Environmentalists make “last call” against flooding heritage in Hasankeyf

An environmental initiative has made a “last call” to the Turkish public to raise their voice against a government project that will flood the 12,000-year old town of Hasankeyf. 

The Hasankeyf Coordination staged a press conference in Istanbul to call on everyone to make their voice against the Ilisu Dam heard.

The dam’s reservoir reached the town last month.

“We know that there is still a possibility to stop this project [from continuing],” called the campaigners, including Sezgin Tanrıkulu from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Huda Kaya, a lawmaker from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

Despite the ongoing harsh criticism and protests all over the country, the filling of the controversial dam was continuing, Beyza Ustun, a member of the initiative, said.

Hasankeyf, sitting on the bank of the Tigris River in Turkey’s south-eastern province of Batman, could be underwater if the disputed dam is filled.

“We call on every authority [to do something]. This destructive project should immediately be stopped. Dam gates should be opened, and the filling should be stopped,” Ustun added.

The activist went on to say that families still staying in Hasankeyf were being forced by the Turkish state to emigrate. As part of the enforced displacement, the Hasankeyf people have been given water only for one hour a day by the State Water Management (DSI).

“While the people of Hasankeyf used to live in and with water, they now have difficulties in access potable water,” Ustun said.

The DSI had built only four new settlements for the resettlement, while at least 85 villages are expected to be completely submerged, and 124 villages are expected to be partially underwater, according to a statement released by the coordination platform last month.

“Unfortunately, 25 percent of Hasankeyf with its historical heritage and nature has been flooded. They [the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) ] try to wipe out a 12,000-year old heritage for a 50-years-old project [the dam and the plant],” the CHP’s Tanrikulu said.

The CHP MP added that he could not understand why the Turkish public had not sufficiently raised their voice for Hasankeyf.

“[At least from now on], let us save whatever we can save [in Hasankeyf],” Tanrikulu called.

The HDP MP Kaya asked: “Have we done the necessary against this [destructive AKP] mentality.”

The construction of the Ilisu Dam and its hydroelectric power plant started in 2006 as one of the 22 dams of the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP), which is a regional development plan that aims to boost hydroelectric power production, irrigation, and agriculture in the region.

The dam is expected to produce 3,800 gigawatt-hours of electricity annually to Batman and generate 1.3 billion Turkish liras ($228m) annually.

“Such rare physical evidence of the human past must be protected at all cost,” Hakan Ozoglu, a history professor at the University of Central Florida, told the Guardian in September.

The professor said Hasankeyf was a laboratory that could provide many answers about the past, claiming that the benefit from tourism there would be much more than the benefit from the dam.

The anti-dam activists allege that Hasankeyf and the Tigris Valley meet nine out of 10 selection criteria used by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to put a site on its World Heritage List.

Zeynep Ahunbay, Turkish National Committee Vice President of the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), applied to the UNESCO years ago in order to protect the town and the valley from the destruction of project.

However, the attempt remained unsuccessful as the Turkish government has to apply for it.

Speaking to Deutsche Welle (DW) in 2016, Mechtild Rössler, the director of the UNESCO World Heritage Center, said Turkey had not officially applied for Hasankeyf, even for its inclusion to the temporary list.

“We wrote to the ministry but no answer … It is their duty, but they did not do anything,” Ridvan Ayhan, an active member in the Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive, told the Guardian in September. 

Homeless as flooding of 12,000-year old town starts

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