The Forgotten Residents of Hasankeyf

© Jennifer Hattam
The Tigris Valley river ecosystem near Hasankeyf.

Flooding the historical town of Hasankeyf in Southeast Turkey would "provide significant contributions to the social, economic, and cultural development of the region," an expert report has concluded, striking a blow to the case against the controversial Ilısu Dam. Opponents of the dam say, however, that the report is biased and incomplete.

Though they will have to be relocated as the waters of the dam submerge their homes, residents of Hasankeyf will benefit from new employment opportunities, the expert report argued, adding that artifacts from some of the 550 archaeological sites and settlements in the area "can be moved to another location." Both claims, though, remain heavily debated -- and ignore the plight of inhabitants that can't be moved, or even protest the decision.

No Environmental Impact Assessment Conducted
No assessment has been conducted of the dam's impact on the surrounding environment -- the extensive, intact Tigris Valley river ecosystem -- and its numerous endemic plant and animal species. Tigris University in Diyarbakır has concluded that only 5 percent of the 400 kilometers of the Tigris River and its tributaries that will be flooded by the dam has been sufficiently evaluated from an ecological perspective, according to the Stop Ilisu - Save Hasankeyf campaign.

The discovery this summer of a rare spotted fish species in the Tigris near Hasankeyf highlights how little is known about what is at risk.

Endangered Fish Discovered In Tigris River
Scientists were not sure until a local fisherman netted a 30-centimeter-long leopard barbel (Barbus subquincunciatus) that the species -- one of the most endangered fish on earth -- still survived in its former range along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The fish would be unable to live and spawn in the colder, dirtier, oxygen-deficient waters of a reservoir.

© Suleyman Agalday
The endangered leopard barbel caught near Hasankeyf.

Other endangered species in the area include the Euphrates soft-shelled turtle, one of the world’s few genuine river turtles; the striped hyena; the red-wattled lapwing; the lesser kestrel; numerous species of bats; the Euphrates poplar tree, which requires the open gravel or sandy soils that result from regular flooding to germinate; and some 20 river fish species that, like the barbel, are dependent on a flowing current.

Alternatives To Ilısu Dam Not Studied
Many of these species of fish could likely survive alongside smaller-scale hydroelectric projects such as turbines suspended mid-river that arguably do less damage to the environment. But a proposal to build five smaller dams instead of the Ilısu has been ignored, as have plans to develop the region economically without building a dam at all.

Dam opponents suggest bias may be behind such oversights. The historian, archaeologist, and water expert who drafted the report all have links to the pro-dam government, according to lawyer Murat Cano, who filed a lawsuit 11 years ago to revoke the agreement for the dam’s construction, the Hürriyet Daily News reported. (The expert report was issued as part of Cano's ongoing case.) The water expert, Professor Necati Ağiralioğlu, is a member of the Istanbul Waterworks Authority (İSKİ), which falls under the purview of the state dam-building agency.

More On Turkey's Dam-Building Plans
Gutsy Turkish Villagers Stand Up to Destructive Dams
Dam Plans, and Protests, Spread Across Turkey
'A Few Brave People' Fight to Protect Turkey's Black Sea Region
İkizdere Valley's Designation as a 'Dam-Free Zone' Threatened by Proposed Turkish Law

Tags: Animals | Dams | Endangered Species | Fish | Turkey