HASANKEYF, Turkey, April 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) -
T he 15th century tomb of fallen warrior Zeynel Bey is due to be
moved from the banks of the Tigris river in southeast Turkey on
Tuesday, marking the symbolic end of a decades-long battle to
stop a new dam and inundation of a 12,000-year-old settlement.
The ancient stone monument's foundations have been embedded
in a concrete platform ready for the move - and local residents
fear their homes and livelihood are next.
"I don't know where we're going to go. We don't want to
move, but there's nothing to be done about it," said Murat
Tekin, 37, a shopkeeper in the ancient town of Hasankeyf.
The Ilisu Dam is Turkey's largest hydroelectric project and
has generated international controversy since it was first
proposed in the 1950s. Official government figures estimate
15,000 people will need to be resettled while activists believe
up to 100,000 people are expected to be impacted by the project.
Work began in 2006 but in 2008, the German, Austrian and
Swiss governments pulled out of export credit guarantees citing
social, cultural and environmental risks with the project.
However Turkey has pushed ahead with the US$1.1 billion
project, saying the dam will help meet the country's burgeoning
energy needs, producing 3.8bn kilowatt hours of electricity a
year and encourage investment in the predominantly Kurdish area.
BENEATH THE WATERS
Once finished the project is expected to submerge the
majority of villages making up the ancient Hasankeyf settlement,
which dates back to the Neolithic period, and surrounding
Important stone monuments including two tombs, the Sultan
Suleyman Mosque and former cave dwellings will disappear under
water. Some are earmarked for relocation or reconstruction.
Only the rocky citadel and fortress ruins on higher ground
overlooking the river will escape the waters.
Hasankeyf District Governor Faruk Bülent Baygüven said in
March that the dam is 85 percent complete and construction has
begun on a new township with 710 new homes and 150 'workplaces'.
"We're working on Yeni Hasankeyf so that the tradesmen
can do their best business there," Baygüven said. "Following the
re-location of its citizens and historical monuments, Hasankeyf
will become the attraction centre of the region."
Construction has continued despite a legal challenge in the
European Court of Human Rights citing a threat to the region's
cultural heritage, including yet-to-be excavated archaeological
Damming the Tigris also threatens to further restrict the
river's already scant flow downstream in Iraq, according to
Ismaeel Dawood, a co-founder of the Save the Tigris and the
Iraqi Marshes Campaign.
"In many of the places around the river in Iraq, people
already cannot grow rice because there is not enough water," he
said. "Especially in the southern marshlands, there is a
continuous displacement of people forced to move to the city and
change their way of life."
Local activists in Turkey say the number of people facing
displacement in the Hasankeyf area is much higher than official
"An additional 40,000 people will lose a lot of land [under
the dam waters]; most of them will probably have to leave too,"
said Ercan Ayboğa of the Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive.
"There are also some 2,000 to 3,000 nomads who use the
Tigris valley to graze their livestock, but they are not
registered in any way."
Ayboğa estimates up to 100,000 people will be affected by
the dam if population growth is factored in along with the
possibility of land claims by returning families who fled the
region during armed conflict in the 1980s and 1990s.
LEFT HIGH AND DRY
Residents said only a third of those in Hasankeyf who
applied qualified to buy homes in the new town. Initial property
valuations were assessed at far below the asking price for
properties in the new settlement sparking widespread criticism.
A lawsuit challenging a rule that only families, not single
people, were eligible to move to the new area has been filed.
Abdullah, 49, is among those who qualified to buy a home,
but is not happy with the pay-out for his current residence.
"The cash was nowhere near what you would get for a similar
home elsewhere," said the father of five, who buys and sells
goods in the market, and did not want his full name published.
"But we will move to the new town; we have no other choice,"
he said, acknowledging the new homes may be more comfortable.
Restrictions on construction in Hasankeyf due to its
historic status and a reluctance to invest in a place with such
an uncertain future meant many homes had fallen into disrepair.
In the hills above the town, land could be used to graze
livestock and gather greens and herbs for cooking in stark
contrast to the dusty surrounds of new Hasankeyf.
"The land is not fertile [over there] - it's barren," said
Abdullah, concerned about making a living in the new town.
"Lots of tourists used to come to Hasankeyf, but then the
government made it forbidden to go up to the castle," shopkeeper
Tekin told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"They wanted to weaken our economy, to create social and
economic pressure to move to Yeni Hasankeyf."
Turkish officials say there is significant potential for
tourism income from boat tours, as well as from visitors to a
yet-to-be created archaeological park where the Zeynel Bey Tomb
and other historic structures will be moved or reconstructed.
But with few concrete plans for the new project revealed,
most residents express little more than a cautious optimism.
Ahmet, 50, a kebab shop owner who did not want his real name
used, said he has agreed to buy commercial space in the new
settlement because he doesn't want to move to a larger city.
"I think the new town has a 50-50 chance of success," he
(Reporting by Jennifer Hattam, Editing by Paola Totaro and
Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation,
the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate
change. Visit news.trust.org)