, Ordu’s prospects for development will be significantly boosted,” he told Sunday’s Zaman. Hazelnuts and tourism are two things the province depends upon economically. Tourism might be the province’s strong point because it is all green and blue, with the Black Sea facing the hazelnut orchards. And it’s the only province which is not cut off by the Black Sea coastal highway from the sea, and which therefore preserves its coast. In the past year two four-star hotels have been opened, and one five-star is on the way for next year, confirming the province’s potential for tourism. “We will be able to sell our hazelnuts much more easily to the inner Anatolian provinces, and people from Sivas will reach Ordu in two hours and spend their vacation here,” Şahin has noted. Ordu has always been a province of migrants. And the number of people from Ordu who have settled in İstanbul is said to be as great as the current population of the province.
The one province in which the news of population decrease came as a total surprise to locals is Manisa. “We are surprised that our population has decreased, because Manisa is a migrant receiving province,” Hasan Geriter, president of the Manisa Merchants and Craftsmen Chambers Union, has told Sunday’s Zaman. According to the latest census, the province’s population has decreased by nearly 40,000, the total population standing now at 1,340,000, bringing the number of deputies for the province down to nine.
Manisa could be considered a developed province both agriculturally and industrially, the two sectors having a fifty-fifty role in the makeup of the province’s economy. “There is no decline either socially or economically in Manisa,” Geriter has said, making clear that he sees no grounds for worry. And there is evidence supporting his opinion: Manisa was chosen as the best investment city in Europe a couple of years ago.
Tourism is still another area through which the province can prosper. The Mesir Paste Festival, in which foreign groups from nearly 10 countries also participated this year, is an important attraction. Spil Mountain, a national park, with its wild horses and rich forests, is another. But having no five-star hotels, it is clear the province needs investment and publicity, as many of the “losing” provinces do.