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Turkish environment minister defends controversial dams

ISTANBUL - Daily News with wires | 10/21/2010 12:00:00 AM |

Environment Minister Veysel Eroğlu has once again defended two controversial dam projects harshly criticized by environmental activists.

Environment Minister Veysel Eroğlu once again defended two controversial dam projects harshly criticized by environmental activists on a visit in eastern Anatolia on Wednesday.

Minister Eroğlu criticized protests of dam projects that will flood the ancient city of Allianoi in the west and the southeastern city of Hasankeyf.

“We are doing our best to protect [Allianoi]. Others just talk, but we are working to protect [the city]. None of those who are talking have done a tiny part of what I did,” Eroğlu told reporters in Ankara after returning from a visit to Hasankeyf.

To protect Allianoi from being destroyed by the waters of the Yortanlı dam, it was decided that the ancient city should be covered by a protective mound of sand. However the effort attracted criticism and debate over whether the sand would protect the already excavated ruins.

“The pieces here are just one pillar and a fountain. These can be found anywhere. No one was aware of them before we dug them out. My job is to build dams, but we did our best to protect this place,” he said. Eroğlu said the dam, near İzmir’s Bergama district, would provide an income of 55 million Turkish Liras. The delay in building the dam has caused farmers in the area to lose 175 million liras, he said. The Yortanlı Dam is being built over the Yortanlı Brook, 18 kilometers from Bergama.

Eroğlu in the past had criticized efforts to prevent the ancient city from flooding by saying there was no such place as Allianoi. “There was an old spa there, which can be found anywhere around Turkey,” he had said. He also criticized Turkish pop star Tarkan for his efforts to save the city. “Tarkan should watch his own business. Do I sing songs?” Eroğlu had said. Tarkan has been involved in the campaign to save Hasankeyf.

Eroğlu went to Hasankeyf, in the eastern province of Batman, to examine the area and the new houses built for Hasankeyf locals after the Ilısu Dam floods the ancient city.

According to Eroğlu, the Ilısu Dam is an opportunity for Hasankeyf. “We spent more money here than the Culture Ministry spends on all its archaeological excavations all around Turkey. As of today we have spent around 30 million liras.”

Eroğlu also said the ancient bridge in Hasankeyf and other historical artifacts had been almost collapsing, but the dam saved them. “Where were environmentalists and artists at that time?” he said. “I thank them for their sensitivities, but mere talking would not work. I call on them to invest money.” The construction of Ilısu Dam will be finished earlier than its planned five-year timeframe, he said.

Environmentalists who were against the dam project instead offered to open the ancient city to tourism. As the area is now a protected area, it is forbidden to do any construction in the city center. The houses and other buildings in the city are worn down. Eroğlu said the number of tourists coming to Hasankeyf is “comically low.” “There is no place for tourists to stay and no restaurant for them to eat at.”

Eroğlu defended the dams; he said it is an obligation for Turkey to build them. “Otherwise we cannot prevent floods, and cannot provide drinking water and energy for cities. We cannot combat soil erosion.”

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