Turkey's Hasankeyf dam can
drown Kurds' hideaways By Jay
HASANKEYF, Turkey - Hasankeyf, a
small village in southeastern Turkey, has been
under threat for 15 years. Home to about 3,000
people, it is the site is one of the oldest
continuously inhabited human settlements, with an
archaeological record going back at least 9,500
Now, the Ilisu Dam - part of a
hydroelectric project undertaken by the State
Hydraulic Works - will flood Hasankeyf and the
surrounding region, effectively washing away
millennia of history.
In addition to
destroying a historical site, which includes
vestiges of every empire that ever inhabited
Mesopotamia, the dam will cause immense ecological
harm to the Tigris River valley.
Engin, who staffs the Hasankeyf office of the Nature
Society, a Turkish
non-government organization, told Inter Press
Service (IPS) that numerous endangered species
will lose their habitat if the dam is built.
"The Tigris is the only untouched river
ecosystem in Turkey and it is vital that it remain
that way," she said. "It is well-known that dams
dramatically change the climate of entire regions.
This dam will destroy the habitats of fish, birds,
and plant life, some of which are unique to the
Construction of the dam
began in earnest in 2008, but plans for its
implementation date back even further.
dam was originally conceived in the 1950s as part
of the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP),
intended to develop the infrastructure of largely
rural and Kurdish southeastern Turkey. Since 1997,
several European finance consortia have attempted
to fund the project, only to withdraw support
before anything concrete materialised.
European banks and companies pulled out in large
part due to campaigns against the dam in their
respective home countries. In 2009, the German,
Austrian and Swiss governments revoked the export
credit guarantees to the final consortium because
the Turkish government failed to meet the
ecological, social, and cultural heritage
standards set by the World Bank.
while, activists in Turkey and throughout Europe
believed they had won the fight and that
construction of the dam would stop. To their
surprise, construction is continuing to this day.
It was later revealed that the Turkish
government had secured funding from two of the
country's largest private banks, Akbank and
Garanti, making the project still viable.
Water wars The Turkish
government's reasons for pressing ahead with the
controversial project are not what one might
expect. Projections place the amount of
hydroelectric power the dam will produce at less
than 2% of Turkey's total energy needs - not
enough, opponents argue, to justify the
destruction of an entire ecosystem, invaluable
cultural heritage, and the livelihoods of several
The Turkish government
has openly proclaimed that the main function of
the dam system is to bolster the country's
counter-insurgency strategy against the Kurdistan
Workers' Party (PKK), which operates from the
mountainous Iraqi-Turkish border. Together, the
strategically placed dams created by GAP will form
a massive wall of water close to Turkey's border
Having flown through the
Hasankeyf for millenia, the Tigris has created a
vast canyon topography that is not only visually
spectacular but also provides necessary cover for
militants. In addition to raising the water level
of the Tigris, flooding from Ilisu Dam will spill
over into nearby canyons that are currently dry.
With canyons filled and massive lakes
created where rivers once flowed, the terrain will
become impassable by foot.
the effects of the dam will extend beyond
Hasankeyf, well across national borders. By virtue
of being upstream from Iraq and Syria on both the
Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, Turkey
effectively controls the flow of water southward.
With the Euphrates already heavily dammed,
the Syrian and Iraqi governments have raised
serious concerns about dam projects on the Tigris.
Twice the region has been on the verge of water
wars, once in 1975 and again in 1990. Restricting
water flow from the Tigris could prove to be a
tipping point in the incendiary region.
Activists believe that, ultimately, the
dam will turn water into a political tool both
inside and outside Turkey's borders.
the road, Mehmet Ali, a shopkeeper selling tourist
souvenirs, lamented the imminent loss of his home.
"They are condemning a place like this, with no
equal in the world, for a dam that will only
operate for 50 years."
site Today there is little recourse left to
stop construction. The European Court of Human
Rights (ECHR) could theoretically put a hold on
the project. A case was brought before the court
in 2006 but was rejected on the grounds that the
ECHR protects human rights, not cultural heritage,
ignoring the 35,000 people who will be forced to
give up their way of life if the dam is completed.
A new case is being submitted to the ECHR
after a Turkish regional court rejected it this
week. Locals hope that it will work, but are not
deceiving themselves. They have learned from
experience how determined the state is to continue
with the project.
Omer Guzel, a shop owner
and local activist in Hasankeyf, told IPS that at
one point the villagers held protests every week.
"It didn't accomplish anything," he said. "In the
end the dam is still being built right now."
The government has kept the construction
site, 16 kilometres downstream from Hasankeyf,
under heavy security. However, sources with access
to the site, who spoke to IPS on the condition of
anonymity, claim that the dam is already half
There is still a chance that
the United Nations Education, Scientific and
Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) might list the area
as a World Heritage site, effectively guaranteeing
To qualify for World
Heritage status, a site must meet one of 10
criteria for outstanding universal value in an
area of cultural or natural significance.
Hasankeyf, as the only site in the world that
meets nine of the 10 criteria, is an exceptional
candidate for inclusion.
that fact alone is not enough to be listed. "In
order to be included as a World Heritage site, the
country in which the site is located must submit
an application to UNESCO. The Turkish government
has not done this," Engin said.
delegation previously visited Hasankeyf and, upon
taking stock of the area, urged the Turkish
government to apply. The implication was that if
Turkey applied, Hasankeyf would be accepted.
"But the government does not want to
protect this area, so why would they apply? The
dam project is too important to the state," Engin