Archaeological sites in the historic town of Hasankeyf that are at risk of being submerged can be saved if external funding sources for the Ilısu Dam are cut, said the former country director of the World Bank in Turkey.
Speaking at the American Research Institute in Turkey Monday, Andrew Vorkink said he believes cutting off the external sources of funding for the controversial Ilısu Dam project is the only way to postpone, and eventually stop, its construction, which endangers the archaeological sites located in the Hasankeyf area.
Supported in his opinion by one of the members of the Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive, Vorkink cited the example of the United Kingdom, the first country to financially contribute to the construction of the Ilısu Dam. Public pressure forced the UK to withdraw its participation one year later, and Turkey was forced to search for other means of financial support. Since 2004, Germany, Switzerland and Austria have offered alternative funding sources for the dam, but the project was suspended in December 2008 because of protests by domestic and international organizations.
According to Vorkink, who is currently a visiting professor at Istanbul's Boğaziçi University, the involvement of international parties and the scale of the Ilısu project make it the most relevant development initiative taking place in Turkey.
If sufficient financial resources are available for the project, he said, the Turkish government is unlikely to give up on the dam, citing the prior construction of the Atatürk Dam, which was completed despite the tension it created between Turkey and Syria. The blocking of river-water flow for one month in order to fill the Atatürk Dam’s reservoir, Vorkink said, is believed to be one of the reasons that started Syrian support for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.
The World Bank, which was among the first institutions to finance the construction of the Ilısu Dam, has refused to give further support to the project, deeming that it did not meet standards for preservation of archaeological sites, despite the Turkish government’s willingness to spent 30 million euros to move 14 historical sites. The World Bank has also revised its policy toward similar projects and does not provide any financial assistance to initiatives that will have a negative impact on cultural heritage, population or the environment. As a result of the new policy, the organization has likewise withdrawn its support for the construction of the world’s biggest dam, the Three Gorges Dam in China, which has caused the resettlement of nearly 2 million people.
The construction of the Ilısu Dam is part of the Southeastern Anatolia Project, or GAP, which aims to bring irrigation to the driest part of Turkey and provide the region with potable water and electricity in order to raise its productivity.