The Ilisu Project


The Ilisu Dam, its impacts and campaigns

October 2010, Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive


The ILISU DAM on the river Tigris is the largest hydroelectric power plant planned by the Turkish government. It is a key part of the large scale regional development project, the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP), in the Kurdish southeast of the Republic Turkey. 32 US Billions are foreseen for GAP which consists of 22 dams and the irrigation of 1,8 Mio. Ha. land and aims to produce 8000 MW energy, develop an export oriented agriculture and to create up to 3,8 Mio. jobs for the economically “underdevelopped” Kurdish provinces.

To date more than half of the GAP has been implemented, but nothing has been improved for the regional people, rather they had to bear the social and ecological costs while the industrial centres in West-Turkey and big companies have the profit.

The Ilisu Dam is planned to be built 45 km before the Iraqi-Syrian border, would have a height of 138 m, plans to flood the Tigris on a stretch of 136 km and an area of 313 km². The 1200 MW and 2 billions Euro project has become one of the most controversial projects in the international finance community. After several years of local and international campaign, in July 2010 the Export Credit Agencies of Germany, Austria and Switzerland, made an unprecedented step, by suspensing the credit guarantee due to the Turkish failure to comply with required environmental, social and cultural heritage conditions. However, the Turkish state and the companies found a new finance and continue with the project.



The planned Ilisu dam and reservoir would completely or partially flood 199 villages and the antique city of Hasankeyf which are the homes of up to 78.000 people, the majority of Kurdish origin. Additionally 30.000 nomads would suffer directly. These nomads and almost half of the affected villagers have no land and/or land titles. They would not get any compensation. For the other small villagers neither there is land for resettlement nor other in- come restoration measures have been set in place yet. The most people would go to the next big cities where already several hundred thousands displaced people from the 90ies live in bad conditions. Their villages – totally 3500 – have been destroyed systematically by the Turkish Army in the fight against Kurdish rebels. The affected people face a future in extreme poverty, the loss of their livelihoods and history, and the disruption of their village and family structures. Now after some years of relative stability in the region, the political conflict has heated up again since 2007. Because of that and increasing human rights violations, the people that would be affected by the Ilisu dam, are afraid to demand their rights in the project process. There can be not the mention of any serious participation. Surveys show that 80 per cent of the affected population oppose the project. Alternatives for energy and regional development proposed by us and many other organizations and researchers in Turkey are not discussed by the Turkish government which acts in a ignorant centralistic behaviour.



The Ilisu project is situated in Upper Mesopotamia, the “cradle of civilisation”. Here the first settlements have been developped. Only the Ilisu project would affect up to 400 archaeological sites. One of the oldest village of human history, Hallan Çemi, has been submerged through another dam in 2003. The 12.000 year old town of Hasankeyf – inhabited continously – with its unique mergence of historic cultural heritage in line with nature would be flooded by its reservoir. In Hasankeyf are the traces of 20 eastern and western cultures, hundreds of monuments and up to 6000 human-made caves. However, reseraches show that Hasankyf fulfill 9 of 10 UNESCO world heritage criteria. Hasankeyf symbolizes the identity of the local people which have put Hasankeyf in the centre of their struggle.



The dam will destroy approx. 400 km2 of precious riverine habitat for many – partially endangered – species like the Euphrates soft shell turtle. The river streteches are very crucial for the whole ecology of the region. The regional climate would also change as it happened with the Euhrates River Basin where the traditional agriculture had to experience some seroius negative impacts. As only some researches have been done in the Tigris valley till today we do not know really what we would loose. The water quality of the reservoir is expected to be extremely low, leading to massive fish extermination, and threatening people’s health. Further downstream the decreased water flow will affect the Mesopotamian Marshes in Iraq – one of the most important ecosys-tems worldwide.



Turkey shares the waters of the Tigris River with Syria and Iraq. Particularly Iraq relies on the water of the Tigris River and could not have no any agriculture and water supply of urban centres without these two. The importance of Ilisu Project comes from the fact that the storage capacity of its and other planned dam reservoirs is more than the annual flow of the Tigris from Turkey to Iraq.

International convention and law requires that Turkey consults with Syria and Iraq, negotiate and come to an agreement before implementing any large projects at or on the Tigris River. Such an agreement is still missing. That is why the Ilisu project (and also other GAP projects) is very problematic on international level. Because Turkey is not bound legally to any agreement nobody can accuse it in case of holding back flowing water.

This situation threatens to increase already present tensions between Turkey and Iraq, and could even lead to serious “water conflicts”. The idea of using water as a weapon is not new – in fact, Turkey used its dams to stop water flow into Iraq in 1990 and into Syria in 1998. Even in times of peace, allowing a state to wield this powerful tool increases tensions between neighbouring countries.



The situation in the Tigris Valley is very serious although the project has been stopped twice in 2002 and 2009. In spring 2010 the construction of the Ilisu Dam has restarted. The finance comes from three Turkish banks (Akbank, Garantibank and Halkbank) with a credit guarantee by the Turkish government. This is a risky change in the finance of large dam projects in Turkey because till now they were financed mainly by international banks and governments. The current consortium consists of four Turkish companies (particularly Nurol and Cengizler) and the Austrian company Andritz.



In January 2006 founded, the Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive brings currently together a coalition of 88 organisations: Affected municipalities, local environmental, cultural, women and human rights NGOs, professional associations and trade unions. It is possible to describe it as one of the broadest environmental movements in the Kurdish provinces.

We campaign to stop this project and for alternatives to be developed with the input of all relevant stakeholders at all stages with the aim of improving the socio-economic situation of the people in the region, developing the cultural heritage and saving the environment. In that framework the affected people were informed about the project and their rights, surveys were carried out, many reports were prepared, many protests were held in Hasankeyf, the Tigris valley, Diyarbakir/Batman and Ankara, delegations were sent to Europe, coalitions with other anti-dam movements in Turkey were established – called „River Movements“ ( – and relations to several human-rights/ecological organizations were developed on a national level in order to increase the pressure on the destructive Turkish water and dam policy. We try to intensify the campaign and develop the protest on local, national and international level. Many NGO’s in Europe have formed the European Ilisu Dam Campaign which is active against European Involvement.



1) The Turkish Government must immediately stop the Ilisu project.

2) Hasankeyf and the surrounding Tigris Valley must be declared a UNESCO world heritage site and an alternative model of development needs to be established with the true participation of the affected and regional population.

3) The companies and banks involved must withdraw from the project and also develop higher criteria for their engagement in dam projects.

4) The Turkish Government must review its water policies under the full participation of the civil society.

Initiave to Keep Hasankeyf Alive


European Ilisu Dam campaign:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>