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Monster dam will swallow an area that meets nine out of 10 UNESCO criteria for World Heritage List

Last Update 16.03.2012

14th March, Hasankeyf, Turkey – Close to 70% of Hasankeyf residents interviewed in a survey (1) by expert Ebru Isikli say they do not want to move to the new village the Turkish government is building to replace their 11,000-year old town in ancient Mesopotomia that would be flooded on completion of the Ilisu Dam on the Tigris River.

The study, published by environmental organisation Doga Dernegi (Nature Association), shows locals are deeply connected with their hometown’s rich cultural and natural heritage and feel they are being deprived of their right to live there. Government plans to force them to relocate are likely to have serious psychological and social impacts on residents.

Almost half of those interviewed say they cannot afford to relocate. Close to 30 percent say they have no idea where they would go when forced to move.

The planned construction of the massive Ilisu dam on the Tigris River in south east Turkey is currently one of the world’s most controversial dam projects. The dam would inundate an area over 310 square km, swallowing cultural and natural heritage of international importance.

The site meets nine out of 10 criteria for UNESCO World Heritage Sites (2). Breathtaking landscapes that sustain vast biological diversity surround the Tigris River, which stretches for hundreds of kilometers to the marshes of Basra. In addition, between 55,000 and 65,000 will be displaced according to the European credit agencies’ report by its Committee of Experts on Resettlement in 2008 (3).

“The dam would have a life span of 70 years at most, but leave a legacy of enormous cultural, humanitarian and ecological repercussions. Important habitats for globally endangered and endemic species are threatened by the dam (4). The study proves government claims that the Ilisu Dam enjoys public support in the region is false,” said Derya Engin, Hasankeyf Campaign Assistant, during the press conference in Hasankeyf to announce the results of the survey.

Last week, the government held a ceremony marking the laying of the foundations for the dam’s main wall, where Forestry and Water Minister Veysel Eroglu promised, “New Hasankeyf will be one of the most beautiful cities in Turkey” (5). Yet it remains a poor and unaffordable alternative to locals, even though many have been living in temporary shelters since the late 70s when they were forced out of their original homes set within the steep rock formations that dominate the area.

They were promised new housing, which never materialised. Many say they live in squalid conditions, with no kitchen (10%) and toilets outdoors (45%). Long-standing plans for the dam’s construction stemmed much needed investment in the area, resulting in a general state of neglect.

In fact, the main two reasons cited by the 21 percent of respondents who would consider leaving Hasankeyf are: limited job opportunities and the bad state of their homes. More than half the respondents earn an income well below the minimum wage, with almost 20 percent surviving on less than 300TL (€130) per month.

Sixty-seven percent say the housing units being offered in the new town are more expensive than what the government is paying for their property. The units being built largely consist of apartments, which are unsuitable for village lifestyles Hasankeyf residents are accustomed to.

The study notes residents’ needs were not identified and implemented in the project.  The lack of consultation on relocation plans defies EU and World Bank requirements, and is one of the reasons why European credit agencies withdrew their support of the Ilisu Dam project.

The Turkish government is claiming that the region’s cultural artifacts would be preserved (some underwater) and lead to more tourists visiting the region, but the study shows residents remain unconvinced.  Only 13 percent believe Minister Eroglu’s claim that the dam would increase tourism .

Doga Dernegi is demanding the government abandon the Ilisu Dam project and opt instead to protect the region’s cultural and natural heritage by nominating Hasankeyf and the Tigris River for the UNESCO World Heritage List.


1- An opinion survey based on face-to-face interviews with residents in 357 units (residences and shops) in Hasankeyf held in February 2012. The sample size represents 12 percent of the area’s residents.

2- Report by Istanbul University Prof Zeynep Ahunbay, who is also the  president of ICOMOS Turkey (International Council on Monuments and Sites that advises UNESCO on World Heritage Sites):  

3-2008 report by the Committee of Experts on Resettlement appointed by European Credit Agencies (ECA) planning to fund the project: (exec summary, page 7) The ECA later withdrew their support of the Ilisu Dam project because of the government’s failure to meet international requirements.

4-Species threatened by the dam include: Mesopotamian barbel (Critically endangered), Euphrates Soft-shelled turtle (Endangered), Egyptian vulture (Endangered), The European Roller (Near threatened), Red-wattled Lapwing (Near threatened), Cinereous bunting (Near threatened), Striped Hyena (Near threatened).


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