Turkey has started filling a huge hydroelectric dam on the Tigris River, a lawmaker and activists said, despite protests that it will displace thousands of people, the rising waters of the dam are also expected to eventually submerge the 12,000-year-old town of Hasankeyf.
Citing satellite images, they said that water was starting to build up behind the Ilisu dam, a project that has been decades in the making and which aims to generate 1,200 megawatts of electricity for southeast Turkey.
Satellite images from the past two weeks show the dam has started holding water, said Necdet Ipekyuz, a lawmaker from Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). He said a road in the area has already been submerged. “They are taking steps slowly to decrease the reactions to water being held. That is why they are not informing the public,” he said, adding that several HDP lawmakers tried to visit the dam in July but were prevented by police.
Environmental campaigners have unsuccessfully challenged the dam project at the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds it would damage the country’s cultural heritage.
The rising waters of the dam are also expected to eventually submerge the 12,000-year-old town of Hasankeyf. Residents are being moved from the ancient town to a “New Hasankeyf” nearby, while historic artifacts have also been transported out of the area.
A group of NGOs, lawmakers and labor unions shared satellite images of the dam showing the increase in water levels between July 19-29. “The current situation is strengthening the idea that the valves have been closed permanently,” the group, known as Hasankeyf Coordination, said in a statement. “Because the dam lake is growing every day, the people who live in these areas are worried.
The European Court of Human Rights in February dismissed the case brought by environmental campaigners to block the dam project, saying heritage protection is the responsibility of Turkish authorities and it had no jurisdiction.
The government needs to make an announcement, even if the dam were being filled for a trial run, said HDP’s Ipekyuz. “They are trying to tie a belt around the Tigris River’s neck and suffocate it,” he said.