Ancient Tigris Valley May be Saved from Dam if Declared World Heritage Site

Published on June 11th, 2009 | by

The ancient city of Hasankeyf  is located along the Tigris River in southeastern Turkey.  It is one of the Earth’s oldest currently inhabited towns dating back 10,000 years.  There are more than 300 archaeological sites in the Tigris Valley near Hasankeyf.  Unfortunately, 400 kilometers of the Tigris River Valley are threatened by the Ilisu Dam Project.

Image by senol demirAncient city of Hasankeyf may be flooded by Isilu Dam
Ancient city of Hasankeyf may be flooded by Isilu Dam

According to Stop Ilisu, “The Ilisu project in southeast Turkey is one of the most controversial dam projects worldwide and would be a disaster for people, nature and culture trigger.”  The dam would flood over 300 km sq, flood the ancient city of Hasankeyf, and cause many Kurdish people to be resettled or become refugees.  According to the Ilisu Dam Campaign:

What are the problems with building the dam?

  • It will drown the ancient town of Hasankeyf and many nearby villages, displacing 78,000 people, mainly Kurds, from their homes and farms, and wrecking the environment on which their communities have relied for survival for thousands of years. There has still been no effective consultation with local people.
  • It will drown hundreds of ancient sites, and much Kurdish and other archaeological heritage.
  • The dam will have a life of only fifty to seventy years, so for dubious short-term gains thousands of people will lose their homes and livelihoods, and an important and beautiful site will be permanently destroyed.
  • It will reduce the Kurdish population in the area and create refugees at a time when there is already a serious risk of escalation in the conflict between the Turkish state and the guerrillas of the PKK.
  • Given the additional control it will give Turkey over the flow of the Tigris, it has the potential to increase tension between Turkey and its downstream neighbor Iraq.

The main function of the dam will be to produce hydroelectricity; however, it will also provide irrigation for agriculture.  Already, 19 villages have been evacuated at gunpoint within the project area.  If the dam is built, 78,000 people will be displaced.  Deputy Director Rachel Bernu of the Kurdish Human Rights Project made the following statement after an Ilisu Dam activist was arrested in December:

This incident once again underlines the Turkish authorities™ absolute disregard for due process and transparency in relation to the Ilisu Dam scheme and its huge environmental and human rights fallout.  In the course of undertaking a project with such far-reaching implications, the Turkish authorities should be engaging civil society representatives and affected populations in open dialogue, not intimidating them with accusations of terrorism offenses. It is to be hoped that the European Export Credit Agencies will take this episode very seriously as they continue to evaluate their involvement.

One solution to protect the ancient city of Hasankeyf  is to declare it a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

  • Considering that the ancient city of Hasankeyf, within the intact landscape of the Tigris Valley, builds a unique unit of worldwide importance triggering 9 out 10 UNESCO World Heritage Site criteria,
  • Recalling that the river-ecosystem of Tigris and its tributaries are of international importance for biodiversity,
  • Considering that Hasankeyf is one of the oldest cities of mankind with tracks of more than 20 different cultures,
  • Believing that we have a collective responsibility to protect and preserve our natural and cultural heritage for future generations,
  • Believing that by Saving Hasankeyf, we can create better and more advanced options for the development of Turkey and the World,
  • Assuming that the governments of Germany, Austria and Switzerland will fully pull out their export credit guarantee from the Ilisu Dam project…

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted the treaty “Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage” in 1972.  World Heritage Sites are considered to have “outstanding value to humanity” and “belong to all the peoples of the world.” International experts agree Hasankeyf qualifies because it does:

  1. Represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;
  2. Exhibit an important interchange of human values over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design;
  3. Bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilisation which is living or which has disappeared;
  4. Be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates [a] significant stage[s] in human history;
  5. Be an outstanding example of traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture [or cultures], or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change;
  6. Contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;
  7. Be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features;
  8. Be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals;
  9. Contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

Giving Hasankeyf and the Tigris Valley World Heritage status would encourage international participation and emergency assistance to protect this ancient city from the Ilisu Dam project.


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