Portraits of Van

Nearly all of Van’s civic and business leaders share the same opinions, and speak of the same hardships. Zahir Kantasoglu, President of the Van Chamber of Commerce and Industry, says “We have no hope for Van other than tourism.”

Mr. Kantasoglu continues: “4s everybody knows the curse of terrorism existed here for 20 years. Van’s folk and merchants lived through great hardship. Actually, nothing ever happened in the city of Van to damage tourism, but unfortunately no one even gave a thought to the region. During the years of 1919- 1980. When Van’s population was 150 000. The annual number of visitors was between 160 000 and 180 000, and people spoke about Van before they spoke about Antalya. We were very hurt when only 3 000 people visited our city last year, and the fact that things are picking up this year is pleasing. Van is a centre for tourism, we have tried hard to develop industry, but it just never took hold. Now, we are working together with our Governor to promote tourism, and as part of this effort, we have attended two fairs: prepared CDs and launched a project called “The Silk Road”. We have also cleaned up the area around Van Castle, and special lighting has been installed at both Van and Hosap Castles. The TURSAB President, Mr. Ulusoy, visited our Chamber and attended a regional meeting, where everyone from the various civic societies and NGOs (non-governmental organisation) shared their opinions and ideas with him. But, we haven’t seen any support from the Ministry of Tourism, and Lake Van has not been added to anyone’s agenda. Our biggest frustration is that the politicians have remained unresponsive to the region.”

Ferda Cemiloglu Project Coordinator of the Limited Responsibility Life, Women, Environment and Culture Administrative Cooperative.

One of the biggest surprises in Van is Ferda Cemiloglu. She is the recipient of one of the five awards presented to women by the United Nations, for her support to refugees. She is also a daughter of the famous Cemilogullari family of Diyarbakir and speaks five languages: Turkish; Persian; Arabic: Kurdish and English. After graduating from Hacettepe University, her goal was to work for “the people and labour” and she pursued this by working with NGOs in Turkey’s various provinces before finally arriving in Van. She now runs ‘Van House’, right next to Van Castle. Van House should serve as an example for many regions of Turkey. Everything, from its’ architecture and interior decoration, to the outfits worn by the personnel and the glasses used to serve drinks is authentically unique to Van.

Ms Qilaliogiu tells a story of her work in Van: “For one and a half years, while I was President of the Refugees and Immigrants Solidarity Association, an amazing dialogue took place between myself and the refugee women. Eventually, seven women got together with me, and we formed this co-operative. We put in a bid for Van House, struggled and won. And now, we are directing the efforts of those women. This used to be a place where no one got in easily, or came to with their families. Now, it is a place where people can come easily, a place that has become an example… We have also restored a house in the Selimbey neighbourhood, and have requested the support of other foundations and associations. Ultimately, we prepared a proposal, which we presented to the World Bank, this is for a 7 day women’s training programme, to start in September. We all work as volunteers, and need everyone’s support.”

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