Ilisu Dam Turkey: Handing over of keys for new houses: a cynical act against international standards
By symbolically handing over the keys for the houses of New Ilisu, the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan publicly celebrated not the resettlement, but according to international standards the displacement of the villagers.
Last Sunday October 31st , the Turkish Premier Erdogan went to the tiny village Ilisu for a big ceremony. He handed over the keys for the new pink houses. "With nice slogans and glossy house facades the Turkish government tries to cover-up that for building the Ilisu dam it is sacrificing the livelihood of 75'000 people as well as unique cultural heritage in the Tigris valley", argues Christine Eberlein from Swiss Berne Declaration. "It is just marketing, but not substantial and sustainable dam policy. If they continue with the construction of the dam, it will lead to a social, ecological and cultural disaster," adds Ulrich Eichelmann from ECA Watch Austria.
What Erdogan kept quiet about: the displaced will not stay long in their new houses, because no reasonable income restoration measures are being planned and they will not be able to afford to remain. No animal pastures or vegetable fields are available in the rocky and desert like displacement area to support the families, living up to now as subsistence farmers. Food supply and animal fodder is already a problem as the ongoing construction works for the dam walls destroyed the pastures and vegetable gardens along the river banks."Even if we were getting luxurious houses, how shall we survive without pastures for our animals and without the fertile gardens which nourished our families?" asks the mayor of Ilisu, Mehmet Celik. On top, the new houses are not for free, he complains: "After five years, we will have to buy them for double the price we received for our old houses. Without income we will not be able to buy them but end up in debts".
Also further upstream, in the ancient town of Hasankeyf, the very existence of the inhabitants is under threat. After a rock-fall in summer 2010, the government closed off the historical part and tourist attractions and informed tourist operators not to visit. Measures to prevent further rock-falls, which would allow a re-opening of Hasankeyf, are tellingly not planned. As a result, Hasankeyf is faced with ruin. The creeping expropriation and impoverishment of the dam affected people is already happening, long before their land will be flooded.
"International standards condemn such an approach as a prelude to forced displacement", comments Heike Drillisch from CounterCurrent, Germany. "The Turkish government violates human rights by conducting the resettlement process upside down: first the income of the affected people has to be secured, only then can construction of such a large project start." Due to the continued failure of the Turkish government to meet international standards, which was made public by organisations like Berne Declaration, CounterCurrent and ECA Watch Austria, the governments of Germany, Austria and Switzerland withdrew export credit guarantees for the project in 2009.
While Prime Minister Erdogan is determined to proceed with the Ilisu dam, resistance against the project continues to rise. Citizens' initiatives throughout the country, artist and academics protest against "damming" Turkey. The University of Ankara presented an alternative plan consisting of five smaller dams which would preserve Hasankeyf. Its
outstanding cultural significance brought international attention to the affected population's struggle to save its cultural heritage. "The struggle is not over and the dam is not built yet. We will continue to fight against this project and to inform the international public about what is really going on at the Tigris river", announced Ulrich Eichelmann.
Ilisu and other dams in Turkey will be discussed at a conference in the European Parliament on November 18th. Citizens' initiatives from various regions will report on the environmental, cultural and social impacts of the "tsunami of dams". The government in Ankara plans to build more than 1500 additional dams throughout the country.