Environmental questions swirl around Turkey’s Ilisu dam project

July 2, 2009

    Hasankeyf‘s villagers say the beauty of their home is most  striking at first-light or at sundown, when the historic stone  ruins are reflected crisply in the waters of the river Tigris.

     This is a remote, sparsely populated and, for most of the  year, scorchingly hot corner of southeast Anatolia, where people  live in poverty and seclusion. Over the years, their anger at  the construction of a huge dam which will see Hasankeyf subsumed  by flood waters has turned into sad resignation and quiet  despair.

     Labelled “doomed” in tourist guidebooks, Hasankeyf manages  to attract a certain number of earnest-minded visitors, eager to  see the traces of successive ancient civilizations. Locals sell  them what they can, while they can — beautiful goat-wool rugs or hand-carved wooden implements — for a pitifully small sum.

      The Ilisu dam’s foreign backers look to have developed cold  feet, stating the dam has failed to meet environmental and  cultural safeguards and have ordered suspension of work while  matters are investigated. But any withdrawal of their support is  unlikely to prevent energy-hungry Turkey from constructing the  dam and a power plant — part of its sweeping development plan  for the laggard south-east.

     Turkey vowed on Wednesday work would resume next week.

     Opposition to the dam stretches far beyond Anatolia.  Environmentalists argue colossal dam projects such as Ilisu are  a relic of the 1970s and have never proven their worth, causing  catastrophic damage to the natural environment and harming the  ecosystems of downstream states.

     Others question the economic principles of the project —  creating enormous power capacity in an area where there is  little or no industry and to where firms may be reluctant to  relocate.

     The government has pledged to reconstruct the scattered  villages which must make way for the water, and to transport  historical Hasankeyf, once used by the Romans to ward off the  Persians, to another suitable spot.

     In a country dotted with spectacular ancient sites and where  so many civilizations have left their mark, the fight to save  historical ruins in-situ can often be a fruitless one.

     Archaeologists raced against the clock to excavate the  historical mosaics of Zeugma, also in eastern Turkey, in 2000  before it disappeared under flood waters.

     Gazing at the tall stone supports of Hasankeyf’s once-mighty  bridge, the fragile stone minaret of its medieval mosque and the  intricate warren of tombs and caves which clings to the cliffs above the river, it is difficult to imagine how this could be recreated anywhere else.



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Man made god in his own image. This is why he seeks to remake the earth. One cannot be arrogant and not ignorant.

Posted by Anubis | Report as abusive

It seems doubtful that the Ilisu dam will be constructed in the near future if the European states withdraw their support. The project’s planning had been started in 1954. No substantial changes had been made in the project design since that time which raises the question why the project had not been implemented earlier. Besides others, a lack of money was not the least important factor for non-realisation. In the light of the current economic crisis it is questionable whether the Turkish government is able to build the dam on its own. Turkey may seek for investors in other countries but it would loose its reputation as a modern democratic nation. Erogulu has been rhetorically waving the flag on a press conference on Wednesday, telling the world that Turkey won’t be listening to anybody and that nobody will stop the Ilisu dam from being implemented. The sad thing about these statements is that the European creditors seem to care more about the Turkish people than its own government.

Posted by Mango | Report as abusive

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