The Ilisu dam is a large-scale hydro-electric dam project that will, if constructed, submerge over 300 square kilometers of land in SE Turkey.
If built, it will be the first and largest of a series of several huge dams the Turkish government seeks to construct along the River Tigris as part of the GAP development project. They claim that this development will greatly benefit all through facilitating economic growth and providing work opportunities which will eventually lead to prosperity and ultimately create peace in the region.
However, in reality the dam will displace at least 78, 000 local people from over 200 villages and the town of Hasankeyf.
Local women, already in an impoverished and war-torn situation, have explained to campaigners that being forced from their traditional village settlements would likely lead to their further economic, social and cultural degradation, loss and upheaval. The SE is predominantly occupied by Kurdish communities, an ethnic group already severely politically oppressed by the Turkish state and highly economically impoverished. If permanently displaced from this region, will not only lose what little they have, including their homes, villages and livelihoods but be forced to move to the cities, where even with the compensation money offered they cannot afford to buy a house or grow their own crops making it even harder again for them to make a living and support their children.
In fact, while we know something of the highly significant archaeology of the region, it was speaking directly with local women revealed the true scale of cultural and social destruction that will be caused.
Medieval mosques, tombs and other religious buildings along with older remains associated with Islam, Christianity and Judaism will all be irrevocably lost, despite many of these still being used as places of pilgrimage and worship by local communities. Alongside these are thousands of other ancient, historical and more recent archaeological sites including Roman, Assyrian and even Neolithic, most of which are not properly recorded or studied. Many are calling for UNESCO to assign this site world-heritage status in order to protect it. Furthermore, this vast and wide-ranging complex of past and present cultural heritage also includes more recent graves of relatives of local families meaning that they will not be able to return to them to pay their respect, as well as likely mass graves of the disappeared, the mothers and wives of whom are still searching for them. Moreover, there are also several evacuated villages from which the Turkish military has already forcibly removed all of the residents in their aggressive search for guerrilla members of the PKK. These Kurdish people have since become refugees and desperately want to return to their homes, along with their network of culture and traditions, which they have a legal right to do so under international law, but if they are submerged, they will not be able to claim that right.
Moreover, other research reveals that it will also have a huge and devastating impact on the environment.
Many species of birds and animals that wholly depend on the various ecologically vital natural habitats provided by the river and its flood plains, some of which are unique to the area. The large reservoirs created by such massive dams typically lead to stagnant lakes of water that do not support wildlife, produce huge amounts of greenhouse gases which irrevocably alter the local climate as well as potentially killing off many kinds of flora and fauna potentially making the practicing of essential agriculture for those living just beyond a difficult task. We also know that such large dams only typically last around 50 years or so, after which they can no longer produce any electricity and have to be shut down requiring a massive clean-up process to be undertaken. Furthermore, its location on the River Tigris is only 65 km upstream from the Syrian and Iraqi border raising serious concerns amongst the international community that this enormous dam will severely limit or even stop the essential flow of water to what are at present desperately war-torn communities whose residents are already struggling for their basic survival.
This development project has already been stopped twice, thanks to the fantastic teamwork of many campaigners and groups around the world.
This international effort, including the contribution of staff and students from the Department of Archaeology at NUIG made a very strong human rights case against its construction, which succeeded in getting the multi-national funders, along with possible British investors, to pull out once they were truly made aware of the reality of the impact on the families and communities who depend on the River Tigris and its surrounding land for the continuation of their traditions, culture and their own survival. However, over the past two years it is being driven forward again by the Turkish state and with new international investors being brought on board some construction work has now gone ahead in the region, despite regular on-going protests from many local Kurdish families and communities, including women and children, who are currently fighting to stop this dam from eradicating their homeland.
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