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Ilisu Dam Project, Turkey

With the continuation of the construction of the Ilisu Dam and Hydroelectric Power Plant on the Tigris River in December 2014, the dam construction site has been militarized intensely. Check out more here!


In the late 1970s, the Turkish Government launched the Southeastern Anatolian Project (GAP project), with the declared aim to produce cheap energy and to encourage land redistribution by increasing the amount of irrigable land. However, very high costs, project delays, negative environmental impacts of dams, and the failed construction of many of the irrigation works, turned GAP into a really difficult problem to solve over the years. The Ilisu Dam Project is the third biggest hydroelectric project of the GAP, with 1,200 MW of capacity installed; its reservoir will submerge approximately 300 km2 in the Tigris Valley. Even though project works started in 1954 the project has only been approved in late 1990s. Since then, several consortia of European companies embarked on the project, but they didn't received the support of national Export Credit Agencies (ECAs) because of controversial social, environmental and cultural impacts that it would cause; many of these companies therefore withdrew from the project. Since the beginning, civil society had complained about serious impacts of the construction of the dam, organized protests, demonstrations and launched campaigns in Turkey and in Europe, which have played a key role in rising awareness among institutions and citizens. Among them, the notorious campaign “Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive” (ITKHA) was started in 2006 and organized a protest camp in October 2010. Hasankeyf is a 12.000 years old town condemned to disappear under the waters of the artificial lake of the Ilisu dam. Although there has not been reached a final agreement between the various actors involved in the project, displacement and resettlement measures have already been implemented. In 2010, the Turkish President expressed the willingness of continuing the project with national public and private banks even without foreign financial support. The works resumed only in 2011, and the project is still under construction with national and European companies funds. The ITKHA and the Chamber of Landscape Architects of Turkey tried to stop the project by calling upon the administrative court of Diyarbakır. In January 2013, the court sentenced to stop the project due to the inability to properly conduct the environmental impact assessments. The Turkish government changed the law in order to ignore the decision and pursue the project. In September 2014 Austria, Germany and Switzerland withdrew support for export-loan guarantees to building contractors for the project because developers were unable to meet the environmental and cultural conditions set by the World Bank. Nevertheless the construction of the dam is ongoing under a violent and unsecure environment. In the early year 2015, the PKK guerilla (the workers’ party of Kurdistan) destroyed machines and a pipe from the construction site. The governmental response was an increase of the militarization of the site, adding 600 soldiers to the 1.000 soldiers already located at the site. What’s more the intensified opposition to the project by the local population forced the companies to hire non-local workers. On October 20th, 2015 a Global Hasankeyf Action Day against the Ilisu Dam was held and a new campaign aims to declare Hasankeyf a UNESCO world heritage site, together with the Iraqi marshes. Yet the construction of the dam is about to be completed. Civil society and activists worries are very high regarding the threats on peace such dam is going to represent. Once effective, the dam will be forcing thousands of Kurdistan villagers to move to the cities while there is a high risk it will provoke water shortages for irrigation in the Iraqi valleys.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Ilisu Dam Project, Turkey
State or province:Batman, Diyarbakir, Mardin, Siirt and Sirnak
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Land acquisition conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Water
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The Ilisu Dam will be 138 meters high and 1,820 meters wide. It will provide a 1,200 MW power station with an annual generation of 3,800 GWh, which would represent about 2 percent of national electricity needs.

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Project area:31,300
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:100,000
Start of the conflict:1998
Company names or state enterprises:Sacyr from Spain
Alstom from France
Zblin AG from Germany
Balfour Beatty LTD from United Kingdom
Skanska from Sweden
Colenco from Switzerland
Stucky LTD from Switzerland
Maggia from Switzerland
Celikler from Turkey
Dolsar from Turkey
Andritz Group from Austria
Nurol-Cengiz from Turkey
Rast from Turkey
Temelsu from Turkey
Relevant government actors:Turkish Prime Ministry, Turkish Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, General Directorate of State Hydraulic Works, Turkish Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs, Turkish Ministry of Environment and Urbanisation, Birolu Insaat, General Directorate of Cultural Heritage and Museums, TOKI, DSI
International and Finance InstitutionsWorld Health Organization (WHO)
Akbank from Turkey
Creditanstalt from Austria
DekaBank from Turkey
GarantiBank from Turkey
Oesterreichische Kontrollbank Aktiengesellschaft (OeKB) from Austria
Sace from Italy
SERV from Switzerland
Euler Hermes SIAC from Germany
Societe Generale (SGA) from France
(UBS) from Switzerland
Gruppo Unicredito Italiano from Italy
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:AcquaSuAv, Associazione Verso il Kurdistan, Initiative Keep Hasankeyf Alive, Association for Sustaining Hasankeyf ve Tigris Valley, ECA Watch, Ecologistas en Accion, Arci, FERN, The Corner House, Acqua Bene Comune, Associazione Fonti di Pace, Associazione Nazionale Azad, Bank Track, Berne Declaration - Switzerland, European ECA Reform Campaign, World Bank Reform Campaign, CounterCurrents, Doga Dernegi - The Nature Association, Donne in nero, Europa Levante, KHRP, Legambiente, Osservatorio sui Balcani e Caucaso, Ufficio dellinformazione sul Kurdistan, Kurdish Human Rights Project
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Informal workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Trade unions
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Desertification/Drought, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Air pollution, Fires, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Potential: Accidents, Malnutrition, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts
Potential: Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights
Other socio-economic impactsSubmergence of an historical-archeological heritage, the town of Hasankeyf
Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Criminalization of activists
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Violent targeting of activists
Negligence of compensatory schemes, militarization of the area, destruction of archeological heritage
Development of alternatives:Local communities and ejos don't want the implementation of the project, as it only responds to companies and states interest.
Middle Eastern Technical University Construction Engineering Department developed an alternative project consisting of 5 small scale dams instead of a gigantic Ilisu Dam. The developers of this alternative project presented their proposal to the relevant ministries but did not get a positive response.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The campaigns against the project had successful results twice (in 2001 and 2009) at the international level. But government officials took the decision to conduct the project with national finances and the project is still on going, despite again local mobilizations, international campaigns, public appeals and UNESCOs declaration of the area as a
World Heritage.
Anyways, the Turkish Superior Administrative Court ruled on January 7, 2013 in favour of the legal case filed by the Chamber of Architects and Engineers (TMMOB) against the construction of the Ilisu dam project, ordering an immediate halt to the controversial dam construction in southeast Turkey.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Article 63 of Turkish Republics 1982 Constitution regarding the Protection of Cultural and Natural Assets

Article 1 of Law numbered 4628 and dated 20.02.2001 regarding Electricity Market

Principles 6(c) and 28 of the United Nations Economic and Social Councils Recommended Principles on Domestic Migration dated 11.02.1998

Article 2 of Law numbered 3996 and dated 08.06.1994 Regarding the Realization of Certain Investments and Services by the Build-Operate-Transfer Model

UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage Convention (1972)

Articles 9 and 10 of Law numbered 2863 and dated 21.07.1983 on the Protection of Cultural and Natural Heritage

United Nations Economic Commissionfor Europe- Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes dated 17.03. 1992

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Popoli al buio, Diritti umani e conflitti nel mondo - Giovanni Caputo 2008

Court Case regarding Ilisu Dam in Hasankeyf on the Tigris Valley.
[click to view]

Comparison of Hasankeyf with Other World Heritage Sites - the Turkish NatureAssociation (Doga Dernegi): karsilastirilmasi2995.pdf
[click to view]

Maggie Ronayne, The Cultural and Environmental Impact of Large Dams in Southeast Turkey, Fact-Finding Mission Report, National University of Ireland, Galway and Kurdish Human Rights Project, ubat, 2005, p. 13.
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Ilisu Dam Campaign
[click to view]

Global Threats to Human Water Security and River Biodiversity
[click to view]

The Ilisu Dam project, European rivers Network
[click to view]

2009 Publication (in Turkish)
[click to view]

Action at the UNESCO – World Heritage Committee Session for the Hasankeyf and Iraqi Marshes
[click to view]

Carovana in Turchia, marzo 2009 (in Italian)
[click to view]

Save the Hasankeyf, Stop the Ilisu Dam, by Corporate Watch
[click to view]

Save World Heritage on the Tigris River in Mesopotamia, by the CDCA
[click to view]

The Guardian - Turkey's 12,000-year-old Hasankeyf settlement faces obliteration
[click to view]

[1] Turkish dam project would wipe out ancient town
[click to view]

Other documents

A Çarkoğlu, Eder “Developmentalism alla Turca”
[click to view]

Other comments:Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive
Press Release
Ilisu Dam construction site militarized
With the continuation of the construction of the Ilisu Dam and Hydroelectric Power Plant on the Tigris River in December 2014, the dam construction site has been militarized intensely. This alarming development leads to grave political tensions and human rights violation, in spite of the expected dramatic social, cultural and ecological impacts in the affected region.
From August to December 2014 the dam construction was halted after all workers had resigned as a result of the kidnapping of two subcontractors by the guerrilla forces of the People's Defending Forces (HPG). At this time approximately 80 percent of the construction had been finished and in particularthe Hydroelectric Power Plant (HEPP) had not yet been constructed.
In the beginning of December 2014 new subcontractors employed several hundred workers from mainly non-Kurdish provinces within the Republic of Turkey. Local people do not want to work anymore as they consider more and more the Ilisu dam as a threat for their own lives.
Now the construction is “secured” by at least 600 soldiers more to the existing 1000 soldiers. These soldiers were already present in the military station and the six military points around the dam site. Also local militias are part of these increased measures. In the last months, more than 100 civil people in the four villages in and around the dam site were recruited by the state as militias. This makes more people dependent on the ongoing non-solved political conflict in the region.
Several dozen workers, who stay 13 km away from the city of Dargecit (Kerboran), are accompanied by tanks when they drive daily to the dam site.
On the 3rd of February the HPG attacked a convoy of construction machines which were on their way to the dam site. One of them was damaged and three people were injured slightly.
In the city of Dargecit several dozens of cars were burnt down and many have been damaged. It is still not known whether these attacks were connected to the Ilisu Dam. These attacks rose tension among people.
All these developments underline our forecast that the construction of the Ilisu Dam would militarize in a serious way the dam site and surrounding area, and lead to human rights violation. They are not acceptable and in the responsibility of the state which insists to build the most destructive project in Turkey. Not considered are the economic and political implications for Iraq, which is completely dependent on the Tigris water. The ongoing war in Iraq shows how big water infrastructures like the Mosul Dam would intensify existing conflicts.
Meanwhile another development reveals again that the historical monuments in Hasankeyf can not be relocated to the proposed “archaeological park” close to the New Hasankeyf; two kilometers in the north of the antique city of Hasankeyf. No company submitted a proposal/application to a tender done by the State Water Works (DSI) to relocate the Zeynel Bey mausoleum at the end of 2014. The reason is clear. Technically it is not possible to relocate such monuments as they would most certainly be destroyed during the process. Another reason for our position is the unacceptable approach to pull out the monuments of their particular environments by the Tigris River.
Persistently we call particularly on the civil society and policy makers in Turkey, Iraq, the Middle East and the World to protest the decision of DSI to continue with this destructive project. While in the past years we emphasized the social, cultural and ecological impacts, the latest developments show us what potential the Ilisu Dam can create in terms of increasing the existing political and social conflicts. We would now need political pressure on Turkey more than ever.
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Contributor:Lucie Greyl
Last update18/08/2019
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