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The Times: Go-ahead for dam that will

Critics predict an archeological and human disaster because of £840m Turkish dam.

TURKEY is to go ahead with the construction of a dam on the Tigris river despite claims that it will displace tens of thousands of people and flood a 12,000-year-old city.

Critics also say that the 1.2 billion euro(£840 million) Ilisu Dam will severely restrict the flow of water through Syria and on to Iraq at the risk of provoking another conflict in the troubled region.

But Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister, said that the development would create thousands of jobs and bring prosperity to the impoverished, largely Kurdish region in the southeast.

The project, which was shelved four years ago when Balfour Beatty, the British construction company, withdrew because of protests from environmentalists, would also play a key role in generating electricity to plug Turkey's burgeoning energy gap, he said.

"On the one side you have the increasing demand for energy and a bright future for Turkey; on the other, you have history, culture and an inheritance that belongs to all humanity," he said. " We have to find a solution. We have to make peace between the two sides."

The Government has set aside 25 million euro to relocate the ancient structures of the city of Hasankeyf, which will be flooded. These include the Ulu Mosque, a cemetery with tombstones dating back to Byzantium, a 15th-century mausoleum encrusted with tiles, and the remains of an Artukid bridge. But archaeologists and campaigners dismiss the plan, saying that untold ancient treasures in the surrounding area, which has yet to be excavated, will be lost. It promises much, they say, given that Hasankeyf alone bears evidence of Assyrian, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk Turk, Persian and Ottoman habitation and is believed to be among the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world.

"The artefacts in Batman's Hasankeyf district cannot be relocated. If you try to move those artefacts without reinforcing them they will collapse," said Professor Abdulselam Ulucam, the head of excavations at Hasankeyf.

Maggie Ronayne, an archaeologist at the National University of Ireland, Galway, who has worked in the region since 1999, said: "This dam is a weapon of cultural mass destruction, not only because of the large number of monuments there, but also because of the living culture, the people."

The Ilisu plant, which will generate 3.8 billion kilowatt- hours of electricity a year, is part of the ambitious Southeastern Anatolian Project (GAP) to develop the southeast and east. Dormant since investors withdrew in 2001, it got a reprieve after a Turkish-led consortium which included German, Swiss and Austrian companies, was found to take it over. Estimates of the number of people who will be made homeless begin at 50,000. Even if they are compensated and given new homes, they will add to the problem of resettlement in a region that has been badly destabilised by the 20-year-old Kurdish insurgency and military tactics aimed at fighting the rebels. Thousands of Kurds say that they are still unable to resettle in villages they had to evacuate in the 1990s.

The World Bank has refused to finance the Ilisu Dam because of these and other environmental concerns. It is also worried about the potential for conflict if Syria and Iraq become belligerent about the amount of water siphoned off by Turkey from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

By Suna Erdem, The Times, 10.08.2006

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