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Last Updated: Saturday, 13 November, 2004, 13:39 GMT
Turkish journey: European dreams
The BBC's Istanbul correspondent Jonny Dymond is exploring Turkish life on a trip across the vast country as it lobbies the European Union to open membership talks.

He sent the third of a series of reports from Gaziantep.


As night falls over Gaziantep, a city of about a million on the edge of Turkey's south-east region, a thick belt of blackness hovers over the fringes of the city.

In the early moments of the dusk it looks pretty dramatic, almost romantic, until you realise that it is pollution, the product of the light industrial plants and textile factories that ring the city.

A child in Gaziantep reaches for sweets on the eve of the end of Ramadan holiday
The holiday at the end of Ramadan is celebrated with sweets

The pollution doesn't stop at the edge of town. The air in the centre of town itself gathers over the day a smoky, slightly soupy quality.

This pollution may not be good for the health.

But it is, for Gaziantep, not something to be mourned - because it is the product of the town's prosperity, a sign that in at least one city of Turkey's troubled south-east, things are going relatively well.

It took me 10 hours to get here from Konya, in central Anatolia.

I came by coach, it's not the fastest way to travel. Ever since one of the more horrific road accidents recently killed nearly 50 people, the coach drivers have taken it easy on the roads, sticking to the speed limit.

However, that doesn't stop different kinds of lunacy.

An accident a few days ago was caused by one driver trying to give control of a coach to another driver while the vehicle was still pelting along the road. Is life as a coach driver really so boring that you have to enliven it with tricks like that?

It would be much quicker to fly. But then you'd miss one of the biggest stories of Turkey.

There appear to be six or seven different countries wrapped up in this one - indivisible, of course - republic.

You can see parts of Gaziantep - just about - as part of Europe, but much would have to change
I'm not talking about the Kurds, the Circassians or the Laz, but about the simple geography of the place.

For a couple of hours' drive beyond Konya, it is the monotonous Anatolian plain outside the coach window - brown earth, blue-white sky, a long line of electricity pylons, the odd scrubby tree and the odd equally scrubby village.

This gives way to the road through the mountains, studded with trees in the rocky soil. Clouds obscure the bottom of ravines below.

The view is stunning, hungrily drawing the eye. One town that we stop at is itself shrouded in cloud.

And then we descend to yet another country, this one warm and lush, heading towards the Mediterranean coast.

The countryside is green, and palm trees grow in the strip that intersects the road. Fruit and vegetable farms run along the side of the road.

Suddenly there is a stretch of deserted beach and the Mediterranean sea comes into view, shiny blue. The coast is heavily developed, apartment blocks craning for a view of the sea.

On one beach a man stands hesitating, as if debating whether to take the plunge into the November-cold water.

The Anatolian plain
Turkey combines plains, mountains and lush Mediterranean land

And then, as rain begins to fall, we nudge into the south-east. Towns and villages are fewer and further between, and the soil darkens.

The streets of the Gaziantep's centre are bustling with shoppers buying presents for the holiday at the end of Ramadan.

The local speciality foods are almost bursting from shop windows: honey-drenched baklava, pistachios and spices.

Gaziantep has benefited from the exodus of people and money from the rest of the south-east during the long years of battle between separatist Kurds and the Turkish state.

"This is the Germany of the East," one resident tells me, a reference to the millions of Turkish citizens who went to Germany as "guest-workers" in the 1960s.

It has always been a trading town - a stop on the Spice Road with a long Armenian business tradition.

Men wrapping pistachio sweets for the end of Ramadan holiday
Local specialities made with honey and pistachios fill the shops

I asked a local journalist what was left of the Armenian presence in terms of buildings - the people left long ago, unwelcome in a republic that was for many decades deeply intolerant of minorities.

"Very little," he replies. "In London," he goes on, "there are mosques and no-one says anything. Here they put minarets on the top of churches. And then they talk about tolerance amongst religions."

You can see parts of Gaziantep - just about - as part of Europe. But much would have to change.

How many jobs would have to be lost when environmental regulations forced the factories to stop sending smoke into the sky and the lungs of the city's residents?

As for, say, the butchers - well, refrigeration probably wouldn't hurt.

There is industry and trade in Gaziantep - you can see it reflected in the shops and offices.

View of
Migrant families live in shanty towns with only sporadic electricity

But drive just a few minutes from the centre of town and you come across a classic Turkish shanty town - a "gecekondu" - built by night so as to avoid building regulations, overflowing with migrant families with too many children and far too few jobs.

The electrical power comes and goes amongst the breeze-block houses.

Nearly everyone here talks about Europe in terms of jobs and money, or the chance of exodus for their children.

I can't quite imagine what these barely educated children might do in Europe, except perhaps live in a different, and probably more unpleasant, kind of grinding poverty.

I ask a man what Europe would mean to Turkey. "First of all," he replies, "cars will get cheaper, and we'll be able to travel freely."

And what would Turkey bring to Europe? Lots, he says, smiling. "Olives, pistachios, carpets and fabrics."

What more could Brussels ask for?





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