Local activists call for review of Ilısu Dam construction amid Kurdish peace process

Local activists call for review of Ilısu Dam construction amid Kurdish peace process

BATMAN İdris Emen
Local activists call for review of Ilısu Dam construction amid Kurdish peace process

Around 80 percent of the construction of the Ilısu Dam has been completed since work began in 2010. AA Photo

Local activists have called on the government to review a contentious, long-planned new dam project on the Tigris in southeastern Turkey, which will flood the ancient city of Hasankeyf.

The “Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive” (Hasankeyf’ı Yaşatma Girişimi) association, founded to defend those whose livelihoods will be affected by the new Ilısu Dam, warned that the construction could also have a negative impact on the Kurdish peace process, at a time when the government is trying to give fresh impetus to negotiations. It also argued that the entire local administration is against the finalization of the construction.

“All the local administrations in the region that will be affected by the project are against it. But the government insists on continuing the project, despite all warnings and alternative proposal solutions conveyed through our association,” the NGO said in a statement.

Plans for the dam were first laid out in a regional development plan defined in the 1980s, under a broader development plan known as the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP). However, the initial project was drafted back in 1954 by the Directory of Water Affairs.

Set to become the fourth hydroelectric power plant if completed, the construction of the Ilısu Dam began in 2010 after years of debates, amid controversy over its ecological and cultural impact.

The construction continued despite tension rising after two of its workers were briefly abducted by outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants in August. The incident prompted the dam’s workers to resign and led to a halt to the construction work, but the Water Affairs Directory announced last month that recruitments had restarted at the site and security measures would be enhanced.

The People’s Defense Forces (HPG), affiliated with the PKK, issued a statement after the announcement, expressing its opposition to the project.

“We call for the cancellation of the Ilısu Dam because it will damage the environment, nature and all the people who live in the region. We will not be held responsible for what could happen in the future,” the statement said.

The Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive also stressed that the dam could put the Kurdish peace deal at risk.

“We know that this project will only benefit a few companies and a government that only thinks about centralized solutions. We know that it will be a very big loss for world heritage,” it stated.

The picturesque town of Hasankeyf, has long sought to be recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, with it unique caves and historic buildings. The town is part of the Tigris basin that will be flooded after the construction of the Ilısu Dam.

A new city has been built for Hasankeyf’s residents on a nearby hillside and the government promised to move the city’s most important monuments. However, Hasankeyf will by no means be the only affected part of the Tigris, as the Ilısu Dam will also considerably reduce the volume of water flowing to Iraq.

The Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive statement said such a diversion of water resources “could fuel conflicts in the region.”

“Don’t put Iraq in a difficult position by withholding a large amount of the water for irrigation. We experienced during the war in Iraq how [conflicts over] big water sources can fuel conflicts. We call on all the NGOs in Turkey, Iraq and the Middle East, as well as the representatives of political decision-makers, to stand against the Ilısu project,” it said.

The number of micro-plants producing a limited amount of energy while destroying natural habitats in often untouched natural environments across Turkey has also risen over the last years. Many projects are the subject of litigation, but companies that win bids to build the plants frequently start construction work before waiting for the conclusion of legal processes.