Write: A.VAHAP AKBAŞ - AHMET BİLAL ARSLAN
The early 1980s constituted a turning point in the economic life of Çorlu. The opportunities to open up to foreign markets through social, political and economic developments in Turkey transformed Çorlu into a city focusing on industry.
ÇORLU, LOCATED IN THE middle of Thrace, is a city that embraces the future. It is very close to Istanbul, one of the oldest and biggest of cities, and located on one of the safest roads connecting this city to Europe. While the Sea of Marmara lies on one side of Çorlu (it has an 8 km coastline), the other side of the city faces the Yıldız Mountains. Most of the city lies in the mouth of the Ergene River. It is as if one of the arms of the city reaches out for Europe and the other one for Anatolia
Its location gave Çorlu great importance in the past, as is the case today. Based on ancient relics found in the region, it is possible to say that the city dates back to 1,000 BC. Çorlu became part of the Ottoman Empire during the reign of Murat I. The sultan aimed at conquering Edirne and he seized both Çorlu and Lüleburgaz on his way there, to eliminate potential threats from the Byzantine Empire.
For centuries Çorlu was an important defense post. Its role was to deflect potential threats from the Balkans. The city took on a new function following the conquest of Istanbul. It developed rapidly along the overland route connecting the new capital city to the older one (Edirne), and it became a lively trade center, a meeting spot and a supply station for armies on their way into Europe.
If you want to have a look into the past of the Turkish cities, you turn to Evliya Çelebi as the first source because he is remarkable for his observations of his times. Looking at Çorlu in the middle of the 17th century through his eyes, Çelebi writes that Çorlu had 3,000 dwellings and a population of more than 20,000 people. There were 600 stores in its bazaar and 30 districts. People could buy anything they wanted in the street markets set up twice weekly. Çorlu’s cheese was well-known all over the country.
DESTRUCTION AND AFTERWARDS
The status of Çorlu changed starting from the beginning of the 19th century, as was the case for the Balkans and most empires. The city was targeted by the Russians in 1829. It was occupied again during the Ottoman-Russian wars of 1877 and 1878, commonly known as the ’93 Harbi’, and later by the Bulgarians during the Balkan War. The city was ruined and its historical monuments were destroyed, so much so that most of the monuments documented in the registers of the period vanished, even from the pages of later registers. The city was targeted by the Greeks in 1920 and regained its independance freedom on November 1st 1922.
Following the declaration of the republic, Çorlu’s economy ambled on through the 1970s. It is now a relatively problem-free, lovely, calm and modern city mainly populated with civil and military servants from the 5th army corps. More modern agricultural activities are undertaken on the fertile soils of Çorlu than in any other part of Turkey. Those who travel to the city in the summer are astonished by the beauty of its large sunflower fields. Çorlu’s meat and cheese are still famous, even if they’re not as famous as mentioned by Evliya Çelebi.
The most important industrial facilities of the city are the flour, sunflower oil factories and quarries and brick manufacturing sites. According to data from the Çorlu Chamber of Trade and Industry, there were 17 industrial sites, each of which had more than ten employees, at the end of the 1950s. The products manufactured in these facilities, which were located around the city and in the station area, were consumed in Çorlu and its surrounding cities. Among the products then manufactured in Çorlu and delivered to Istanbul via railroad or sea routes through Marmara Ereğli, were shoes, flour, sunflower oil, yoghurt and cheese, showing that agriculture and stock-breeding played a major role in Çorlu’s economy.
Industrial sites began to diversify around Çorlu following the 1970s. The number of people employed exceeded one thousand, which was very high for a small city like Çorlu at that time.
ACCELERATION FROM THE 1980s
The beginning of the 1980s was a turning point in Çorlu’s economic and social life, as Çorlu became an industrial area following new opportunities to open up to foreign markets that were unleashed by significant social, political and economic developments in Turkey. Of course, the advantages of transportation through the E-5 route overland to Europe and the nearby Ereğli and Tekirdağ ports cannot be overlooked. Another important factor was that industrial plants, which were no longer sustained by Istanbul, were moved to Çorlu to take advantage of its resources.
An industrial boom took place in Çorlu and the vicinity in the 1990s. According to the records of 1991 and 1992, 115 industrial facilities, half of which were engaged in textile-dyeing and leather processing, operated around the E-5, on the Çorlu-Tekirdağ route, on the Çerkezköy road. Around 17,000 people were employed in these facilities.
Today, Çorlu is much bigger than many other Turkish cities with a population exceeding 200,000. It ranks in the first place in Thrace in terms of industrial development, and it is one of the most dynamic industrial sites of Turkey. 770 of the 4,700 enterprises registered with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry are large-scale industrial facilities.
EUROPEAN FREE ZONE
One of the leading factors in Çorlu’s economic dynamism is the European Free Zone established here. This is the biggest free zone in Turkey and of great importance in reducing foreign trade and manufacturing costs and thus in developing Turkey’s foreign trade by offering many advantages, from exemptions of corporate taxes to permission to keep accounts in foreign currencies, from transit trade to duty-free stockpiling and to importing second-hand machines.
The Istanbul Chamber of Commerce announces a list of the Top 500 Industrial Enterprises of Turkey annually, based on numbers of sales. There were 26 industrial enterprises operating in Çorlu in the 2008 list, and this is one of the best indicators of the size of the industry in Çorlu and of Çorlu’s important role in the Turkish economy.
The rapid industrialization process has of course affected the physical and social structure of the city. Today’s Çorlu is shaped by a combination of its oldest buildings, recovered from the pillage, invasions and negligence of the past, and of its newest buildings, singing a totally different tune based on the needs of our present age. In Cumhuriyet Square, the Süleymaniye Mosque, built during the reign of Suleiman the Lawmaker (probably by Sinan), the historic Şucaatin School and the huge Municipality Culture Center, built on the site of historic public baths, all go to show the great mixture of old and new that is contemporary Çorlu. A similar view can be observed along the Çorlu Stream, where there are hundreds of leather workshops and Turkey’s biggest water treatment facilities right next to a neglected stone bridge built by the Ottomans.
Çorlu is changing very rapidly. It is facing the future. It is home to faculties and technical schools preparing the city for the future, and its social, commercial and cultural life is thriving. Today ,it is sharing the burden of Istanbul’s and Turkey’s colossal economic growth, as it did in the past. Its airport has been developed to ease the heavy traffic of Istanbul’s Ataturk airport. It hosts big industrial facilities in many sectors from the automotive to the textile industries, from leather processing to paper and cooking oil production. It is planning to become a metropolitan inhabited by a minimum of one million people. With the new industrial investments, free zone, mass housing projects, enormous shopping malls and its improved transportation, Çorlu is well prepared to become a metropolitan city.