Ilisu Dam protests continue

By Richard High09 December 2008

The Turkish branch of Birdlife International, Doğa Derneği, has staged a protest against the country's Ilısu hydro-electric power (HEP) project.

The protest, which was held in the capital Istanbul, saw demonstrators wearing the flags of Austria, Germany and Switzerland hang a 20 m-high banner in the city centre.

The banner, which read "Hasankeyf today, tomorrow, forever" highlighted the destruction of the ancient city of Hasankeyf, which is situated in the Tigris Valley in the south-eastern part of the country.

Speaking to local news agencies Erkut Erturk, campaign coordinator for Doğa Derneği, said, "It is time for a positive decision. Prime Minister Erdogan should honour his commitment to our heritage and save Hasankeyf forever by registering this culturally and biologically diverse region on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list."

The governments of Germany, Austria and Switzerland will decide in the next few weeks whether to help finance the Ilisu HEP project. According to Birdlife International, Germany, Switzerland and Austria all have "vested interests" in the construction of the dam.

If the controversial scheme goes ahead it will flood a region that was once part of ancient Mesopotamia and which includes more than 83 archaeological sites.

It is also home to many species of birds, such as Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus and Great Bustard Otis tarda, as well as many mammals and other wildlife.

Doğa Derneği is urging the Turkish Government to abandon the project and save Hasankeyf.

"The Ilisu Dam will only cause the destruction of our heritage and our legacy. For the sake of present and future generations, Turkey must stop this project. Germany, Austria and Switzerland must apply the same standards and controls to Turkey that they use in their own countries. No one should contribute to the disappearance of the unique wildlife and history of Hasankeyf", said Mr Erturk.

The Turkish Government contends the Ilisu HEP is part of a long-term plan to develop the poor, mainly Kurdish region and will create up to 10000 jobs, irrigate farmlands and attract tourists. It has also promised to compensate local people who will lose their homes and remove any archaeological artifacts before the dam's completion in 2013.

Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony on 5 August 5, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said, "The step that we are taking today demonstrates that the south-east is no longer neglected. This dam will bring big gains to the local people."

The US$ 2 billion Ilısu HEP project will be situated on the Tigris river, just 65km upstream from the Syrian and Iraqi border. It is currently the largest planned hydropower project in Turkey.

Planned as a rockfill dam - 1820 m long and 135 m high - its reservoir would cover a surface area of 313 km2 and contain up to 10.4 billion m3 of water. The power station will have a capacity of 1200 MW, and is expected to produce 3800 GWh of power per year.

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