ISTANBUL—Ravaged by decades of fighting between Kurdish rebels and the Turkish military, an impoverished region in remote southeastern Anatolia is hoping for a boost from Hollywood.
Authorities in Sirnak province say they want to bring the wooden structure representing the biblical ark in Russell Crowe’s recent movie Noah to Turkey and install it on the slopes of the local Mount Cudi to attract tourists. According to Islamic tradition, Noah’s ark came to rest on Mount Cudi, and not on Mount Ararat on today’s border between Turkey and Armenia, about 160 miles to the north-east of Sirnak.
The plan raised hopes of lifting the region out of poverty, but suffered a potentially fatal setback this week as officials from Paramount, the maker of Noah, said the ark from the film had been taken apart after shooting was done. “I’m pretty sure it’s been disassembled,” said Ari Handel, who was a producer and co-writer of the movie.
Still, authorities in Sirnak said they were determined to go ahead with the project, even if it meant to import just a few wooden parts from the set. “We will do everything we can to make it happen despite this,” Osman Gelis, the head of Sirnak’s Chamber of Trade and Industry, told The Daily Beast on Saturday. “Maybe the government can do something.”
The plan by Sirnak is a sign of a growing confidence by people in Turkey’s Kurdish region that the bloody conflict between rebels and the army may finally come to an end. Since the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), seen as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, took up arms to fight for Kurdish self-rule in 1984, more than 40,000 people have died.
“This is very important for us, and we help where we can,” Gelis about the project. “It will be a big plus for our economy. He said he would try to go all the way to the top and get Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan involved. “We will tell him how big this is for us and for religious tourism. We can’t wait” to have the ark, he said.
Years of fighting cut off Turkey’s Kurdish region in the southeast of the country from the economic development in the rest of the country. Sirnak has a per capita income of around $2,600 a year, which makes it the poorest of all of Turkey’s 81 provinces. The countrywide average stands at roughly $11,000 a year.
Now Sirnak is hoping that Crowe’s ark will generate some income for the province of around 85,000 people, which sits on Turkey’s borders with Syria and Iraq. Locals believe that Noah was buried in the town of Cizre, which lies in the province. An image of the ark is the province’s official symbol.
A spokesman for Sirnak’s tourism and culture board confirmed the project was underway. “We just don’t know yet where to put the ark exactly,” said the spokesman, who identified himself by his first name Sabri. “But it will be somewhere on Mount Cudi. The aim is to attract tourists.”
Cihan Birlik, head of Sirnak’s Cultural, Tourism and Development Association, told Turkish media the Tourism Ministry in Ankara had promised to try and get the movie ark to Turkey.
Birlik said the idea was to create a national park on the slopes of Mount Cudi and put the Hollywood ark in the middle of it. A zoo, recalling Noah’s biblical mission to save animals from the flood, was also part of the project. “Thousands of tourists will flood into Sirnak and Cudi,” Birlik said.
In offering to provide a home for central pieces of a Hollywood set, Sirnak is following the example of the northwestern Turkish province of Canakkale, home to the ancient city of Troy. Following the 2004 movie Troy, starring Brad Pitt, Canakkale bought the Trojan Horse used in the film and put it in a public park.
In the Kurdish area, tourism offers a glimmer of hope in a region crippled by decades of violence. Thousands of villages in south-eastern Anatolia were destroyed as hundreds of thousands of people fled into Turkey’s big cities and to Europe to escape the fighting.
Hopes for peace rose when the Erdogan government decided in late 2012 to start negotiations with jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is serving a life sentence on the prison island of Imrali near Istanbul. In the ongoing talks, Ocalan is asking for more regional autonomy for Kurdish provinces but is no longer seeking an independent Kurdish state separate from Turkey.
Ever since Ocalan ordered a cease-fire and a withdrawal of PKK fighters from Turkey to bases in northern Iraq as a sign of goodwill in spring last year, the fighting has largely stopped, even though a final settlement to end the conflict once and for all remains elusive. This week, Turkish media reported a major breakthrough in Ocalan’s talks with Ankara’s representatives on Imrali, but the reports were denied by both the government and Turkey’s biggest pro-Kurdish party, the People’s Democracy Party (HDP).
Still, there is new optimism in the region. With stunning natural beauty and several important biblical and cultural sites, ranging from the birthplace of the prophet Abraham to spectacular Roman mosaics, the Kurdish provinces have started to attract tourists since the fighting died down. The number of visitors touring Turkey’s Kurdish region rose by 23 per cent last year to 1.5 million visitors, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.
A modernization programme for the region’s infrastructure also helps. Since last year, Sirnak province has its own airport, which offers daily flights to and from the capital Ankara and Turkey’s metropolis Istanbul.
In another sign of a newly-found enthusiasm, Sirnak recently organised a bicycle tour around Mount Cudi—something unthinkable even a few years ago, as the mountain was a military no-go zone for three decades. Gelis, the head of the trade chamber in Sirnak, said the region had seen a slight increase in the number of visitors. “But with the ark, numbers will explode.”