What Are the Chinese Doing in Turkey?

Deep in the heart of southeastern Turkey, this ancient town sits atop a hillside overlooking the plains of the Mesopotamian Valley. Residents of its terraced, honey-colored houses enjoy a fine view of villages and wheat fields that stretch all the way to the Syrian border.

The area is still largely hidden from outside visitors. Tourism is just beginning to pick up. And locals still react with curiosity to a foreign face. But for the last three years, a group of workers from China has called this town their home. Turkish employees manufacturing door locks at the Mar-Faal factory are no longer surprised to be working alongside Chinese co-workers on the assembly line.

The Mar-Faal factory, which manufactures door locks, is the first Chinese-Turkish partnership in a region that desperately needs economic uplift.

Southeast Turkey continues to emerge from more than two decades of fighting between Kurdish separatists and the Turkish government. Ordinary citizens are now mostly shielded from skirmishes in remote villages and along the Iraqi border, but daily life is still a challenge.

Compared to Istanbul and other cities in Western Turkey, where unemployment is at 10 percent, some areas of the Southeast approach 60 percent unemployment.

Region Devoted to Manufacturing

Mar-Faal means "Mardin Working," exactly what its shareholders -- one Turkish, two Chinese -- hoped to achieve when they established the factory in 2005.

Though it only employs 90 people, it's one of about 100 factories within the Mardin Industrial Zone, a special region devoted to manufacturing that is separated from the fields of farmers on the floor of the Mesopotamian Valley. These factories employ 3,500 people and offer an alternative to the traditional livelihood of agriculture.

The factory's Turkish investor, Ismail Kaya, has done business with his Chinese counterparts, Rukang Kong and Xiaotao Wang, for years. Looking only at the economics of it, might have been more lucrative to set up Mar-Faal in China, where wages and production costs are far lower and workers are technically skilled. Kaya acknowledges this but hopes that with their investment they can contribute to his hometown's economic growth, reduce unemployment and make a profit at the same time.

To get that going, they imported talent and machinery from China to Turkey. At its start, Mar-Faal hosted 20 workers from China who trained and supervised the Turkish laborers, most of whom had farming backgrounds and no technical skills.

The Turkish workers are paid the equivalent of $500 per month. Their day starts at 8 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m. with an hour break midday. They are paid extra for Saturday shifts.

The Chinese workers left children and families behind, but they are well compensated for their stint abroad. Their $250 per month salary in China increased to $850 in Turkey, with all expenses paid as well. So most workers send their salaries directly back home.

Mar-Faal is located in a large warehouse complex reminiscent of airplane hangars, with areas separated for raw materials, manufacturing and packaging.

Kai Xiu, 36, is a supervisor in the packaging department. She has worked in Turkey for two years and will return to her hometown near Wuhan next year. "The Turkish workers are learning kind of slowly," said Xiu. "But they'll be OK in a year."

But just how do workers from two different cultures explain the intricacies of assembling a lock or how to check parts in quality control?

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