All that is necessary to comprehend the importance of Trabzon, both past and present, in terms of trade and the economy is to look at its location.
Trabzon is the most important of all the ports on the Black Sea, situated as it is right on the north-south and east-west trade axis. Trabzon, continued to defend its geopolitical and eco-strategic position throughout history, and became one of the main ports of call on the historic Silk Road as well.
Trabzon has always been a tempting target for powers wishing to dominate the region both because of its strategic importance and its key position on the international trade routes.
Trabzon has always had a very definite identity in terms of commerce and trade. One needs to examine the l8th and l9th centuries to grasp this situation fully.Trabzon was the third busiest port in the Ottoman Empire after Istanbul and İzmir in terms of revenue earned for the exchequer and of world trade as well. More than 20 foreign countries had consulates in the city.
Until the First World War T’rabzon occupied a vital position on the trade routes between Russia, the Caucasus, Central Asia and Iran, linking East and West. For this reason, although the city was part of the territory of the Ottoman Empire it was also the subject of a great deal of political manoeuvring between Britain, Germany, France and Russia in that period.
However, the new political amd economic formations that emerged after the First World War led to the closing, for a short time, of Turkey’s eastern gateway. The new process that gathered speed in the 1930s and culminated in sharp polarisation immediately after the Second World War virtually trapped the Eastern Black Sea region, centred around Trabzon, in a cul-de-sac. Its glorious past, a history thousands of years old, were overshadowed by political developments in the region and, within a space of 70 years, the city was on the brink of economic strangulation.
THE END OF THE DARK AGE
New political and economic structures began to emerge towards the end of the 1980s. ‘The “dark age” which began in T’rabzon and the Eastern Black Sea region with the First World War came to an end and new hopes were born.
The opening in 1988 of the Sarp Frontier Crossing Point between Turkey and the Soviet Union, the only land crossing point in the region, which was followed by the break-up of the Soviet Union and the emergence of new states created new aims, both for Trabzon and on an international scale.
The fortunes of Trabzon, which had achieved a new key position in the Central Europe-Central Asia-Middle East triangle, took a turn for the better because it was now the neigbour of a giant consumer market.
Trabzon has a maritime history stretching back over many centuries. Thus, there are a number of shipyards in the city where big fishing vessels and small ships ar built. However, newly-emerging opportunities in the international arena have also underlined Trabzon’s tremendous potential in the manufacturing industry.
AGRICULTURAL STRUCTURE AND ANIMAL HUSBANDRY
Trabzon and the Eastern Black Sea region, of which it is the metropolis, have two main agricultural products. About 20% of hazelnut and tea production takes place in Trabzon, the figures for 1995 being 70,000 tonnes of hazelnuts and 123,000 tonnes of tea. Apart from these two major products, the folloing were produced in 1995; 2,500 tonnes of tobacco, 145,000 tonnes of potatoes and 78,000 tonnes of maize.
Although many varieties of fruit and vegetable could be grown in Trabzon, because of its geographical structure only 24% of the land is used for agriculture. This means that the production totals for a number of products outside of those mentioned above are comparatively small because they are grown by families purely to satisfy their own needs.
Production of forestry products in the T’rabzon province, where roughly 38% of the land is forest, has still not reached the desired level. According to data for 1995, 25,000 m3 of logs, 3,400 m3 of pit props, 1,800 m3 of wood for the paper industry and 25,000 m3 of firewood were produced.
Animal husbandry, which is practised on a family scale in the region, has followed much the same pattern for years. The latest statistics reveal that there are about 200,000 cattle and water buffalo, 175,000 sheep, 10,000 goats and 300,000 head of poultry.
Annual totals of 170,000 tonnes of milk, 4,000 tonnes of meat, about 1,000 tonnes of honey and 30,000,000 eggs are achieved.
Trabzon is particularly important for Turkey’s fishing sector. In the Black Sea where 75% of Turkey’s fish production takes place, fishing is one of the main sources of income for the population and Trabzon accounts for 20% of total fish production. There are a large number of biggish fishing vessels and hundreds of small fishing boats in the province.
In Trabzon, where much progress has been made in the sphere of fish farming in recent years, work is continuing on rearing fresh water fish such as trout and sea fish such as salmon.
Trabzon is a city where insufficient public and private sector investments have been made because of geographical conditions, distance from raw materials and distribution points, with a consequently low level of industrial development. Its manufacturing industry is agro-based. In Trabzon, where there are a number of tea and hazelnut-processing facilities, the manufacture of cement, building materials, medical products, metal and glass products, together with items made of copper, silver and gold are carried out. Apart from the above there are fısh canning factories where fish meal is also produced.
In Trabzon, which is the closest of the Black Sea cities to the markets of the CIS, steps are being taken to create production facilities to meet the demands of this market. Together with the Trabzon Organised Industrial Zone, which has just been set up, there is also a demand for the establishment of other, similar zones in the province, both from local and foreign firms.
Tourism accounts for a considerable part of Trabzon’s economy. In previous years its historic sites and its location as the gateway to Eastern Anatolia attracted mainly Western tourists. However, the opening of the border between Turkey and the newly- formed CIS has introduced Trabzon to “trade tourism”, or “suit- case tourism” as it is known locally. Consequently, capital investments and manpower in the region have adapted themselves to these developments. In a short space of time hundreds of new places of work have been set up and thousands of people have found jobs.
Small businessmen in the region pioneered investments in the markets of the CIS, something which many foreign investors hesitated to do. Many Trabzon entrepreneurs are doing business in the CIS, particularly with Russia and Georgia, and are setting up partnerships in these countries.
According to the latest statistical data, “suitcase tourism” has secured revenues amounting to over one billion dollars for the region. Normal tourism revenues, the bulk of which are accounted for by tourists from the CIS, have been calculated at approximately 60 million dollars.
Together with tourism of this nature, Trabzon has also been selected as a pilot region for the development of “soft tourism”, one of our country’s most important potentials, because of its forests and beautiful scenery. In the medium term, after the necessary infrastructure investments have been made, Trabzon will be Turkey’s main plateau tourism centre. It also possesses a significant potential for yacht tourism.
The foreign trade that was carried out with the aim of selling the agricultural products of the region until the beginning of the 1990s has now spread to new areas in parallel with recent developments.
The Port of Trabzon, which has a capacity of 4 million tonnes and is Trabzon’s gateway to the outside world, has seen the export of a wide range of consumer goods to the CIS, together with the importation of mainly raw materials.
The Trabzon Free Zone has achieved a steady rise in its trade volume ever since it was founded. Efforts are being made to expand it to meet the demands of local and foreign business circles. It is expected that this zone will play a very important role once stability has been achieved in the CIS.
While at the beginning of the 1990s only four foreign trade firms had offices in Trabzon, the number had reached 500 by 1995. Small fırms are searching for ways to expand. Transit shipping and road haulage both occupy an important place as far as Trabzon’s foreign trade is concerned. The figure for Iran, which was 1 million tonnes in the 1980s, saw a considerable reduction in the 1990s. However, a rapid rise in this volume is expected in the years to come.
There are serious infrastructure problems in Trabzon, which aims to continue its historic mission by becoming a major international trade centre. With the setting up of a “Trans Caucasian Corridor” passing through the Caucasus into the Middle East, Trabzon will have yet another historic mission to fulfil.
The city, which will function as a bridge between the Caucasus, Central Asia and the West, will also have an important role to play in trade between the Middle East and the CIS.
Trabzon, in terms of international transit transportation, its position as a trade distribution centre in the region as a whole, and the current plans to set up a manufacturing industry aimed at satisfying the demands of international markets, could well become one of the world’s most important trade centres.
With its modern port, international airport, its Free Zone, which has so much potential, its historic location, skilled workforce, entrepreneurial spirit, tourism potential and long- term view, Trabzon is preparing to set its seal on the future.