The destruction of Turkey’s 12,000-year-old Hasankeyf settlement and ancient citadel has moved a step closer as authorities have begun to collapse cliff faces around the ruins of the citadel.
The move, linked to the construction of a highly controversial dam about 50 miles downstream, is also expected to damage the rich ecosystem of the Tigris river basin.
Local authorities have announced that the rocks were broken off “for safety reasons” and that 210 caves – a fraction of thousands of man-made caves in the area – would be filled before the town’s flooding in order to prevent erosion.
The Ilisu dam
The Ilisu dam, part of the Southeast Anatolian Project (Gap) and one of Turkey’s largest hydroelectric projects to date, has been mired in controversy ever since it was first drafted in 1954. The dam will raise the level of the Tigris at Hasankeyf by 60m, submerging 80% of the ancient city and numerous surrounding villages, including more than 300 historical sites that have still not been explored.
Environmental engineer Ercan Ayboga of the Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive warns that close to 80,000 people will be displaced. Many of them will lose their land and their livelihoods. Because of additional debts taken up to purchase new homes, thousands face impoverishment.
An environment under threat
“The Tigris river basin is one of the last areas where a river runs freely in Turkey without having been dammed,” Ayboga says. “The dam will completely destroy the river banks. The microclimate will change due to the dam, a phenomenon we have already seen after the dams on the Euphrates. The biodiversity will suffer; the rich variety of plant and animal life will be severely diminished.”
Numerous vulnerable and endangered species are threatened by the construction of the dam, including the Euphrates softshell turtle, the red‐wattled lapwing, and many other rare birds, bats and mammals.
The Ilisu dam has a life expectancy of less than 100 years, but the destruction of the fragile natural environment will be irreversible.
Ayboga also accused the Turkish government of taking advantage of the current state of emergency – which was declared just over a year ago and bans all public meetings and protests – to speed up the much-hated project.
The international community has also spoken out against it. Germany, Austria and Switzerland all withdrew their financial support for the dam in 2009.
However, the Turkish authorities have managed to secure £1.02billion in domestic financing and is going ahead with the project despite a pending court decision at the European Court of Human Rights.
They claim the dam will produce much-needed energy and irrigation for the country.