Submerging Turkey’s History: The Ilisu Dam

Submerging Turkey's History: The Ilisu Dam

The ancient town of Hasankeyf, Turkey faces submersion in just a few short months following the construction of a new hydroelectric dam on the Tigris river which will harness the flow of the the river to generate electricity at the expense of the areas surrounding the dam upstream.

Hasankeyf is currently inhabited by some 3000 residents, whom have a deadline of October 8th to vacate the town to their new dwellings on higher ground the opposite side of the river in the new development of ‘New Hasankeyf’. This is not an unfamiliar story of displacement; much of the world have trialed and succeeded in generating energy from renewable sources at the expense of people’s settlements. But what makes this case truly remarkable is that Hasankeyf has been continuously inhabited for the past 12,000 years and has been home to some of the worlds earliest civilisations.

Study Guide: The Turkish Diaspora

A monument to these civilisations, ancient relics are found scattered across the town; Neolithic caves, Byzantine ruins and Ayyubid mosques among many others. Some of the monuments from the ancient city have been moved to the new town, but the human history that goes along with them will be left to drown. The citizens fear for the loss of their ancestry as it provides a large part of their economy through both tourism and animal husbandry.

The plans for the development of the dam have been in the making for decades, and constriction began in 2006. The Turkish government’s plans to develop the poverty-stricken Kurdish south-eastern region have been undeterred by the national and international protests, and withdrawal of support from key European banks providing funding. The government expects that the dam will contribute a much-needed $412 million to the economy on an annual basis. However, the dam is also something of a diplomatic issue too – the Tigris flows through neighbouring Iran who have expressed concerns that the new, restricted flow of the river downstream could cause water shortages in their country.

The town does not have the special protection of global schemes designed to protect such relics. UNESCO status, for example, can only be achieved if nominated by the national government. Where this national government has already condemned this citadel to extinction, it seems unlikely that protections will be awarded.

Visit Hasankayf with us in our episode Globe Trekker – Turkey 2, available to buy on DVD at the Pilot Guides Store now!