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    "Newer" News

    06.11.00 : Critical Ilisu Dam decisions expected by year's-end
    17.10.00 : Human rights, environmental groups appeal to US to shun Turkish dam project

    : Ilisu Dam Fact Finding Mission : preliminary findings
    11 09.00
    : Berne Declaration press release: 78'000 affected by Ilisu dam?
    21.08.00 : As Price of Progress, Turkish Villages Are Flooded
    : Newly Found, a '2nd Pompeii' Is in Peril Again
    : An NGO perspective on the Ilisu dam: VESTED INTERESTS AND POLITICS

    : Turkey: London Times story on Ilisu

    older news

Text :

06.11.00: Critical Ilisu Dam decisions expected by year's-end

DSI's Altinbilek states that many dilemmas have been faced during three years of negotiations -- technical problems, economic problems, unexpected problems, including most notably the flooding of the ancient site of Hasankefy Ankara

Turkish Daily News, 6. November 00
Turkey is evidently determined to build the Ilisu Dam, which is to be located on the river Dicle (Tigris) as part of the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP). It is expected that a decision will be made within the year about bargaining negotiations on the dam's construction, officials said. Energy and Natural Resources Ministry officials have said that Turkey would start looking for alternatives if a certain point could not be reached in the current negotiations. State Waterworks Authority (DSI) General Manager Dogan Altinbilek stated that some countries and firms who saw the negotiations as not going well are hoping to get involved in the construction. The officials stated that the initial cost estimates of $2 billion had fallen to $1.8 billion but that Turkey still found this expensive and wanted the cost to fall below $1.5 billion. The ministry officials stated that Turkey didn't have any patience about the construction and that a decision, either positive or negative, should be reached within this year. DSI General Manager Altinbilek stated that the dam was expected to produce 3.8 million kilowatts of electricity. He continued: "Turkey will have to carry out this issue either by adjudicating by itself or turning the project over to other companies or countries volunteering for the construction of the dam, if it can't be achieved with this consortium. We don't want to heat up the competition, but there are some firms which applied to us seeing that the negotiations remained inconclusive. Turkey wants to realize the project either with these firms in some way on credit or on its own. Turkey will have lost three years if the negotiations remain inconclusive. We want to complete this project, not waste our efforts."
Cyber Hasankeyf Altinbilek stated that many dilemmas had been faced during the negotiations -- technical and economic problems, and unexpected ones. He added that the most important of these was the flooding of the ancient site of Hasankefy. Altinbilek said that a number of studies had been done on the issue of Hasankeyf together with the Ministry of Culture. Altinbilek stated that the efforts to make urgent excavations after the historical significance of the site was determined and to collect them in a museum afterwards were also DSI's handiwork. He added that they were working on documenting Hasankefy in a cyber format by preparing a computer CD on the ancient ruins. Additionally, Altinbilek stated that the consortium was preparing an environmental impact report for the creditor foundations and that this report would be completed within a month's time. He added that he knew nothing about the contents of the report.

17.10.00 : Human rights, environmental groups appeal to US to shun Turkish dam project

By Nathaniel Harrison


An alliance of human rights and environmental groups has called on the US Export-Import Bank to shun a Turkish hydroelectric dam project, which they say will force the re-settlement of thousands of people, damage public health, and endanger a Medieval architectural treasure.

A letter signed by 14 groups urged Ex-Im Bank chairman James Harmon and US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to halt any further discussion of plans to back the Ilisu Dam project in southeastern Turkey, which they said was "ill conceived and a misuse of US taxpayer dollars."

An Ex-Im bank official speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed that the agency had received "a preliminary request for a commitment" to support construction of the 1,200 megawatt dam on the Tigris River, about 60 kilometers (40 miles) from the Syrian border. The official said the bank has had the request for most of the year, and was still waiting for additional information before beginning an to evaluation.

The official would not disclose who had sought the funding, or in what amount.

The US Export-Import Bank is a government agency that guarantees loans for US companies that want to compete abroad and makes loans to foreign purchasers of US goods and services.

The British government last December signaled its willingness to underwrite some of the construction costs in response to a request from the British firm Balfour Beatty for export credits worth 220 million dollars.

The entire project has been estimated to cost 1.9 billion dollars.

But the proposal has ignited a storm of protest from environmental and human rights activists as well as from Iraq and Syria, who accuse Turkey of monopolizing the waters of the Tigris to their detriment.

In their recent letter, groups such as Friends of the Earth, the International Rivers Network, the Center for International Environmental Law, and the Washington Kurdish Institute have charged that the dam is planned for an area of armed conflict where the Turkish government is oppressing the ethnic Kurdish minority.

The project would require the forced re-settlement of up to 34,000 local people and could negatively impact the lives of up to 78,000, according to the letter.

"It is hard to imagine how the involuntary resettlement of up to 34,000 local people and up to 78,000 potentially impacted, mainly Kurds, will not exacerbate the human rights situation in the area," the letter said.

The letter charged that the Turkish government, with a "dismal resettlement record for other dam projects," lacks the resources and the political will to honor international resettlement standards.

In addition, the organizations predicted that the Ilisu Dam would inundate and destroy Hasankeyf, the only town in Anatolia that has survived since the Middle Ages and considered to be an archeological "treasure."

They in addition argued that the dam, which will flood some of the most fertile land in the region, could increase the incidence of malaria and schistosomiasis.

For further information :

Emilie Cornu Thenard, Program Associate, Center for International Environmental Law, 1367 Connecticut Ave, NW Suite 300, Washington, DC 20036

202.785.8700   202.785.8701 (fax)

Want to Know More about the International Campaign to Reform Export Credit Agencies?

16.10.00 : Ilisu Dam Fact Finding Mission : preliminary findings

9th-16th October 2000

In response to widespread international concern over the cultural, social and environmental impacts of the planned Ilisu dam in South-East Turkey, the Export Credit Agencies (ECAs) of Switzerland, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Austria, Japan, Portugal, Sweden and the USA imposed four conditions that would have to be met by the Government of Turkey in order for the project to obtain export credit support. The four conditions, announced in December 1999, were as follows:

1. Draw up a resettlement programme which reflects internationally accepted practice and includes independent monitoring: 2. Make provision for upstream water treatment plants capable of ensuring that water quality is maintained: 3. Give an assurance that adequate downstream flows will be maintained at all times: 4. Produce a detailed plan to preserve as much of the archaeological heritage of Hasankeyf as possible.

To assess the progress being made by the Turkish government in meeting the four conditions, an international Fact Finding Mission of Non-Governmental Organisations from the United Kingdom, the USA, Germany and Italy visited the Ilisu area from the 9th-16th October 2000. The Mission met with affected people, prominent municipal officials, lawyers, and local professional associations relevant to the project. Throughout its visit, the Mission was followed by security police.

The Mission concludes that the four conditions imposed by the ECAs have yet to be met - and that the prospect that they will be met in the near future is remote. It will be pressing the ECAs to refuse export credit support for the project.

The Mission's main findings are set out in a preliminary paper, released today. The Mission confirms earlier concerns that:

. Conditions in the region make a fair and just resettlement to international standards unattainable:

. Well documented failures of past and current resettlement projects in Turkey, acknowledged by the Turkish government, have still to be addressed in any substantive way:

. Doubts still exist as to the true number of people who are potentially affected: . Consultation with the affected people in the Ilisu area has been piecemeal, inadequate, biased in its format and constrained by an air of intimidation. Some key consultations which the Turkish government apparently claims to have taken place have in reality not occurred:

. Host communities have not been asked to draw up resettlement plans and their budgetary requirements have not been assessed, in contravention of World Bank standards: . The adequacy of the socio-economic surveys required to meet international standards has been questioned :

. Lack of capacity and institutional fragmentation render a coherent resettlement programme unachievable. Major institutional reforms will be necessary before there can be any confidence that resettlement will be carried out to international standards. There is also a need to overhaul existing compensation procedures:

. Planned sewage treatment facilities in upstream towns are inadequate to ensure water quality in the reservoir area, either because they will not cover the entire population or because they are still at the feasibility stage: . The downstream impacts of Ilisu may be underestimated because no comprehensive analysis has been undertaken of the cumulative impacts of both Ilisu and its companion downstream dam at Cizre. The two projects are interdependent but have been wrongly represented as separate and unconnected:

. Time and financial pressures on investigations and salvage of the archaeological wealth of the affected area render such rescue efforts reckless, haphazard and contrived. More important, efforts to salvage archaeological resources are limited to artefacts and cannot extend to the thousands of caves in the area, even though the cave civilisation is the essence of the irreplaceable treasure that is Hasankeyf.

The Mission comes shortly after the announcement by Skanska, the Swedish company which had a 24 per cent stake in the consortium that aims to build the dam, that it is withdrawing from the project. The company told the Financial Times that the decision resulted from "unspecified negotiating problems". It is widely held within the affected communities visited by the Mission that the company was unconvinced that the project would meet international standards.

For further information: +39.349.80 48 236 -
Kurdish Human Rights Project +44.207.287 27 72
Sally Eberhardt Pacific Environment / CIEL +1.202.785 87 00
Emilie Thenard / Douglas Norlen Campaign " An Eye on SACE " +39.06.24 40 42 12
Antonio Tricarico WEED +49.228.766 13-0 Heike Drillisch

11.09.00 : Berne Declaration press release: 78'000 affected by Ilisu dam?

At 55,000-78,000, the number of people potentially or actually affected by Turkey's Ilisu dam is much higher than has so far been estimated. A long series of project-specific, economic and political conditions must be fulfilled for the dam's resettlement program to comply with international standards. These are the main conclusions of an internal document on the Ilisu project which the Berne Declaration and the British Ilisu Dam Campaign released to the public on 7 September.

The Ilisu consortium has so far estimated the number of people affected by the Ilisu dam at 12,000-15,000. A new report by World Bank expert Ayse Kudat now puts the figure of people actually affected at 19,000-34,000, and the number of people potentially affected at 55,000-78,000. The report has been commissioned by the Swiss Export Risk Guarantee, which coordinates a consortium of international export credit agencies considering to fund the Ilisu dam. The Swiss advocacy group, The Berne Declaration (BD), and the British Ilisu Dam Campaign released the report to the public on 7 September.

Not only is the number of affected people much higher than expected. Ayse Kudat's report also identifies a long list of project-specific, economic and political conditions which must be fulfilled for the affected people to be successfully rehabilitated. The World Bank expert puts forward nine specific recommendations, among which the employment of illiterate farmers in urban areas which are plagued by rampant unemployment. Her report also indicates that a successful rehabilitation is only possible if martial law in the Kurdish area is lifted, and if the area profits from an economic upturn. The document gives no guidance on how to address these issues however.

In a critique of the resettlement report, the Berne Declaration points out that some of the conditions for successful rehabilitation have so far never been implemented in practice. In spite of this, the risk of failure lies squarely with the affected people, particularly since the export credit agencies are not prepared to make their funding conditional on the actual implementation of the rehabilitation program. "While these agencies intend to guarantee the risks of their exporters, no guarantees are given to the people affected by Ilisu", the BD's critique points out. Ayse Kudat's report mentions that "there are a large number of people affected by previously constructed dams who are still waiting to be resettled, sometimes for many years". In the past 30 years, only about 100 families have been resettled every year. Commenting on the new report, Peter Bosshard of the Berne Declaration says: "If the Turkish authorities are serious about their commitment to international standards, they should start with the problems which they have already created. In the meantime, we will support the people affected by Ilisu in their resistance against a dam which again shifts all the risks to them."

For more information: . Peter Bosshard, Berne Declaration,,, ph. +41 1 277 70 07 . Kate Geary, Ilisu Dam Campaign,, ph +44 1865 200 550

21.08.00 : As Price of Progress, Turkish Villages Are Flooded

August 21, 2000


SAMSAT, Turkey -- The minaret on the mosque was the last trace of the ancient village to disappear. Years after the homes and shops vanished, God's house stood as a mute witness before it, too, slipped beneath the waters of the Euphrates rising above the Ataturk Dam. Up and down the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers in southeastern Turkey, villages inhabited since the beginning of civilization are being flooded into watery oblivion by a vast dam system. For tens of thousands of people, those who live in places of great archaeological value and those in historically insignificant hamlets like Samsat, a way of life is being erased.

The destruction is the price of progress. The Turkish government is in the final years of its largest public works project, an ambitious effort to quench an insatiable appetite for electricity, irrigate arid land and bring jobs to this impoverished region.

The question being asked in Turkey, and with rising urgency by archaeologists and human rights groups worldwide, is whether the price is too high. And, as so often when modernization clashes with cultural heritage, the answer depends on whom you ask.

For the planners, engineers and government officials involved in the $32 billion Southeastern Anatolia Project, the answer is a steadfast no. They describe the network of 22 dams and 19 hydroelectric plants as the key to the economic revitalization of Upper Mesopotamia and a vital component in satisfying the whole country's pressing need for electricity.

"This was the least developed region of Turkey," said Olcay Unver, chairman of the project. "Over the last 10 years its development rate has caught up with and surpassed the rest of Turkey."

When completed in a decade, the project will irrigate 2,500 square miles of land and affect the lives of 6.2 million people in the region. Government planners hope to build an export-based economy to ship agricultural products and finished goods worldwide.

The plans also have political ramifications in this Kurdish region. After 15 years of conflict and at least 30,000 casualties, the army defeated the guerrilla group known as the Kurdistan Workers Party last year.

Experts inside and outside government see the project as an opportunity to win the peace, though Kurdish grievances extend beyond poverty to issues of ethnic identity and equality, and those cannot be solved by providing electricity and jobs.

The politics, like the rivers, do not end at the border. Syria and Iraq have depended on the Euphrates and Tigris for millenniums, and both have complained in recent years that Turkey is withholding their share of the water. Negotiations are stalled, and now the dams threaten to reduce the supply downstream.

Statistics and politics mean little to Fatma Seker, 18. Her evaluation of the project is made at the personal level, by the money she earns in a clean, well-lighted factory, sewing T-shirts for export to Wal-Mart and Bugle Boy. She makes the minimum wage, about $138 a month, but the money goes a long way and she is proud of her first job.

"We like our work, and life goes smoothly," she said shyly from beneath a traditional Muslim scarf during her lunch break at the Harrani Textile Company in Sanliurfa.

Sanliurfa is a bustling, dusty city of 500,000 about 40 miles from Syria. Its best claim to fame is as the place where, according to Muslim tradition, Abraham was born and Job waited for divine mercy. It is also the laboratory for the way the government hopes to develop the region.

Per capita income doubled in the last five years as water from the gigantic Ataturk Dam irrigated 500,000 acres on the nearby Harran Plain, boosting the production of cotton, wheat and vegetables.

Helped by a five-year tax exemption and other incentives, cotton mills, garment factories and other businesses are operating in the city's industrial zone and officials are trying desperately to attract foreign investment.

The start is small but promising. For instance, at the Polteks Company, 110 workers use the latest Swiss and German machinery to spin cotton from the Harran Plain into yarn for export to Italy. At Harrani Textile, 460 people, mostly conservative Muslim women in headscarves, turn out 180,000 T-shirts a month for the American market. Neither factory existed before the project.

A two-hour drive northeast, upriver from the Ataturk Dam, the 4,600 villagers of Samsat have seen nothing of the prosperity blooming on the plain. Samsat was an important stronghold in the Byzantine era, controlling a strategic point on the Euphrates. Arabs conquered the region in A.D. 640, and the Turks came later.

From medieval times on, Samsat was of little significance except to the people who lived there. The occasional tourist wandered in for a quick look at the ruins of a small fortress, but life remained quiet and slow.

For years there were rumors about a dam. In April 1988, the authorities arrived from Ankara and told the residents they would be moved out. They would be paid the value of their modest houses and given new homes in a new Samsat, about a mile away, beyond the reach of the 500-square-mile lake that would rise behind the dam.

When the time came, the villagers exchanged houses of mud, with thatch roofs and no electricity, for solid new places with electricity and plenty of water. They traded muddy ruts for paved streets. Everyone should have been happy, but no one seems to be.

"In old Samsat we were growing many different things: corn, melons, lentils, fruits," Fevzi Kural, 59, said as he sat in the yard of his government-issue house with his family, threading tobacco leaves onto string for drying. "We could work in many fields and we were supporting each other. There was a vitality to life. We are missing very much the old Samsat."

Occasionally residents walk to the lake and strain for a glimpse of their past. More enterprising, or desperate, souls borrow a small boat and row toward the memories. Until last year the minaret was still visible to guide them. Now there is nothing.

As the muezzin called worshipers to afternoon prayer at one of two handsome mosques built by the government in new Samsat, men removed their shoes and paused in the shade of the portico. They, too, spoke fondly of the lost village and complained bitterly about the new one. The only jobs are in the tobacco fields, they said. The government has brought no industry. We are forgotten. Asked whether anything is better now, they answered in unison: "Yok. Yok." ("Nothing. Nothing.") The scene evoked a Kurdish fable about the bulbul, or nightingale. The bird was caught and put in a gilded cage. Despite the grandeur, the nightingale cried every night to return to its nest. The demise of Samsat, one of the first villages evacuated when the Ataturk Dam went into service in 1990, caused no ripple outside the region. But in recent months the imminent drowning of sites with archaeological appeal has sparked an outcry across the world that Turkey is cannibalizing its history. Some have even protested that the project is a plot to wipe out Kurdish culture. Turkish officials shake their heads at the criticism. In the past they were criticized for failing to bring economic development to the southeast. Now they are criticized for doing so. They also said that excavating and rescuing significant sites had been a component of the project for more than two decades and there had been dozens of digs. And in this crossroads of civilization, where two great rivers have nourished life for thousands of years, there are those who say some losses are acceptable. "You have to make choices," said Toni M. Cross, director of the Ankara branch of the America Research Institute in Turkey, a consortium of American and Canadian universities. "If you are a politician in a democracy, you'd better consider the living as well as the dead. I'm a classical archaeologist, and I'd rather not lose anything. But I like having electricity." Still, some losses must be mourned, and few sites in the region match the breathtaking beauty and drama of Hasankeyf. The old town sits below towering limestone cliffs on a sweeping curve in the Tigris, east of Diyarbakir. The cliffs and surrounding hills are riddled with 5,000 cave dwellings more than 2,000 years old. Some are still occupied, with numbers on the outside; one near the top sports a satellite dish. At the summit are the ruins of two small castles and an Assyrian-era church later transformed into a mosque. Far below, in the rushing river, are the remains of a 12th-century bridge, once regarded as the grandest in Anatolia. Six miles downriver is the site of the planned Ilisu Dam, which will create a 200-square-mile reservoir and flood about 80 villages in seven or eight years. With about 5,000 residents, Hasankeyf is the largest of the doomed settlements. Government officials say they improved the resettlement process after learning from mistakes in places like Samsat. Residents of Hasankeyf are being consulted about where to build the new village and what type of businesses and crops might thrive. But the consultations cannot erase the fear. Some foreign companies involved in the Ilisu Dam have expressed concerns about the controversy that may jeopardize the dam's construction, though it is unlikely that Turkey would cancel the dam, because of its importance to the overall project.

Ibrahim Apalday, 25, grew up in Hasankeyf, swimming in the Tigris and hiding in the caves, just as children were doing one morning as he sipped tea in town. He now works in the family butcher shop. Single and articulate, he could make a fresh start in Diyarbakir or Istanbul when the flood comes, but he does not think about a new life.

"After we lose Hasankeyf," he said with a shrug of resignation, "it doesn't make any difference where we live."  

The New York Times on the Web

17.05.00 : Newly Found, a '2nd Pompeii' Is in Peril Again


Here, as in several parts of southern Turkey, water is rising inexorably around a doomed village as an artificial lake builds up behind a new dam, part of the government's ambitious plans to generate electric power and irrigate vast areas of dry land.

But in Belkis, the swelling waters are not just disrupting lives or forever submerging long-cherished homes.

In the last few months, archaeologists have found that an ancient city that once stood here holds what many experts are calling one of the world's richest collections of Roman mosaics. Much of it is about to disappear before anyone even has a chance to see it.

"This is a real tragedy," said Mehmet Onal, the archaeologist who is supervising a frantic effort to rescue what can be saved before the site is inundated. "We've only excavated two villas, and we found 12 beautiful mosaics. There are hundreds of villas under the earth, so you can imagine what remains to be found. The scale of what we have here is really unbelievable."

"If we can have four months, we can pass the Antakya Museum, and if we have two years we can pass the one in Tunis," Mr. Onal said. The museum in the Turkish city of Antakya, which was known in antiquity as Antioch, has this region's finest collection of ancient mosaics, and the one in Tunis is considered the finest in the world.

The director of the government's energy and irrigation project in southern Turkey said he could not assess the cultural value of the site. The provincial governor said he was powerless to stop the inundation of what he called "a second Pompeii."

If all proceeds according to plan, that leaves Mr. Onal and the handful of archaeologists working here with him only about a month before much of this site disappears. Every day they are excavating and removing artifacts, not just mosaics but others ranging from a five-foot-high bronze statue of Mars to 65,000 ceramic impressions of family and official seals, more than have ever been found at a single site. The mosaics, many of which depict scenes of Greek mythology, are being lifted and taken to a museum in the nearby provincial capital of Gaziantep. Two that have been uncovered in recent days are still in place. Both are magnificently preserved and compare in quality with those in great museums. One depicts Poseidon on his chariot along with the water deities Thetis and Oceanus. The other shows Perseus saving Andromeda from a sea monster. Each is the size of a mid-sized room.

A few steps away from these two mosaics is an atrium covered with dirt and fragments of Roman columns. Archaeologists believe they will uncover another mosaic when they clear the debris in the next few days.

The city that stood here 2,000 years ago, Zeugma, was at the eastern edge of the Roman Empire. It had an estimated 70,000 residents and was the base for a Roman legion. Its position on the banks of the Euphrates River, and its role as a thriving center of Silk Road trade, made it immensely wealthy.

Rich traders competed with each other to decorate the floors of their villas with the most exquisite mosaics. In the third century, Zeugma is believed to have suffered an invasion, a devastating fire and an earthquake in quick succession. It has lain undisturbed since then, covered by thick layers of dirt and rubble.

Archaeologists have worked sporadically here for several years but began concentrated excavation only last winter, after it became clear that the site was about to be lost. They say they are amazed at what they have found.

"We knew we were looking at some fine work, but suddenly in these last couple of months we've realized that this is a major world-class site," said Christine Kondoleon, curator of Greek and Roman Art at the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts, who is visiting ancient ruins in Turkey this month.

"Photos that have been coming out of there show that the mosaics are very rich, very elaborate and truly extraordinary," Ms. Kondoleon said. "It would be a huge shame if we lose this site, especially if we never even see what's there. The whole thing is really upsetting because this is a great, great treasure."

Just down the dirt road from where archaeologists were digging, a farmer named Abdulrahma Kizilirmak, who had lived all of his 63 years in Belikis, sat stoically on a brick wall and watched as the village slowly disappeared. He has heard promises that he will get a fair price for the house he is losing, but doesn't believe them.

"I'm so mad I'm about ready to pick up a gun," Mr. Kizilirmak said as he gazed out at a herd of cows grazing in a hillside cemetery that will soon be gone. "We were comfortable and prosperous until the government came. Now even old stones are considered more important than we are. People are working to save the stones, but no one's doing anything for us." The dam that stands just half a mile from the site is part of the multibillion-dollar Southeast Anatolia Project, which is a centerpiece of Turkey's development plans. Some of the dams envisioned by the project's planners, especially one that would lead to the flooding of the Kurdish town of Hasankeyf, 200 miles east of here on the Tigris River, have become the focus of international protest. Dams in places like Hasankeyf, however, are not yet built. The one here is complete. Most of its gates were shut on April 29 to begin the process of creating the artificial lake whose water will be used for power generation.

The director of the massive project, Olcay Unver, an American-trained engineer, said in a telephone interview from his office in the capital, Ankara, that he was not familiar with details of the archaeological discoveries here.

"Unfortunately, all infrastructure projects are interventions with the physical system, and in some cases that does affect cultural or historic sites," Mr. Unver said. "The bottom line is to put in a sincere effort to minimize loss. When that's not possible, you have to take precautions either to move what's there, or at least to establish a complete documentation of what is being lost." The local governor, Muammar Guler, said he was powerless to stop the inundation, but added that less than half of the site would be flooded, and that he hoped the rest would be excavated and ultimately become an open-air museum. "Besides, the dam only has a life span of 50 years," he said. "So our grandchildren will be able to see the part that is being flooded this month." Several of the mosaics that have recently been removed from Belkis are lying under tarpaulins in the front yard of the archaeological museum in Gaziantep. The museum's director, Hakki Alkan, said there were plans to build a new wing to house them, but he conceded that the government's apparently limited interest in classical art made the project uncertain.

"We did everything we could to preserve the site, but no one was listening," Mr. Alkan said. "The state has made its decision. Energy policy is more important than cultural and historical projects."


10.05.00 : An NGO perspective on the Ilisu dam: VESTED INTERESTS AND POLITICS

In its April 2000 issue, the industry journal, International Water Power & Dam Construction, is featuring a debate on the Ilisu dam project in Turkey. Contributions are from Nigel Sloan (Balfour Beatty) and myself. IWPDC also asked the Turkish authorities to contribute their view, but for whatever reason, no text from their side is featured. So far, the industry journal hasn't normally opened their pages for NGO views.

IWPDC does not seem to have a website from which the articles can be downloaded. My contribution is below. (It was slightly shortened by the editors.) I will be happy to send you Nigel Sloan's text by fax. Individual copies can be ordered from

Peter Bosshard Berne Declaration

An NGO perspective on the Ilisu dam: VESTED INTERESTS AND POLITICS

By Peter Bosshard, Berne Declaration (*)

Turkey's power consumption is less than one sixth of the OECD average per capita, and is growing rapidly. Does this trend warrant the construction of dams like Ilisu regardless of their cost? NGOs do not believe so. At a closer look, Ilisu illustrates the serious social, environmental, political and financial problems which beset many large dams. NGOs are particularly concerned about the following features:

NGO concerns* Social impacts: In South-East Anatolia, human rights are routinely violated, and thousands of villages have been destroyed by the military. It is naive to expect successful resettlement schemes in this context. Not surprisingly, earlier dam projects in the region have an abysmal record of rehabilitation. According to official surveys, 67-89 % of the people affected by these dams would like to go back to their original villages.

The project authorities estimate that Ilisu will displace 12-15,000 people. They discount thousands of people who have been evicted from their villages by the military, but intend to return home after the civil war. They disregard thousands of others who will not be displaced but will lose land. A report commissioned by the British government estimates that in total, the Ilisu reservoir will negatively affect more than 36,000 people. The creditor governments have pledged to comply with World Bank standards when financing Ilisu. Yet so far, these standards have been violated time and again during project preparation. As the confusing figures indicate, the affected people have never been properly identified. Even the local authorities have only been officially informed about the project in December 1999. No consultations regarding resettlement options or environmental impacts have ever taken place.

* Environmental impacts: As the Ilisu consortium admits, the new reservoir will bring waterborne diseases like malaria to the region. The dam will also cut off the downstream areas from the seasonal floods on which their ecosystems and agriculture depend. Wastewater treatment facilities may prevent the reservoir from turning into a toxic pond. They will however not prevent a shortage of oxygen, a drop of the groundwater level, the interruption of the sediment flow and the erosion of the riverbed in the downstream area

* Regional tensions: Turkey is well-known for its aggressive water policies. "Neither Syria nor Iraq can lay claim to Turkey's rivers any more than Ankara could claim their oil", President Demirel stated bluntly at the opening of the Ataturk dam in 1992. And further: "This is a matter of sovereignty. We have the right to do anything we like." Consequently, Turkey was one of only three countries which opposed the Convention on the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses at the UN General Assembly in 1997. In violation of international law and of the pending Convention, Ankara has indeed made use of its purported "right" and has reduced the regional waterflows in periods of crisis since 1991.

Project proponents point out that more than half of Iraq's Tigris water is from tributaries which are not affected by Ilisu. Yet Turkey is now damming some of these other tributaries as well. While Ilisu is not an irrigation project, it does increase Ankara's clout to interrupt the river flow, and thus to blackmail the other riparian countries. Furthermore, the deterioration of the water quality has negative impacts on the downstream countries even under normal operating conditions. In spite of these impacts, Turkey refuses to inform or consult its neighbors about the construction of the Ilisu dam, and thus violates bilateral treaties and international customary law. As the protests from Syria and the Arab League demonstrate, the project is fueling regional tensions already now.

* Economic viability: The Ilisu contract has never been up for public tender. An attempt by the Turkish government to implement the project on a BOT basis failed. In November 1998, the Swiss government guaranteed contracts for the so-called Ankara gas power project. At a cost of $ 380,000/Megawatt, this project costs less than a third of the Ilisu dam, which the Swiss government considered on the very same day. Rehabilitating Turkey's notoriously inefficient transmission system would be even more cost-efficient. These figures demonstrate that Ilisu does not make economic sense, and that more sustainable - and emission-free - alternatives are available. Ilisu is not a rational answer to Turkey's energy needs. It rather seems to be motivated by the strategic interests of the government in South-East Anatolia, and by the vested interests of the dam-building industry.

International standards - for real or for alibi?

As it stands now, Ilisu violates international law and contradicts five World Bank policies on 18 accounts. The World Bank has refrained from financing dam projects in South-East Anatolia since the mid-1980s. In 1999, it even turned down a request from the Swiss government to assist in the preparation of a rehabilitation action plan for Ilisu. The Turkish government in turn refused permission to the World Commission on Dams to independently evaluate the dams on the Tigris and Euphrates. In March 2000, the Trade and Industry Select Committee of the British Parliament also noted the "excessive degree of secrecy" and the "deplorable and counter-productive lack of transparency" in preparing the funding of the Ilisu project. What is the reason for this secrecy if Ilisu is a rational investment option?

Since private or multilateral finance could not be tapped, the Ilisu consortium has applied for funding from official export credit agencies. These agencies are the last group of public financial institutions which hardly apply any binding social and environmental standards. In the case of Ilisu, they have for the first time agreed to provide funding only if project implementation complies with international standards. Presumably they refer to the relevant World Bank policies. These policies are more than empty words. They require that alternative investment options be considered, riparian countries be consulted, and affected people be involved in a participatory process BEFORE a project is adopted. Similarly, the stakeholder report commissioned by the British government stipulates that "consultation/participation with local stakeholders should be in place before (...) the contract is signed".

If the creditor governments are serious about their commitment to international standards, the Turkish authorities must go back to the drawing board. This would allow the region's population, whose benefit the project supposedly serves, to identify and bring in their own development priorities. Equally, the creditor governments must be prepared to suspend their credits and guarantees if international standards are seriously violated during project implementation. So far, only the British government has agreed to accept this basic principle of project supervision and accountability.

If the Turkish authorities and the creditor governments are not prepared to raw lessons from their earlier experiences with dams in South-East Anatolia, international NGOs will continue to oppose the Ilisu project. Working together with representatives of the local people they will call the responsible governments, companies and banks to account for the human rights violations, the environmental destruction and the breach of international law which these parties could foresee but have not prevented.

(*) The Berne Declaration ( is a Swiss public-interest group which promotes more equitable and sustainable North-South relations.


17.04.00 : Turkey: London Times story on Ilisu

Oh yes, we're going to build the dam!'

As Western governments, including Britain's, consider backing the controversial Ilisu dam project in southeast Turkey, Feature Writer of the Year, Ann Treneman - accompanied by up to 41 military 'escorts' - discovers that the Kurds whose homes may soon disappear under water have never been consulted.

Esra is nine, and a Kurd who lives in the beautiful and ancient town of Hasankeyf on the Tigris river in southeast Turkey. We meet by chance at the top of the dirt path that leads down to the riverbank. The day has been difficult. I am here to find out what people think of the Ilisu dam project, which will provide electricity for Turkey but will drown this town and dozens of villages, too. In London, Tony Blair is keen on the Ilisu and his Government has said it is "minded" to provide $220 million in export credit for it. But, then again, the Prime Minister has never been to this place and, therefore, does not know what it is like.

If he came, he might change his mind. Freedom of movement and freedom of expression do not seem to exist here, at least for us. No one will let the photographer and me work in peace, despite our shiny accreditation cards from the Turkish Prime Minister's Office in Ankara.On this day we have been followed since 8am by three policemen clad in black suits, straight out of central casting. It is now 4pm and they have listened in on almost every interview. At one point they chased me round an outdoor café as though we were in a comedy sketch.So I've come to the river to escape and Esra has come to play after a day at school. She is a breath of fresh air, full of grace in an orange Plucky Duck shirt and a long swingy skirt. The river flows strong and green and smells fresh here. I tell Esra, through an interpreter, what I am doing. She tells us what she knows of the dam. It is only an opinion but her face turns to panic when I say that I might want to quote her.

The Men in Black follow at a distance as we walk. Esra picks daisies and says that she wants to be a teacher when she grows up. I think about this. Esra now knows exactly who she is and how she fits into her world. Her family and friends are Kurds whose families have lived here for decades, if not centuries. But the Ilisu will change everything for them and for her. Esra is already vulnerable. She is a Kurd in Turkey, and a girl in a man's world. The Ilisu puts her in triple jeopardy.

Back in London everyone says the story of the Ilisu is a complicated one, and it is true that the decisions about whether it will be built involve huge sums of money and power politics. These judgments will be made by people in London, Washington, Berne and Ankara. They are experts in the fields of engineering, politics, finance and construction, but none of them has been to this riverbank . .




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