Solidarity Camp Brings Supporters to Ancient Turkish Town

Lori Pottinger
Friday, December 10, 2010

The historic town of Hasankeyf , under threat from the Ilisu Dam now under construction on the Tigris River in Turkey, was the site of a unique "solidarity camp" in October.

Local dancers perform at the solidarity camp.
Local dancers perform at the solidarity camp.
Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive
Organizers say the intent of the camp was to raise public awareness in Turkey and worldwide about the problems with the dam, and to foster an intense resistance "against" this destructive dam, and a public drive to preserve Hasankeyf and the Tigris Valley.

The 12,000-year-old town once served as an important commercial center along the Silk Road; Marco Polo is rumored to have crossed the Tigris here. As many as 20 cultures may have called the place home over the centuries. Today, more than 85,000 people in Hasankeyf and nearby villages would be affected by the dam, and downstream communities and ecosystems would be harmed by changes to the river's flow.

The week-long camp included demonstrations, concerts, cultural events, workshops, panel discussions and field trips. At any one time, some 80 people were camping along the Tigris River. Directly affected people were active participants in the camp. A peaceful protest to the construction site of the resettlement town of New Hasankeyf, a drab place a few kilometers north of Hasankeyf, managed to avoid disruption despite threats from police to arrest people. The dam site is in the highly militarized Kurdish region.

Construction on the dam started in spring 2010. "The companies work 24 hours a day," says Ercan Ayboga, one of the leading activists behind the camp. "We have a very serious situation here. The affected people of Hasankeyf and Tigris Valley are very angry because dam construction is continuing and the historical part of Hasankeyf has been closed to visitors since July, which has resulted in a significant decrease in tourism – the only income of Hasankeyf. "Millions of visitors have toured the town and surrounding region in recent years. Hasankeyf contains an ancient bazaar and castle, cave dwellings, and 1,000-year-old churches and mosques.

The campaign to stop the dam has had many successes over the years. Turkish authorities initially sought – and obtained – finance for the dam from a number of international banks, but most of the funders have since pulled out of the controversial project. Three Turkish banks have agreed to fund the dam. Four Turkish companies and Austria's Andritz remain in the project.
Ilısu Dam is one of 22 dams being constructed as part of the Southeastern Anatolia Project, or GAP, Turkey's largest regional development project. The dam will be the country's fourth largest, after the Atatürk Dam.