Doga Dernegi volunteers with Hasankeyf residents calling for an end to Ilisu Dam project which will inundate 12,000 years old town of Hasankeyf

Dam projects in Turkey have cumulatively increased in recent years. River ecosystems and associated resident communities are under constant and immense threats, as dams continue to be one of the most debated issues in Turkey. Currently, the government of Turkey plans to construct a total of 1,738 dams and hydroelectric power plants by 2023. On top of these, another 2,000 dams are planned for irrigation and drinking-water purposes, with these proposals totalling around 4,000 dams.

The planned construction of the massive Ilisu dam on the Tigris River in South East Turkey is the largest of all 4000 dam projects in Turkey and one of the world’s most controversial energy projects. Despite widespread opposition, the Turkish government is proceeding with the construction of the dam that would inundate an area over 310 sq. kms in ancient Mesopotamia (the area to be flooded is equivalent to the size of  the EU member state of Malta). Though the dam is planned to have a life span of less than 100 years, its legacy will bring enormous and permanent cultural, humanitarian and natural repercussions in Mesopotamia, the cradle of all civilisation on earth.

The 11,000 year-old historic town of Hasankeyf would disappear together with hundreds of cultural and archaeological sites. Tens of thousands of people would be displaced and important habitats for globally and regionally threatened species would be destroyed. The dam would also affect other important habitats and communities that live and rely on the Tigris River, which flows through Mesopotamia all the way to the marshes of Basra in Iraq. Globally endangered species that will be affected by the Ilısu include the Egyptian Vulture, Euphrates Soft-shelled Turtle, and the Leopard (Mesopotamian) Barbel.

The Ilisu Dam would flood an area so rich in its cultural and natural heritage that it meets nine out of 10 UNESCO World Heritage Site criteria. It is the only place in the world to come that close to UNESCO’s requirements, according to a report published by Istanbul University Professor Zeynep Ahunbay, who is also President of ICOMOS Turkey (the International Council on Monuments and Sites that evaluates nominations for World Heritage Status).

Doga Dernegi, the BirdLife International Partner in Turkey, together with other national and international NGOs, has campaigned since 2005 to stop the Ilisu Dam project, proposing a list of alternative solutions to the dam and demanding the Turkish government to nominate Hasankeyf and the Tigris Valley for UNESCO World Heritage Status. To this end, we have been closely working with residents and local stakeholders, academics and experts, national and local NGOs, international organisations such as ECA Watch, and the Keep Hasankeyf Alive Initiative. Acclaimed authors and artists have also endorsed our campaign to save Hasankeyf and the Tigris Valley. These include world renowned authors Yasar Kemal and Nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk, as well as world known musicians Tarkan and Sezen Aksu.

Our campaigns have resulted in the withdrawal of three European Credit Agencies from the project in 2009. Never before has an existing export guarantee been cancelled due to ecological, social or cultural concerns. Yet, since the withdrawal of the European funding, the Turkish authorities have declared that the project would still go ahead with Turkish funds.

Doga Dernegi’s demands continue to gain strength with the support of over 100,000 people who signed up to the campaign’s petition. The possible cancellation of the long-debated Ilisu Dam will also affect the fate of other rivers in Turkey and elsewhere.