Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to lead a groundbreaking ceremony this Saturday in Mardin to formally launch the construction of the controversial Ilisu dam in Southeast Turkey that will immerse Batman's historical town of Hasankeyf at heart of ancient Mesopotamia underwater.
The much questioned and discredited Ilisu project entails the construction of a dam on River Tigris that that will not only displace some 78,000 people in the region but also flood the whole of Batman's Hasaykeyf town, drowning an environment including hundreds of archaeological sites of global importance.
The Volunteers of Hasankeyf Association consisting of journalists, scientists and jurists is working to stop the construction of the dam and protect the site while a larger initiative in the area is planning to stage a "No to the dam" protest a day before Erdogan's scheduled visit this wek.
Association chairman Recep Kavus stresses that during the ruling Justice and Development Party 2004 congress held in Batman, Erdogan had personal promised "to protect Hasankeyf in its natural state and not allow it to be buried under water" and has called on the PM to keep to his word.
Another local protest group, the Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive, has argued in advance of the event that the dam project cannot possibly be carried out due to missing planning and lack of signatures by international institutions for its funding.
Kavus told bianet in interview that they had already sent a letter to Erdogan on the issue expressing their concerns and asking him to consider his previous promises before the ceremony to be held on August 5.
To prevent the construction of the dam and the relocation of Hasankeyf town and its occupants, Atlas magazine publisher Ozcan Yuksek, Professor Olus Arik conducting archaeological digs in the area, Profesor Zeynep Ahunbay who is an architect researching Hasankeyf, archaeologist Metin Ahunbay and Cultural Heritage Law expert lawyer Murat Cano had previously filed an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights which last month agreed to hear their case.
The fundamental issue, says Kavus, is to protect Hasankeyf and not just stop the construction of a dam, which the government maintains is an important part of the regional development program.
"If the quota of the dam was dropped from 510 meters to 479 meters" Kavus explains "Hasankeyf will be left outside of the Ilisu dam basin. In this case the annual energy provided will drop from 3.8 billion kilowatt to 3.2 billion kilowatt. But it is possible to bridge this gap through income from tourism and the productive agricultural fields that will remain outside of the basin".
Kavus is concerned that "Hasankeyf is being destroyed for the sake of energy" and argues that what will be destroyed are not the monuments and caves, but humanity itself. "What makes a human human is his history and past. A human with no past or history is someone who has lost all consciousness".
Kavus believes that the Ilisu dam is about to lead towards a "cultural genocide" of great proportions and calls on the United Nations, UNESCO and international rights associations to take the issue up.
Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive spokesmen told bianet in a separate interview that they had requested an urgent meeting with Erdogan on August 1 but never heard back.
The Initiative's concern is that the project is full of deficiencies and may not be legal. It is also believed that international institutions supposed to finance the project have not yet undersigned or committed to the funding.
Concern over legality of the dam project stems from Hasankeyf being a declared protected site and anything that threatens that protection is doubtful before the laws. Initiative representatives believe the government is rushing the project in violation of the laws and lack of funding but that if the waters of the Tigris were held it would also lead to an environmental disaster causing many life forms to go extinct.
A total of 33 civil society organisations and the Southeast Anatolia Development Project (GAP) municipalities union currently gather under the Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive and will stage a protest on the night of August 4 in Hasankeyf. (EZO/TK/II/YE)