Dear Foreign Secretary,
Over the past two decades, we have written to your predecessors on numerous occasions (most recently on 10 June 2019) to express our grave concerns over the adverse environmental, social and geopolitical impacts of the Ilisu Dam on the River Tigris in Turkey, which is now nearing completion.
You will recall that in 2001 the UK construction company Balfour Beatty, which had been seeking UK export credit support for the project, withdrew from the project after parliamentarians, experts and non-governmental organisations had expressed their opposition. Since then, other EU companies have also withdrawn due to environmental, human rights, cultural heritage and other concerns.
Despite this strong international opposition, mirrored domestically, the Turkish government has now commenced filling the reservoir of the controversial Ilisu Dam on the Tigris River in the Kurdish Southeast of Turkey without giving any official warning to those still living in the area. Neither the state agency responsible for the dam, the State Hydraulic Works (DSI), nor any other governmental institution has made a statement on the flooding of the reservoir, although the DSI has informally acknowledged that it has initiated a ‘test filling’.
Photos shared on social media show how a road along the Tigris River just upstream of the dam is already under water and satellite photographs (attached) reveals that the reservoir is now several kilometres long.
Around 80,000 people in 200 settlement sites will lose their livelihoods as a result of the dam, threaten them with impoverishment. The Tigris is the last major river in Turkey (and probably also in the Middle East) that is largely free-flowing. It is home to a rich biodiversity with endemic and threatened species.
Once filled, the reservoir will also drown the 12,000-year-old town of Hasankeyf, a site of international historical and cultural importance whose flooding would be a loss not just to the region but to humanity as a whole. Hasankeyf and the surrounding Tigris Valley fulfil 9 out of 10 the criteria for listing as a UNESCO world heritage site, according to independent researchers. The threat posed by the Ilisu Dam project to Hasankeyf prompted the World Monuments Fund to list the city on its 2008 Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the world.
The dam was planned without proper consultation with downstream states, in contravention with international customary law. Even today, 13 years after construction began, there is no agreement between Turkey, Syria and Iraq on downstream flows as required under international customary law; this despite expert reports suggesting that operation of the dam, in conjunction with a further planned project at Cizre, could reduce the flow of the Tigris during dry years to a trickle. There is a very real fear that the project could seriously jeopardizing the water supply of major Iraqi towns,and put agriculture downstream at risk. The UNESCO site of Mesopotamian Marshes in southern Iraq would be threatened with drying out due to reduced downstream flows. The potential for the dam to exacerbate existing regional conflicts, not least over water, is thus severe, a threat recognised by the FCO under previous administrations.
At a time when the jailed Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan is calling for a resumption of the peace process between the PKK and the Turkish Government, the filling of the reservoir is a provocation to the local Kurdish population, whose opposition to the dam is widespread.
In the interests of peace, international law and sustainable development, we would therefore urge you to use your good office to underline to the Turkey Government the extent of international concern over the project and to urge that the filling of the reservoir be put on hold pending:
a mutual agreement with Iraq and Syria guaranteeing sufficient downstream water flows to safeguard water supplies, agriculture and ecosystems (notably the Mesopotamian Marshes) in Syria and Iraq;
the outcome of a broad, participative, inclusive and transparent discussion with representatives of affected communities, both within Turkey and regionally, aimed at evolving policies for the sustainable and equitable use of the Tigris.
We look forward to your response and remain available for any further information.
The Corner House
Peace in Kurdistan
Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive
The Mesopotamia Ecology Movement
Kurdistan National Congress (KNK) UK
Kurdish People’s Democratic Assembly, UK
Maxine Peake, actress
Julie Ward MEP
Dafydd Iwan, LL.D., B.Arch., Past President, Plaid Cymru
Hywel Williams MP
Dr Thomas Jeffrey Miley, Cambridge University
Dr Felix Padel, anthropologist, Oxford University
Dr Camilla Power, University of East London
Dr Derek Wall, Goldsmiths College, University of London
Ian Lawrence, General Secretary at Napo
Christine Blower, NEU International Secretary
Tony Burke, Assistant General Secretary, UNITE
Matt Nathan, Campaigns Director, Freedom for Ocalan Campaign
Stephen Smellie, Deputy Convenor, UNISON Scotland
Doug Nicholls, General Secretary, General Federation of Trade Unions
Mick Wheelan, ASLEF General Secretary
Alan Mardghum, Secretary of Durham Miners Association
Manuel Cortes, General Secretary TSSA
Steve Sweeney, International Editor, Morning Star
Bill McKeith, Executive member, Oxford Trade Union Council
Father Joe Ryan, Chair of Westminster Justice and Peace Commission
Dr. Isabel Käser, SOAS
Rahila Gupta, writer and journalist
Barry White, NUJ member
Emily Apple, journalist, writer
Jonathan Bloch, writer
Dr Sarah Glynn, architect and academic geographer
Paul Scholey, Morrish Solicitors
Dr Thomas Phillips, University of Liverpool
Bruce Kent, peace activist, CND
Christopher Gingell, Ecologist and Archeologist
Henry Brooks, Kurdistan Solidarity Cymru
Les Levidow, Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC)
Saleh Mamon, CAMPACC
Trevor Rayne, writer, FRFI
Sarah Parker, writer and activist
John Hunt, journalist
David Morgan, journalist
For information contact
Peace in Kurdistan
Campaign for a political solution of the Kurdish Question