When I was getting vaccinated for a trip to the Middle East, I was surprised to find the doctor asking me which part of Turkey I’d be visiting. She pulled out a map that looked something like this:
I was shocked because Turkey had to be the most developed country we would visit on that trip; how could they the only one where Malaria shots are necessary in certain parts. I felt even more shocked after I visited Istanbul, where its level of development seemed otherworldly compared to Damascus, Amman, Beirut, or even Jerusalem. They have a transit system that is efficient, people sort of obeyed traffic rules, and everything looked much better maintained. It felt like a European city, while the others felt like something else. I marveled at Istanbul’s unique mix of secularism and development. Yet apparently for someone living in Diyarbakir, Malaria is a part of life.
What’s more startling is that Turkey’s HDI for 2010 is 0.679, behind Jordan and Tunisia and not far ahead of Algeria [source]. How could a city that seemed so modern be in a country less developed than resource-starved Jordan, who has some 13 miles of coastline and a mostly desertous landscape. Jordan’s GDP (PPP) per head in 2010 was $5,400 while Turkey’s is more than twice that at $12,300 [source]. There has been research from multiple good sources on the matter:
A great research publication called “Regional Disparities and Territorial Indicators in Turkey: Socio-Economic Development Index (SEDI)” written by Metin ÖZASLAN, Bülent DINCER, and Hüseyin ÖZGÜR (found here) delves into this question with depth and authority I can’t match, so I’m going to just post some of their findings and briefly summarize them. They use 58 different indicators from myriad sources to measure provincial development and collate them into one index called the SEDI. Unfortunately this means that, like the HDI value from measureofamerica.org we cannot compare these values directly to other countries. Fortunately they do go into great detail in the article on their methodology and it appears to check out. Time for some cool maps thanks to this article.
Many things stand out. Most of Turkey’s most developed regions are in the western part of Turkey, with the lowest SEDI scored provinces all being in the east.Four Cities+suburbs stand out as the most developed provinces in Turkey: Istanbul, Izmir, Ankara, and Bursa. These provinces (and a province that includes suburbs of from Istanbul) have a combined population of 26.14 million, according to Turkstat. This means that of Turkey’s 73 million people, just over a 3rd live in these five most developed provinces [source]. This shouldn’t seem so troubling, when you look at the US (as we did in the previous blog) you can see its not so uncommon for states (especially ones with big cities) to score higher on development indicators. The problem with Turkey is it’s development curve among provinces is much steeper than the disparity among US states. A graph from the same source illustrates this effectively:
Istanbul’s score dwarfs the others, its more than four times that of 6th ranked Eskişehir province. The top five provinces themselves dwarf the remainder of the provinces.
Here is a map of the geographical regions of Turkey using the same source. I edited it to show which regions have above average and below average scores (note: mediterranean is almost perfectly at the average):
Now here is an unedited graph showing the regional SEDI scores from the same source:
This paints a picture of Turkey having three regions that this source claims, drive most economic growth in Turkey, with Marmara far outpacing the rest of the country. Meanwhile the two easternmost regions of Turkey experience the least amount of growth or development. This doesn’t perfectly coincide with the Malaria map I showed earlier, but I suspect that map was geared towards ease of use and probably wanted to include the entire southern border region to aid tourists traveling by land.
The next article I am going to use comes from the World Bank, titled “Turkey: Country Economic Memorandum Volume I – Main Report” it can be found here and the section I will cite begins on chapter 6, page 29 (41 in adobe). This article compares regional GDP per head variation among European countries and shows its findings in this graph:
Turkey ties with Belgium, a country known for its Flemish/Wallonian divide (a north/south divide in this case). I am surprised by the other results in this publication, as I had assumed Italy’s regional GDP variation would exceed the UK’s.
This article points out that from 1980 to 2000 Turkey’s regional disparity has either increased (gotten worse) or stayed the same. It points out that while Industrial activity has expanded in the Western half of Turkey, the East remains primarily employed by agriculture, and that hours/employee are considerably lower in the East. Finally, the article gives some explanations for why Turkey’s institutions might inhibit growth in the Eastern regions; it states that Turkey’s centralized planning and allocation of resources for things like infrastructure and public works projects gives local officials few options to raise their provinces from poverty and underemployment.
A few quick statistics can be found in this report from the European Commission titled “Second report on economic and social cohesion: Regional Features in Turkey” found here. It states:
“between east and west: two-thirds of the population were concentrated in the west of the country in half the land area, accounting for 82% of national GDP, and with GDP per head 23% above the national average (41% of the EU average). In the east, GDP per head was 53% of the national average, much the same as 10 years earlier”
One word that is missing from all of these articles is “Kurd” which is surprising because Kurds make up the largest ethnic minority in Turkey with 15 million living there, most of them are located in the Eastern part of Turkey. Here is a map I found from the University of Texas here that shows where most Kurds live:,
It’s worth noting that Turkey has a unique 10% electoral threshold that prevents most Kurdish interest parties from electing members into parliament; the easiest way to circumvent this rule is to run candidates as independents.
There seems to be a strong correlation (using these two maps and the first map) between Kurds and low development. I am not trying to imply that Kurds don’t work as hard, but simply pointing out that like Appalachia and the Mississippi Embayment, the Kurdish region of Turkey appears to lag behind the rest of Turkey. Something I would be very interested in seeing is how a partition of Turkey that removed part Eastern Turkey from the rest would effect the HDI value Turkey currently enjoys. Using the 3 sources from the beginning of this article, it seems clear that Turkey’s Western half would benefit (at least in its HDI score) if its indicators were measured separately from the Eastern/Kurdish part. Of course the political ramifications of such an outcome would be significant. I’ll leave that debate for the citizens of Turkey, be it Kurds or Turks.