Terrorism toll on Turkey

Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Amasya deputy Naci Bostancı deserves credit. The cost of terrorism to Turkey has been for the first time documented in a very detailed and comprehensive way by the terrorism sub-commission of the parliamentary Human Rights Investigation Commission that he chaired. The 325-page report collected the data from various government agencies and nongovernmental organizations to determine the total toll, in terms of lost lives and expenditures, exacted by terrorist groups in Turkey, primarily by the violent Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), during an almost three-decade period.

According to the total tally obtained by the commission, 35,576 people have lost their lives in Turkey so far due to terrorism. This official number does not include internal executions within terrorist groups that are not known by the authorities and that have not been recorded in the official registry yet. There are estimates ranging from hundreds to thousands depending on whom you speak. But, when the commission notified the Ankara Prosecutor’s Office about the testimonials on internal executions from witnesses, Turkish prosecutors launched an investigation into claims and identified 532 people who were killed by the PKK in Turkey, Germany, Denmark, France, Sweden, the Netherlands, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. When the investigation is completed, a case will be filed with the court.

The number also does not include unsolved murders due to terrorism-related crimes that are not yet reflected in the official statistics. The investigation into these murders is already under way in Turkey’s Southeast. The number does not incorporate the revenge killings committed between terrorist groups either. When breaking the total number down to different categories, the report says that 7,918 public officials (most are member of the security forces) lost their lives, while 22,101 terrorists were killed between 1984 and 2012. Civilian casualties numbered 5,557 people.

There is also a big army of survivors of terrorism who were given special status and entitlements based on Law No. 3713, which regulates government support for war veterans. The benefits are also extended to spouses and children of security personnel who were killed in the line of duty. According to the report, the Social Security Institution (SGK) was paying a monthly salary to 20,060 people under this law as of November 2011. The law also provides benefits to civilians who incurred injury and damage due to terrorism. The Ministry of Family and Social Policy was paying health care premiums for 82,724 people as of August 2012, providing civilians complete and free health care benefits.

The government provides secured employment benefits to both disabled veterans and the spouses or children of security personnel who have been killed as well, with 11,526 people benefitting from this program as of August 2012. Between 1995 and 2011, the Interior Ministry paid TL 18.8 million in compensation to 4,274 victims of terrorism who are members of the security forces or their relatives as mandated under the Counterterrorism Law (TMK) No. 3713. As for the compensation for livestock or other property damaged or destroyed during anti-terrorist campaigns, of the 359,246 applications made under Compensation Law 5232 adopted by Parliament in 2004, TL 2.7 billion has been awarded to 166,754 citizens; 130,389 applications were rejected as invalid, while the rest were still pending as of Jan. 1, 2012.

A total of 187,861 people who had to leave their villages in the Southeast due to terrorism have returned since 2005, when the Return to the Village and Rehabilitation Project (KDRP) was launched, the report indicates. Considering that 386,360 people had to leave their villages in 14 provinces in the Southeast, the resettlement effort has succeeded in returning almost 50 percent of the people who fled the fighting to their homes, while the rest remain settled in their new homes. The government had spent TL 128 million for this program through the end of 2011.

In terms of the overall financial cost of terrorism to Turkey, there are different figures floating out there. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan cited a figure of $300 billion as the cost in his preface to the “Democratic Initiative Process” pamphlet released by the governing AK Party in February 2010. Other Turkish officials have repeated the same figure as well. But Labor and Social Security Minister Faruk Çelik raised the figure further, putting the cost of terrorism at $400 billion in September 2011.

Servet Mutlu, a professor of economics at Ankara-based Başkent University who studied the economic costs of the PKK conflict, says the figure is much lower. He said the country incurred a loss of $88 billion between 1984 and 2005, including indirect costs that are caused by forgone investment, the loss of human capital, capital flight and migration. In their study titled “Regional Effects of Terrorism on Economic Growth in Turkey: A Geographically Weighted Regression Approach,” Jülide Yıldırım and Nadir Öcal say Turkey has been fighting terrorism at both a national and an international level for three decades, and more than $100 billion in resources have been spent in the effort. The reason for huge differences in figures may be partially attributed to the lack of transparent defense expenditures in Turkey.

Professor Ümit Özdağ, appearing before a parliamentary commission, disputed figures like $300 billion as the total cost, saying that Turkey did not have that kind of money to spend anyway. He said Mutlu’s figures look more reasonable than others. My sense is that different figures may be justified depending on how you make your calculations and what methodology you use. If you have a large list of indirect cost items like the PKK terrorism’s adverse impact on potential income not only in terror-stricken areas but across the country, say lost tourism revenue and expenditures to regain the confidence of investors and travelers, it is possible that one might reach a different number.

In all likelihood, both the human and economic cost of the terrorism to Turkey is huge no matter how you calculate the figures. Even the most conservative numbers tell us that Turkey would have been in a much better position today, politically and economically, had it not been subjected to terrorism for so long. We also should not forget the lost generation, as the report found that 40 percent of the PKK militants are under the age of 18. It all boils down to this: No one can put a price on the violation of people’s right to life, and that is what happened in Turkey’s fight against terrorism.

The new process in the country, if it becomes successful, can surely usher in a new era. But I am cautiously optimistic on the prospect of a peace because we know from historical experiences that some countries, friends and foes alike by the way, do not want to see Turkey able to exploit its full potential. They see terrorism as a brake or a sort of insurance policy for slowing down progress and development in Turkey. For that, we will see attempts to derail the process both from inside and outside, and we should be prepared for contingencies.

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