GAP program helps peasants

Trevor Ivan

It may be difficult for some to imagine an area of the world where running water is scarce and political and economic oppression are rampant. These conditions are a reality for people in parts of Southeastern Turkey.

The Southeastern Anatolia Regional Development Project (known as GAP) has worked to change the conditions in this region since the 1970s. According to its Web site,, the purpose of GAP is to improve the living standards of the people who live in this region of Turkey through economic and social development.

Linda Robertson, director of the university’s Gerald H. Read Center for International and Intercultural Education, said GAP coordinates projects that work toward sustainable human development in the region.

“GAP focuses on things such as showing people how to generate income, how to manage water resources and how to empower women to be productive members of society,” Robertson said.

She said the university has a partnership with GAP. Members of the university faculty aid GAP in training people in Turkey toward economic and social development.

Olcay Unver, a visiting distinguished professor at Kent State and past president of GAP, said the university helps GAP with its projects in several ways.

“Kent State is an important partner to GAP in its planning and implementation of gender programs in particular, and in the capacity building and institutional development in general through the projects, contacts and interaction,” Unver said.

This week, several representatives from GAP are visiting the university. Ken Cushner, the university’s director of international affairs said these representatives are here to learn more about the university.

“They are coming to learn more about Kent State and the resources it offers them,” Cushner said. “They will be meeting faculty and finding out what types of programs we offer and how these programs can benefit them.”

One of the main aspects of GAP’s efforts is water conservation. GAP is building 22 dams along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in the region to help regulate irrigation.

Robertson said GAP works with the farmers in the area to show them how to irrigate their crops.

“We worked to help train the water resource managers,” she said. “We show them things that will help them irrigate their crops more effectively. For instance, we show them that the amount of snow that melts in the mountains is the amount of water they have to work with for that season.”

The water development project has allowed for sustainable development that didn’t exist before these dams were built, Cushner said. This was a region where people didn’t believe things were ever going to change.

“The farmer said he wept when the water came to his region,” Cushner said. “We sat on the floor of his new house watching CNN on his new television. The project brought water into his life.”

One of the key roles the university plays in GAP is training the workers on how to teach the peasant class in Turkey. Because many of the workers are university educated, they don’t know how to relate to the peasants, Cushner said.

“There are extreme cultural differences between (the workers) and the peasant class of Southeast Turkey,” he said. “We train them on how to relate to others of a different socio-economic background as well as with those who speak different languages.”

Through a grant from the U.S. State Department, the university explores women’s issues in Turkey. Rachel Anderson, director of Adult Services, works on this project. The group brings women from Turkey to the university in order to improve their leadership skills.

“(GAP) supports our efforts to engage women in the political and economic arenas so they can make contributions to their society and family as well,” Anderson said.

She said groups of women from this region come to the United States for training.

Anderson said she remembered an instance where a Turkish representative was deeply affected by one of the stories she heard. This woman ran for political office and lost due to the political tensions in her country.

“She was very discouraged and said she would never run again,” Anderson said. “However, when she heard one of our speakers who said you have to keep trying when you lose at something, she said it inspired her again.”

Having a connection with GAP benefits the university as well as the people of Turkey, Cushner said.

“We are now able to create more opportunities for student exchange since we have connections with universities in Turkey,” Cushner said. “We have also seen an increase in the amount of Turkish students attending Kent State since we started this program.”

Anderson said this type of program also opens the rest of the world to the university’s student population.

“As administrators and faculty, we need to ensure that the university can access the entire world,” she said.

Contact honors and international affairs reporter Trevor Ivan at [email protected].