From minefields to modern farmland (TURKEY)

Millions of square meters of vast land along the Syrian border have been minefields for as long as one can remember. Now an unimaginable transformation is about to start. This land will be leased to entrepreneurs who will clear the mines and cultivate it. Tenders are open to both domestic and international companies


It's a nice calm afternoon in the shade with tea being served, children standing by with watchful eyes and small talk going on. If looked at carefully, you can catch some uneasiness in the eyes of both the adults and children: This is a minefield.
We are at Mardin Nusaybin's Durakbaşı village. Here life and death are intertwined. Minefields cover three sides of the village. In the middle of the only open area stands a gendarmerie station.
A housewife from the house standing right next to the minefield, Aslıhan Alboğa, says: It is as if we are in prison. Children can't play. You cannot fetch a ball if it goes into the minefield. When you go near the fence, angry soldiers come up to stop you.
Actually, they are thankful for how it is these days. For years, the village has not lost anybody in the minefields. About 20 years ago when smuggling was on the go, the atmosphere was extremely tense, they remember. They used to wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of clashes. Now, they can send their children to school without any fear, but they continue to live a life squeezed in between fences.

Base for agriculture:
Not only in Mardin but also in Şırnak, Şanlıurfa, Gaziantep, Kilis and Hatay, minefields fence off many pieces of land. The total area of the minefields in Mardin amounts to 45 million square meters. All together it is estimated that minefields cover an area of 210 million square meters in Turkey.
The minefields lie all along the border to Syria and affect the lives of 6,000 families. But a project is about to be finalized to change this picture all together. The area equal to twice the area of Cyprus will be cleared of mines and is planned to be transformed into an agriculture base for Turkey.

$700 million for mine clearance:
The land would be put up for tender in the private sector on a build-operate-transfer basis and be opened to agricultural activities. The Finance Ministry is undertaking the tenders that would also be open to foreign investors.
Private investors would not pay rent for the fields. Since the cost of mine clearance is extremely high, the tenders would not be for rental fees but for the period of the lease. Those who bid for the lowest lease period will win the tender. Some clearance costs are estimated to range between $400 and $700 million. The minimum free lease period is 49 years. The state will therefore not be spending any money but that land which was put to sleep for 50 years will be enlivened.

Separate tenders for different cities:
Because the land in question is vast, there will be separate tenders for different cities. Leading local businessmen have started preparing for the tenders. A conventional rural leader, Ferhan Ademhan, is one of them. Times have changed. It is not correct now to guard our borders with mines.
The most important thing is for this land to be cleared of mines, he said. It's not possible to do it using state resources. The best way to make use of this land and bring it back into the economy without spending a penny from the state budget is to open a tender for private companies. The build-operate-transfer model should not be abandoned.
These lands may be suitable for growing organic products because they have not been used for many years, some argue. The new agriculture centers would create employment opportunities for the poor population.
There is also an international factor: Turkey has signed the Ottawa Convention, which obliges signatories to clear all landmines by 2014. It might look as if there is still time, but mine clearance is a time-consuming operation. So the tenders must be opened as soon as possible for the work to begin.
Box box box

Question of border security breach:
The fact that Israeli, U.S. and Dutch firms would be entering the mine clearance tenders prompted a public debate. It was questioned whether it was wise to hand over the initiative of the border areas to foreigners. Communiqués issued by the chief of general staff said the opposite: After the land is cleared of mines, the border areas will be protected by more modern techniques. The private firms in question will pull out after the clearance work is finished. Moreover, the right to plow the land belongs to the entrepreneur who has won the tender, not the mine-clearing company.

Von: 25.06.2006, by PINAR ARAT,

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