The Çoruh River at Yusufeli, in northern Turkey. A proposed dam on the river is one of hundreds planned for the country. Photo by Jean & Nathalie via Flickr.
The trouble the Turkish government has faced in getting political and financial support for its Ilısu Dam project in the southeast doesn't seem to have made a dent in its determination to build hundreds of dams across the country -- including eight in Turkey's sole UNESCO-recognized biosphere reserve. As three recent articles in the local press show, however, residents aren't letting their rivers go down without a fight -- a fight that is being waged partly with dead fish.
Earlier this week, villagers in the eastern province of Erzurum threw a coffin filled with dead fish into the Ödük River, where the government plans to build a hydroelectric plant. A sign on the coffin read, "Water is life, life is dying."
Who Owns The Water?
Locals, whose livelihoods working the vineyards and the orchards in the area would be threatened by damming the river, also hung a banner at the entrance to one of the towns in the valley that read, "Come here as our guests, but never come here to cut our water."
Who has a right to Turkey's water is a topic of growing debate around the country. With many dams and power plants already built in the southeast, new projects are heavily targeting the Black Sea region, where up to 550 dams of various sizes may be built. A local environmental spokesperson said it was impossible to call energy "clean" if its production disregards river basins, their residents, and the areas' histories and cultures. Companies are being given rights to Turkey's water for up to a hundred years by saying they will produce energy from it, said Coşkun Erüz of the Eastern Black Sea Environment Platform, adding, "One day, when we need these resources, we will only be able to benefit from them by paying what the company wants."
A Threatened Biosphere Reserve
North of Erzurum, near the Georgian border, locals are also angry about what they see as plans to take away their water. "They promised us jobs and roads. It appears their aim was to steal our rivers," said Ekrem Paker, a resident of the Macahel basin, also known as Camili, the country's only biosphere reserve, a UNESCO-designated "living laboratory" for the integrated management of land, water, and biodiversity. Eight dams are planned for the region, which is part of the Karçal Mountains Important Plant Area and is famous for its honeybees and home to a variety of animal species, including brown bear, wolves, roe deer, red foxes, and Caucasian black grouse.
The situation in Macahel seems especially poignant given the strides residents had made recently to protect their environment, including beginning to implement a ban on plastic bottles in the region. "We used to cut down the trees for wood, but then realized that this would not be sustainable and switched to beekeeping," said Camili Association President Hasan Yavuz. "And just when we were getting results, this hydroelectric dam problem came up."
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