In Turkey, Planting Trees In the Path of a Dam's Destruction

tree planting ceremony hasankeyf turkey photo

Saturday's tree-planting ceremony in Hasankeyf, Turkey. Photo: John Crofoot.

Planting a tree is an investment in the future, an act of faith that a small sapling, placed and tended properly, will eventually grow to provide shade or fruit, not just for the planter, but for generations to come. So it might seem the height of futility to plant trees in a place where both the modern community and thousands of years of history risk being entirely washed away in less than a few years. But to the 200 or so people who gathered Saturday in the southeastern Turkish town of Hasankeyf, the idea made perfect sense.

"If we protect nature, nature protects us," read the sign carried by Hüseyin Güzel of the Batman Nature Society at Saturday's tree-planting ceremony in Hasankeyf, an ancient settlement in imminent danger of inundation below the waters of the Ilısu Dam, a controversial project under construction in the area.

Opposition To The Ilısu Dam
Planting trees is a way "to put life into the soil" and to show that "we will not leave Hasankeyf, we don't want the dam," said Emin Bulut, the head of the Batman Tourism and Publicity Association.

"Trees are a symbol of life, and by planting trees here, we express opposition to the Ilısu Dam," said an Italian who was among the dozens of Europeans who had come to Has Bahçe, a local campground and pension in Hasankeyf, to attend the event. Key European funders pulled out of the dam project in 2009 following an international lobbying campaign, citing concerns about environmental and cultural preservation, but the Turkish government has expressed its determination to see the construction through.

hasankeyf turkey welcome sign photo

Putting up a new welcome sign for the town. Photo: John Crofoot.

The combination of rugged nature, rich history, and community culture in Hasankeyf has rallied a disparate assortment of people and groups, often focused on different aspects of the area, around the cause of saving it. The participants in Saturday's event, organized by the Keeping Hasankeyf Alive Association, reflected this diversity. Among the groups represented were Turkey's main pro-Kurdish party (the Hasankeyf area is seen by some as a symbol of Kurdish identity), local environmental organizations, and the Italian Un Ponte Per, which raises awareness about the situation of displaced persons in Palestine, Lebanon, and Iraq.

The event was also enlivened with traditional music and dancing in observance of the spring festival Nevruz, which falls on March 21 and is celebrated in many parts of the Middle East and in Turkic republics.

Locals Living Close To The Earth
Though it has taken on new meaning with the threat to Hasankeyf, tree-planting is an annual tradition for the owners of Has Bahçe, on the banks of the Tigris River. Over the years, they have established a small orchard of cherry, fig, pomegranate, and other trees -- a symbol of the environmentally friendly lifestyle that is also threatened by the dam.

"The residents of Hasankeyf and the surrounding villages live very close to the earth. They keep animals, cultivate gardens, and harvest wild herbs from the hills and canyons," said John Crofoot, the Istanbul-based author of the Hasankeyf Values blog, who provided a first-hand report on the event. "Anything that disrupts this equilibrium pushes Turkey toward environmental degradation."

More On Dams In Turkey
'A Few Brave People' Fight to Protect Turkey's Black Sea Region from Destructive Dams
Turkish Energy Minister to Environmentalists: If You Hate Our Policy So Much, Stop Using Energy
Turkey Plans 'Disneyland' Version of Historic Dam Site
Dam Plans, and Protests, Spread Across Turkey
Fighting to Keep Ancient Turkish City from Becoming a Sunken Treasure
Turkish Dams Leaving Iraqi Fields Thirsting for Water
Ballad for a Beleaguered Land

Related Content on