Mayor transforms southeastern Anatolian city

Mayor Selmanoglu turns the once sleepy Elazig into prosperous urban oasis with new boulevards, public parks, residential neighborhoods, hotels and shopping centers. Old houses in the ancient Harput citadel are restored.




By Metin Demirsar

ELAZIG – For Suleyman Selmanoglu, the mayor of this southeast Anatolian city, working 18 hours a day is a normal part of his job.
"We are rapidly urbanizing," said the trim, athletic built, 59-year-old mayor with sparse hair in an interview.  "We have to run very fast to keep pace with developments. We mustn't lag behind. Days and months are not enough to maintain the smooth flow of municipal services."
Since he was first elected mayor in 2004 to the first of two five-year terms, Elazig's population has swelled from 267,000 to over 350,000. Along with neighboring communities and villages in the same central county, he added, the population of Elazig has reached 400,000.
The city is located on a plain, surrounded by undulating barren hills, dominated by the citadel Harput, an old commercial town on the old Silk Road. Harput was settled around 2,000 B.C. by the Hurrians, the members of an ancient Anatolian tribe originating possibly from the northern Caucasus or from the Caspian region.
The town came under the control various invaders. The Turks came to control it in the 11th century.

In the 18th century, Harput (it means Stone Castle in an old Armenian dialect) had a population of 70,000, with several Protestant and Jesuit missionary schools, churches, mosques, public baths and tombs of Muslim saints. But its inhabitants began to settle on the plain starting from the early 19th century, because of the difficulties of reaching it in winter.
The new city was named El Aziz, after the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Aziz, and thus became Elazig.
Only 700 persons now inhabit Harput, which has public parks, restaurants and cafes that are popular year round for a bird's-eye-view of Elazig.

Busy Schedule
Mayor Selmanoglu spends most of his time outside his municipal offices to inspect building sites and new zoning projects, attending opening ceremonies and restoration projects and accompanying visiting  dignitaries from Ankara..
Often in the middle of the night from home, he phones municipal workers who are on call, he said,  "to keep them on their toes."
As mayor, he is also responsible for holding weddings in the city.
"I preside over 12 weddings a day. When my son was getting married, I zipped over to another betrothal to satisfy the family, but came back just in time to put their wedding rings on the fingers of my son and his bride," he said.

In addition to constructing new double, twin-lane boulevards, modern housing complexes, plush shopping centers, his administration has built new public parks and local soccer fields for the community's youth, making Elazig one of Turkey's most livable cities.
In the northern neighborhood of Safran, old slums are being torn down, and some 6,000 new housing units are to be built. Other risky old slums will have to be demolished, he stressed.
"We fear what would happen to those old buildings and those living in them if an earthquake were to striket the city," Mr. Selmanoglu said.
The municipality has also moved city's sewage treatment center to a site 33km away to relieve Elazig of odors that pervaded over parts of the city in the past.
Still there is much to do, he argued. He said he wants to establish the private Harput University as an addition to the existing state-owned Euphrates University in Elazig and would like to build eastern Turkey's biggest public park with sports facilities in the city.

Son of a psychiatrist
Mr. Selmanoglu was born in Elazig in 1953, the son of an army psychiatrist. He is a former high school math teacher and principal. He also served as provincial head of education before resigning in 2004 to run for political office. He was elected mayor from the conservative True Path Party, but switched over to the ruling Justice and Development Party.

Under his administration, the municipality has also restored several old stone houses and buildings in the ancient citadel Harput, including an old Ottoman hamam, or Turkish bath, that is used in winters as a restaurant.
"We want to make Elazig a popular tourist city. This is why we are restoring Harput," he added.  
To emphasize the city as a tourism magnet, he promoted Elazig at an international tourism and travel exhibition in Istanbul in February.

Oasis of peace
Elazig is an oasis of peace and prosperity and a bastion of Turkish nationalism in the country's troubled southeastern corner, where the Turkish army has been fighting a Kurdish insurgency for  three decades.
The provinces of Tunceli, Diyarbakir and Bingol, which have been scenes of the fiery battles between Turkish security forces and the guerrillas of the rebel Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK),   border Elazig province, which the city serves as the state capital.
"Elazig doesn't have any security problem", says Ahmet Taner Akarsu, a contractor and chairman of Besu, a local construction company that is building new residential buildings in the city of Elazig. "There is no support for the PKK here."