Kepti and her six friends from the Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive were in Ankara last week for a public campaign to be able to continue to live in their villages. They met with the Aldode Luca, from the Swiss Embassy, on Thursday and with German Ambassador Eckart Cuntz on Friday.
They wanted to see Austrian Ambassador Heidemaria Gürer, but she was out of town. The Suçeken diplomatic team is also planning to participate to a demonstration against the Ilısu Dam over the weekend in Ankara. The dam project is being supported financially by the German, Austrian and Swiss governments.
The initiative, which includes 37 municipalities, a number of civil society organizations, such as the Turkish Doctors Union (TTB), and volunteers are hoping that these three governments will withdraw their financial support from Ilısu Dam project, which is aimed at generating hydroelectricity using the waters of the Tigris, which flows through Hasankeyf on its way to Iraq, but which will at the same time force some 10,000 residents to be relocated and drastically change the landscape of the area. Almost 80 percent of the town of Hasankeyf will be submerged under the waters of the Ilısu Dam, one of the largest undertakings of the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP).
The 54-year-old Kepti -- who obviously picked her best clothes, including her thin, white traditional headscarf, for her diplomatic venture -- says if the dam is completed they will not lose just their house, but their happy life and their past.
“If they insist [on carrying out the project], we will commit collective suicide. Anyway, what is the difference if we die or leave our homes. This is what I will tell the ambassadors” the mother of six told Today's Zaman before they started their diplomatic efforts in Ankara.
Her neighbor, Fazlı Yılmaz, who is also a mother of six, does not talk about “collective suicide,” but stresses that if these three European countries continue to support the Ilısu Dam, the people of her village be left homeless.
“Since we will lose our land we will move onto the land of those countries,” she says.
Financers have concerns, too
One of the coordinators of the initiative, tour guide İpek Taşlı, recalls that project's German, Swiss and Austrian underwriters ordered suppliers to suspend work on the dam for 180 days due to concerns that the project was not up to World Bank standards and that this time limit will end on June 7.
“The German, Austrian and Swiss governments had agreed that the project must meet 150 conditions involving the environment, relocation, cultural heritage and neighboring states and these conditions have not been met,” Taşlı says.
The delegation of the Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive was hopeful after their meetings.
“In the Swiss Embassy we hear that they understand us. They share the same concerns. They told us that they will send a report to their government about our request,” but the Swiss Embassy did not even share Luca's title when it was contacted by Sunday's Zaman.
According to the delegation, German Ambassador Cuntz was very open and reminded them that the Ilısu Dam project was a Turkish project and that they are aware of the concerns of Hasankeyf's residents.
‘We will be deprived of our ancestors’
The building of the Ilısu Dam and the associated hydroelectric power plant began on Aug. 5, 2006 under the Ilısu Consortium with the cooperation of Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Turkey's State Waterworks Authority (DSİ).
“We will be deprived not of only our homes, but also of our ancestors' graves,” Kepti says.
The ancient city of Hasankeyf has been home to Assyrians, Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans in its 12,000-year history. It is located in the southeastern province of Batman. The New York-based World Monuments Fund (WMF) included Hasankeyf on its 2008 World Monuments Watch 100 Most Endangered Sites list, raising awareness of the threat the dam project poses to the city.
The Turkish government claims Hasankeyf will be preserved by moving all of its artifacts to another area with a 25 million euro project, but the initiative of keeping of Hasankeyf alive argues that there have been no improvements on the ground and that they don't want to be moved at all.
“How can we live in another place? We are from a nice village. We don't know any other life, and we don't know any other language,” Kepti complains in Kurdish.
Yılmaz says their village has a clean, natural environment. She mentions that one of her children lives in İstanbul and that when they were told that they would have to move since their village will be submerged under water, she went to İstanbul to see if she could live there:
“It was not possible at all. When I was there my asthma got very bad. But in my village I don't have to take any medicine for it.”
Hasankeyf fits nine criteria out of 10 for world heritage status
Vecdi Dikran, a lawyer and another member of the initiative, notes that the dam threatens not only the inhabitants of Hasankeyf, but also its wildlife and vegetation. She argues that simply renovating Turkey's energy transmission system would be more beneficial than constructing the Ilısu Dam.
“Turkey is losing 10-15 percent of the energy it produces during transmission and the Ilısu Dam will only provide two percent of the electricity Turkey needs. Besides that, there are many other clean energy sources that are not used at all -- wind energy, for example,” she emphasizes.
Taşlı dismisses suggestions by officials that those who oppose the construction of the dam do not want what is best for Turkey. “If tourism facilities are developed in Hasankeyf, they will definitely bring a lot to Turkey. It will serve the best interests of the its citizens,” she says, noting that Hasankeyf fulfills nine of the 10 criteria set by UNESCO for inclusion on its World Heritage List. She says Hasankyef meets the following UNESCO criteria:
“Represent a masterpiece of human creative genius”; “exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design”; “bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared”; “be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history”; “be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment, especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change”; “contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance”; "be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features”; "be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals”; and “contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.”
Kepti says that during the 1990s there was mass migration from southeastern villages to cities but that the migrants were not able to be happy in the cities.
“The families were broken, they were not able to feed themselves. I don't want to be one of them. I will stay in my village -- in a tent, if necessary,” she says.