In the past, Sirnak, which borders both Iraq and Syria, was one of the PKK terror-hit southeastern provinces, but now it is hosting an international tennis tournament at the foot of Mount Cudi.
Not too long ago the name of Turkish border province Sirnak sounded like a troubled word because of the PKK terror group’s attacks in the area. Things have changed there now as the province is currently hosting international tennis players from as many as nine different countries.
Nearly hundred international players from the UK, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Russia, Tunisia, Poland, Iran and Georgia alongside Turkish players, who are aged 14 and under, is competing in the event, expressing their gratitude to be part of the tournament.
Anas Ben Youssef, a Tunisian athlete aged 13, was one of them. “I like this place. It’s amazing. Nature is also good,” Youssef tells TRT World when the two Tunisian female players were playing a tense double match with two Turkish players from Istanbul. Sirnak is located near Mount Cudi (Judi), on whose slopes Noah's ark came to its final rest according to Islamic belief.
Youssef is part of the capital Tunis’ well-known Tennis Club de Megrine. He has played tennis since he was three-year-old. He has played two matches until yesterday afternoon, when TRT World interviewed him. “I won one single match while I lost a double game,” he says.
Youssef and his Tunisian teammates, including five girls and six boys, will stay in Sirnak until May 23, when the tournament will end. “I won both of my matches,” says Ahmed Darmoil, another Tunisian, who is part of the Tennis Club de Tunis, a leading Tunisian tennis club. He will play six or seven more matches.
“It's a very good place,” Darmoil tells TRT World, referring to Sirnak and its surroundings, where many of the world's great ancient civilisations have left their marks from the Iron Age to the modern times.
Elaa Essid, Darmoil’s 14-year-old female teammate, is also happy to have an opportunity to play in the Cudi Cup. “Fantastic people,” she tells TRT World, referring to both organisers of the event and locals. Last year, Sirnak hosted its first national tennis tournament, laying the ground for the current international event.
Ameur Jawahdou, the coach of the Tunisian tennis team in the Cudi Cup, is happy about his players’ general performance in the tournament. He is a former tennis player and has coached different teams for more than a decade.
“The organisation of this tournament is better than many other similar events in France, Germany, Serbia and Poland. Courts are good and people are so kind,” Jawahdou tells TRT World. The Tunisian head coach has previously competed in many European tournaments, both playing and leading different teams.
“Accommodation is also good. They provide us with everything. It’s great to come here and take my players into this event,” Jawahdou says as sounds of local folk dancers mix with racket sounds across Sirnak’s four open courts. The tournament also has two additional closed courts for rainy conditions.
Turkish efforts to transform the region
Reaching to the good conditions Jawahdou and his players descibe for Sirnak was not easy for Türkiye, which lost more than 40,000 people including children and women to PKK’s four-decades long terror campaign, which had been so intense in places like Sirnak. The PKK is recognised as a terrorist organisation by Türkiye, the US and the EU.
After securing the largely Kurdish-populated province from PKK attacks with many counter-terror operations across southeastern and eastern regions, the Turkish government has taken various initiatives to improve public services and social life across provinces like Sirnak.
Cudi Cup, which is being held in Sirnak University’s modern campus located in the foot of Mount Cudi, is one of the clearest examples of new Sirnak. “We did the impossible together,” said Mehmet Muharrem Kasapoglu, Türkiye’s energetic Youth and Sports Minister, during a speech at the official ceremony of the tennis tournament on May 17.
Following Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s instructions, the youth and sports ministry has been working hard to improve conditions across terror-hit provinces in Türkiye’s east for youth’s education and sports activities, investing significantly in local levels and increasing hopes of the region’s heavily young-age population, Kasapoglu said.
Dilan Oran, a 16-year-old high school student and a native of Sirnak’s Uludere, a border district hit by heavy PKK terror attacks, spoke in excitement about the tournament when Kasapoglu passionately was outlining his ministry’s goals in Sirnak and the larger southeastern region.
“The tournament was very good for Sirnak for its recognition and development. We are very happy and honoured to have players from foreign countries in this event,” Oran tells TRT World. Oran, a student of Sirnak Sport High School, sees a tennis event for the first time ever. “I am very glad I am here,” she says.
After many bad days under PKK’s terror campaign in which youth of Sirnak “smelled gunpowder” other than fresh air, now they have a chance to participate in sports activities thanks to Erdogan’s push for various festivities and sports events in the southeast region, said Sirnak’s AK Party Mayor Mehmet Yarka during his speech at the official ceremony.
Oran also sees the real signs of change in Sirnak. “Many people know Sirnak in a wrong way, but It’s changing and it’s not like the old times,” says Oran. “Sirnak is a different place now. It’s a beautiful place indeed,” she adds.
While Oran likes tennis, her sports focus is handball which she has played for six years. “This year our high school team became champion in Sirnak,” she says.
Sibel Kayar, a 14-year-old high school student and another native of Uludere, thinks similarly to Oran. “I think tournaments like the Cudi Cup contributed to the positive development of Sirnak,” Kayar tells TRT World.
This tournament motivates students like her to focus on sports activities, according to Kayar. Like Oran, Kayar also participates in a tennis event for the first time ever.
While Kayar likes tennis, she is more interested in playing volleyball, a sports branch, in which Türkiye’s national and professional female volleyball teams have shown many successes including championships in international events.
“I play volleyball in my high school. I hope one day I can be a national volleyball player,” she says. “We will play a match tomorrow. I hope we can win it.”