Turkey Plans 'Disneyland' Version of Historic Dam Site

hasankeyf batman bridge aerial view photo

Remnants of the ancient town of Hasankeyf. Photo via Doğa Derneği.

The news that nearly 1 million tourists have visited the ancient city of Hasankeyf -- a 10,000-year-old settlement threatened with inundation by the currently on-hold Ilısu Dam project -- has apparently led Turkish officials to come to the absolutely wrong conclusion: that the site should be turned into theme-park version of itself.

Tourism officials in the southeastern Turkish city of Batman, which encompasses the Hasankeyf site, have seen a sharp increase in visitors this year -- almost 1 million in the first 11 months of 2009, Today's Zaman reported last Monday. News like this, you might think, would encourage the government to shelve its already troubled plans for the dam for good and instead try to draw more tourists to Hasankeyf's ancient cave dwellings, Byzantine citadel, medieval stone bridge, and numerous other historic sights.

Replicating Artifacts Instead Of Preserving Them
But instead of protecting these revenue-generating attractions, the local government has reportedly decided to build replicas of Hasankeyf's famous artifacts, in what the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review termed a "Disneyland" approach. "The remaking of the symbolic artifacts of Hasankeyf is [not] in question. Exact replicas will be made and displayed at various places in the town," said deputy governor Osman Varol, referring to the new town that will house displaced residents.

Key international funders pulled out of the dam project in July, citing concerns about environmental and cultural preservation. Turkish officials have vowed to find a way to go ahead with the project nonetheless, and may have found a willing ally in China -- no stranger to massive, environmentally devastating dam projects itself.

Dam Funding May Come From China
Journalist Yigal Schleifer's Istanbul Calling blog tipped us off to a post by Peter Bosshard, policy director for International Rivers, that reports that "the Turkish government is currently discussing support for the Ilisu Dam with China."

"When Chinese companies and financiers started to go overseas around the turn of the century, they held that following social and environmental standards was up to their host governments," Bosshard writes. "They consequently picked up several rogue [dam] projects that had been shunned by other financiers during this period."

Funding from China, he adds, is helping build dams in Sudan and Burma that pose serious environmental and human-rights concerns. Though the Chinese government has subsequently "asked its companies to take environmental and community concerns more into account when investing abroad," the Ilısu Dam "has become an international symbol of a substandard project." If government-owned insurance company Sinosure approves support for the project, Bosshard writes:

it will be a slap in the face of the European governments who have put the interests of the environment and local people before their own export interests. Chinese support for the Ilisu Dam would endanger the efforts of a coordinated approach among international funders on the environment, and could start a new environmental race to the bottom.

A few fake mosques, palaces, and forts hardly seem to make up for that.

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