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    Make up your dam mind, say Hasankeyf locals

    by Aslı Sağlam
    12.03.2009 - 00:00 | Son Güncelleme:

    MARDİN -More than five decades have passed since the building of a dam at Hasankeyf was first proposed and local residents are growing tired of their unending dilemma. Even though the situation only compounds the ancient area’s poverty, the residents refuse to give in to the government’s offers, instead calling for more support to fight off the impending flood.

    After a half century of uncertainty over whether or not their town will be submerged, the residents of Hasankeyf in the southeast are fed up, but they say they are not giving up.

    Hasankeyf, one of the most charming historic sites in eastern Turkey, will be drowned under 135 meters of water if the proposed Ilısu Dam project goes ahead. The historic town could be sacrificed for a dam that might provide an estimated 2 percent of Turkey’s electricity needs.

    Hasankeyf and its locals are tired of anxiously waiting to see if the dam will be built and their homes destroyed. They are tired of the uncertainty yet they continue to fight for the protection of their ancient homeland. They remain hopeful but are calling for more support because they have been living with the fear of losing their homes for over half a century.

    According to one resident, Sait Tekin, they are already drowning under the dam project. "We are fed up. It’s been 54 years and we still don’t know if we will be able to live in our hometown or if we will be relocated." Tekin’s house already leaks when it rains but he can’t fix it. "I have to spend at least 5,000 liras to renovate my house and I don’t want to spend that much money. Firstly I don’t have it and secondly we are not sure if we will be forced to move in a few months," Tekin said, adding that he has land in Hasankeyf worth 4 million liras but the State Water Works, or DSİ, is only offering 100,000 liras.

    "Although the land is considered a historical area, one day we learned the government gave permission to a foreign archaeologist to excavate the land. We sued the government later on."

    Tekin’s brother Aydın, who was chatting with him inside his kiosk, said they gathered as inhabitants to stop the project but their hands were tied because the government just changes the law to make its plans legal. The brothers are waiting for a decisive decision so they can carry on with their lives, which they describe as "hopeless."

    "We are the poorest region in Turkey," Tekin said. The inhabitant’s civil registries have already been taken to Batman, where the state housing agency TOKİ is planning to build new houses for the people of Hasankeyf.

    The Turkish government’s Ilısu Dam project, supported by Germany, Switzerland and Australia, has been one of the most highly disputed dam constructions in the world today. The dam project, which will leave the 10,000-year-old region under water, started 50 years ago and over the years the inhabitants of Hasankeyf have always been against it. They never signed the papers from TOKİ that forced them to sell their houses for 15,000 liras before paying 70,000 liras for new ones that will be constructed on a mountaintop. Yet, even though many of them have left the village, a large portion of the population has no intention of abandoning their hometown, even if they are left penniless.

    Population down to 2,500

    Only two years ago the population of Hasankeyf was 4,000 strong, now it is only 2,500. Those who have left did not go because they gave up on Hasankeyf, they simply could not afford to stay. Their houses are still here. And those who have stayed behind cannot build anything or renovate their houses because the land is considered a protected area. The villagers are left wondering what right the government has to build a large dam in an area protected by the same institution. Unable to build shops or hotels to cater to tourists, Hasankeyf has not kept up in the last few years.

    Ömer Güzel, who owns a restaurant in Hasankeyf, is a volunteer worker for Doğa (Nature) Foundation, which opened a branch in Hasankeyf.

    "We locals of Hasankeyf never supported the dam project," he said. The population is mostly Arab, who were born and raised in Hasankeyf, Güzel said. According to Güzel, the people who migrated to the village are not so concerned about the impending destruction of the village. "They can’t understand the value of this place."

    The DSİ is offering houses atop a mountain that is one kilometer from where they are now, but the locals are not buying it. "We see other dam projects that forced villagers to move out and it ruined their lives. There is unemployment here but if we move they are not guaranteeing jobs for us. They offered 15,000 liras for my garden but I sued them so they are now offering me 50,000 liras. But of course they can’t fool us because we don’t care about material wealth. Then again we are not so strong to resist the government, after all those years our grandparents and us fighting against the dam project we may have to give up one day. With the Doğa Foundation and other volunteer’s support we are trying hard not to give up on our land. "Our strategy is the right one," said Güzel. "We don’t place importance on our houses, it is our lives that are important. Turkey will loose a civilization, nature and animal species with this project." Doğa Foundation Project Coordinator Erkut Ertürk said the countries supporting the project, and who are known as environmentally friendly, should withdraw support of the project. "There is no tangible part to the project when the environment, history and lives are considered," he said. Living in Hasankeyf for half a year, Ertürk said he was one of them. "We are planning to raise awareness because we have already lost many historic lands and cultures to the government’s dam projects." Although the locals try to hold on, there are also those who have lost faith. Hüseyin Akkoyun, a young barbershop owner, said he was against the project. "They will drown our lives here, our houses, our jobs. They offer shops in the planned village but they will ask us to pay more." As he trimmed the hair of a boy, he said: "I am the only one left from my family, all my brothers migrated to different cities. We didn’t get any help from the government. They only think about the dam, and the rest is not important to them." Not believing that support from different communities would save Hasankeyf, Akkoyun said he also did not trust the Doğa Foundation. story of THEIlısu Dam

    The Ilısu Dam Project was thought up in the 1950s and approved in 1982. Since 2000, the Swiss firm Skanska, the English construction firm Balfour Beatty, Italian firm Impregilo, and Swiss bank UBS have all withdrawn their support for the project, which they believed would cause too much social and ecological damage to the region. The State Water Works, or DSİ, found new partners to continue the dam project.

    The Austrian Firm VA Tech Hydro, with German firm Züblin, Swiss firms Alstom, Stucky, Maggia and Colenco, and Turkish firms Nurol, Cengiz, Çelikler and Temelsu, all formed a consortium and convinced the German, Austrian and Swiss governments to invest in the dam.
    However, the promised credit came with conditions the government was required to meet. International protest over the dam project led the international partners to pause and consider their involvement in a dam that would wipe out history. A visit by an international team to Hasankeyf earlier this month to check if the DSİ had made any progress in the project management and documentation has been another reason for them to think twice about funding the project. What they faced was the construction continuing without any environmental reports or investigations. Besides, the DSİ had not even formed a Project Implementation Unit to organize things.

    The team’s evaluation report revealed Turkey has not met its contractual commitments that included 153 requirements. Although the commission gave the DSİ six more months before it would lose funding, it seemed unconcerned.


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