Gaziantep is a city of some 1.4 million people in southeastern Anatolia – only about an hour’s drive from the border with Syria. The immediate vicinity has been continuously inhabited since the Paleolithic Age and experienced the domination of powers such as the Assyrians, Persians, Romans, and Byzantines.
Located on the Silk Road, it is no surprise, that Gaziantep has a rich history in commerce. Today, it is an important – and growing – economic center of Turkey. The main sectors include cement and construction, textiles, leather, soap, food, carpets. The delegation heard from government and business leaders that Gaziantep is very entrepreneurial and is always looking for new business opportunities. Gaziantep is among the top ten fastest growing cities in the world – even though it does not have many natural resources. It is behind cities like Dubai, Qatar, and one in China, and one in Nigeria.
More than 600 companies in Gaziantep export to 158 countries – and in 2011 Gaziantep exported $5 billion to 171 countries. 38 percent of exports were to Iraq, 26 percent to European Union member states, and 11 percent to countries in the Middle East. In 1992, Gaziantep had a population of roughly 350,000 to 400,000 – but as a result of its rapid development, many people have been migrating from other parts of the country to seek opportunities in Gaziantep. This has put pressure on the social infrastructure and social fabric of the city.
Dr. Asim Güzelbey has been Mayor of Gaziantep for eight years, and has taken on many of these challenges. The city has made major investments in infrastructure through European Union development programs, funding from local sources, and the sale of land. He believes that the best investment a community can make is in human capital.
Today, Gaziantep has no unemployment and is in need of qualified labor.
In addition to being an emerging economic powerhouse, Gaziantep cuisine is recognized across the country and has influenced Turkish cuisine as a whole. This region is famous for its pistachios but also for its kebabs and kofte (meatballs with bulgur), and baklava.
On Tuesday, August 28, the Cities of Pittsburgh and Gaziantep signed a sister city proclamation. There was a great deal of enthusiasm on both sides about the potential to deepen the relationship in meaningful ways.
by World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh President & CEO, Dr. Steven E. Sokol
Editor’s Note: This is the second of several blog posts about the Pittsburgh delegation’s trip to Turkey. Stay tuned for more!