Posted by: hevallo | May 23, 2008

Hasankeyf and Kurdish Cultural Genocide.

By Constanze Kolbe in Hasankeyf, Turkey for ISN Security Watch (22/05/08)

When entering Hasankeyf, a city in southeastern Turkey situated on the banks of the Tigris River, a visitor is met with a depressing scene. Once a magnet for tourists and historians as an important way station on the Silk Road, Hansankeyf is now marked by unemployment and desperation, the ripple effects of the planned Ilius Dam. When finished, hundreds of small villages, including Hasankeyf, will be flooded.

“Since it became clear that the dam would be realized, many employers left the region, and slowly this area was depopulated,” Ibrahim, a 50-year-old postal worker in the village, told ISN Security Watch.

Construction on the dam, named after the town where it is being built some 80 kilometers downriver from Hansankeyf, started in 2006. It is scheduled to be completed in 2013.

The Ilisu Dam is part of the Southeastern Anatolian Project (GAP), a massive plan which envisions 19 power stations and 22 dams along the Tigris and the Euphrates at an expected cost of US$32 billion; perhaps the largest and most expensive project of its kind in Turkey since the country’s founding.

According to the project’s website, its purpose is to improve living standards and income levels of residents in the area “by enhancing productivity and employment opportunities in the rural sector.” It is also seen as carrying the spirit of founding father Kemal Atatürk and his desire to modernize the nation.

But the altruistic notion of GAP has been met with suspicion from some of Turkey’s residents and neighbors.

The project site is less than 70 kilometers from Turkey’s borders with Syria and Iraq. By damming the two most important rivers in the Middle East, some believe that Turkey hopes to leverage its position as a natural resource power in the water-scarce region. It is an uncomfortable scenario for those downriver, in particular, Syria. Additionally, residents of the area see the project as Turkey’s latest salvo in its fight against the Kurdish rebels in the southeast.

Troubled waters

The already tenuous relationship between Syria and Turkey reached a boiling point during the Kurdish uprisings of the 1980s, with the country’s southeast being a constant scene of military confrontation between the government and Kurdish rebels.
Turkey also accused Syria of hosting rebel training camps – an accusation that Syria has denied – and of harboring Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan, who fled Syria and was later arrested in Kenya by the Turkish intelligence service in 1999.

One of the indirect weapons Turkey used in these cases was its water power: Water that would otherwise flow into Syria was under the control of Turkey’s dam system along the Euphrates.

“The Arabs have oil, we have water,” the Financial Times quotes an engineer working on the Ilisu Dam as saying in a 21 March article.

The GAP is yet an additional source of strife for relations not only between Turkey and Syria, but also between Turkey and the Kurdish population. “It’s just to bring an end to the Kurds,” The FT quotes a resident of the area as saying.

In what seems an indirect affirmation of Kurdish suspicions, government officials also acknowledge the security aspect.

“[B]uilding up this dam is very important to us,” Batman Governor Recep Kizilcik tells the Financial Times. “It is crucial for our administration […] after building up the Ataturk Dam, the terrorists couldn’t pass through.”

Promises down the drain.

As residents of Hasankeyf wait for the Tigris to envelop their town, the government’s promises of resettlement compensation, jobs and increased tourism fall on deaf ears.

“The problem is that the areas where the people will be resettled have absolutely no infrastructure,” Diren Özkan from Diyarbakir-based NGO Save Hasankeyfi told ISN Security Watch. “They are promised money for new houses, but this money is not sufficient […].

“In old projects, like the Atatürk Dam [completed in 1992], people were resettled into [high rise] apartments,” she said. “These are in an area where until now roads or running water have not been provided. People here are scared that the same will happen to them.”

Residents also look to the Atatürk Dam, located on the Euphrates, as an example of failed promises of employment. No long-term jobs were created during the dam’s construction. In addition, many workers that were employed for its construction came from western Turkey and left after the dam was completed.

According to the Ilisu Dam Consortium, a multinational group overseeing the project, 4,000 jobs will be created “for people of the area” during the five-to-seven years of construction. The site also promises that the Consortium will employ local subcontractors.

In terms of tourism, the Turkish government is hedging its bets on the Ilius Dam becoming a new point of attraction that could draw in thousands of visitors to Hasankeyf in search of a resort atmosphere, an astounding thought to archaeologist Deniz Beyazit, who is documenting the town’s historic landmarks.

“If this city, probably one of the most important archaeological sites in Turkey, cannot attract tourists by its own historical charm and cultural heritage sights, then how can a water sports resort that will be built by flooding and ruining everything else be more attractive?” she told ISN Security Watch.

More likely, the IIius will follow the path of the Ataürk Dam, becoming a giant militarized lake under close surveillance out of a fear of attacks. That an increased military presence will render the local population more favorable toward the Turkish government is also not very likely.

“The government was just searching for a means to station its soldiers here and surveil the areas,” one resident told ISN Security Watch. “The [Ataturk] Dam is today one of the best secured military zones of its kind […]. Soldiers are positioned almost everywhere.”

Forced relocations, inadequate financial compensation and arbitrary handling of cultural heritage are more likely to open up another divide.
In the past years, local as well as international NGOs have campaigned against the construction.

After the dam’s scheduled completion in 2013, around 80 villages including Hasankeyf will have been flooded. A total of approximately 55,000 people in the region will lose their homes.


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