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Batman's historic Hasankeyf district came alive as 10,000 people gathered for pop star Ajda Pekkan's concert on Sunday, organized as part of daily Hürriyet's "freedom train."
Hürriyet's freedom train has been traveling across Turkey on a trans-Anatolian tour for the past month in an effort to raise awareness about human rights among children and women. With the motto "Freedom is our right," the train, composed of 14 carriages, has been weaving in and out of 35 different provinces hosting a range of activities. Over the weekend the train arrived in the southeastern region of Batman, bringing with it top names from Hürriyet's governing body, including Hürriyet CEO Vuslat Doğan Sabancı, Editor in Chief Ertuğrul Özkök, and other major writers from the Doğan Media Group.
Thousands flooded in to Hasankeyf from neighboring districts such as Şırnak, Mardin and Diyarbakır to watch a historic performance by superstar Ajda Pekkan and supporting rock band Yüksek Sadakat. "It is a great pleasure to be here with you in this unique concert at such a historic and beautiful location. We must not allow the 12,000 years worth of history that sits in this location to be usurped by a dam," Pekkan said at the opening of the concert. Quoting one of her songs "I was born a free person I will leave a free person," Pekkan told the crowd that Hasankeyf must live freely as well. "Even when we leave this location tomorrow we will continue to take responsibility for this area," Pekkan said.
Within the framework of the controversial subject of building a dam in the area, 15,000-20,000 people who will be forced to move will be carefully resettled. Vuslat Doğan Sabancı showed her support to the people by wearing a t-shirt with the logo "don't leave Hasankeyf under water."
On July 7, the European consortium involved in the Ilısu Dam project announced a final denial of funding to Turkey on environmental and cultural grounds. Environmentalists rejoiced at the decision but the government it is determined to complete the building of the dam.
On July 7, members of a European consortium involved in the Illısu Dam Project, Germany, Switzerland and Austria said they were pulling the plug on financial support for the Ilısu Dam, leaving environmentalists anxiously waiting for Turkey to announce its cancellation of the project.
The Environment Ministry, however, said it is determined to complete the project.
The three countries' export guarantee agencies said Ankara failed to meet a number of conditions they had set for awarding 1.2 billion euros worth of loan guarantees, which were frozen in December.
"Despite some significant improvements, the requirements in the areas of the environment, cultural heritage and resettlement could not be fulfilled within the contractually stipulated time frame," a joint statement had said.
However, the Environment Ministry described the decision as a "political" one, saying that Turkey fulfilled all the criteria necessary to start construction of the dam.
The ministry said there was also a joint experts committee decision to release the credits for the project, especially on resettlement, environment and finance. The experts committee was charged with monitoring the fulfillment of the criteria. The ministry said a new page was now open in the construction of the dam.
The dam project is part of the government's plan to boost economic prosperity in the country's less-developed southeastern region, long troubled by ongoing clashes between security forces and the outlawed-Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.
However Erkut Ertürk, the Hasankeyf campaign coordinator of the Doğa Association, one of the leading critics of the project, said the ministry's statement was doubtful because the reports from the experts committee, who were in the field in May, have not been released to the public yet. The committee's reports were sent to the relevant countries and the decision of the consortium came afterward, he said. "It would not be possible to break such a huge contract without any concrete evidence or for mere political reasons," he said.
The Ilisu project calls for damming the Tigris River and building a 1,200-megawatt power station as part of a $32 billion irrigation plan for impoverished provinces in Turkey's southeast. Turkey planned to relocate antiquities and monuments from Hasankeyf, the region's only surviving city built during the Middle Ages, with roots dating to the Assyrians. Critics of the project, which would create a 300-square-kilometer lake, include Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2006. The dam would destroy 400 square kilometers of river habitat that includes species such as the Euphrates soft-shell turtle.
German, Swiss and Austrian institutions earlier announced they were withholding their financing because the Turkish government had failed to fulfill the criteria by December 2008. The agencies later suspended the loans and gave Turkey a 180-day extension, which expired July 6.