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Thursday, July 02, 2009

Minister Opens Door To Tarkan

By Adelind Osmanlı reporting from Munich, Germany

Tarkan by the Tigris River
Tarkan by the Tigris River
In an update to Tarkan's campaign against Turkey's controversial Ilisu Dam, Turkish left-wing newspaper Radikal and media conglomerate NTVMSNBC have run similar reports about the Turkish minister for the environment inviting the pop star to be briefed about the government's plans to flood the Tigris River.

Following news that Germany, Austria and Switzerland is almost certainly expected to withdraw their export credit guarantees for the controversial Turkish dam project by July 6, the Turkish government continues to reiterate its aim to build the dam at any cost, with the environment minister, Veysel Eroğlu, recently quoted as saying that Turkey would finance the project from its own resources while "warning" Tarkan about his public backing against the government's plans.

"Tarkan is an artist I hold dear ... Let him come to me ... if he genuinely wants what's best for the region, we're ready to inform anyone that is willing to listen with an open mind. Please let no one stand in the way of a project that will bring life to that region; let them listen to our side of the story too!"

Explaining that there were other political motivations behind the objections to the dam, in that keeping the region impoverished would continue to nurture home-grown terrorism in Turkey, the minister said that all the ancient artefacts would be saved and restored in a purpose-built open air museum, helping to generate tourism in the area as well as jobs.

He added he didn't believe the celebrities publicly backing the campaign against the dam were aware of the political ramifications, and that he was sure they were acting from a genuine concern for the ancient treasures in the region.

Eroğlu is reported to have said, "A brochure was distributed showing the whole region under water, claiming that the people living here would be sent away. We didn't give a press conference until we were fully prepared [to respond to these claims]. We started the project. So now anyone is free to go and see for themselves what's going on there."

Although the article in NTVMSNBC quotes Eroğlu as saying that he extended an invitation to Tarkan to meet, but the artist had refused, Radikal's full coverage of the minister's statements quotes the minister as saying that he invited Tarkan for a meeting, and that "his door is open" to the star.

"We are going to protect our national treasures in the region. And if all goes well the Ilisu villagers will be relocated to their new houses at the end of the year. We will start excavations in a year or so."

In outlining his case, Minister Eroğlu also claimed Turkey had no problem in resourcing or building the dam on its own, as some foreign reports had suggested, and that foreign investors had offered to help build the dam on their own incentives and not as a direct request from the government.

Calling on the other countries involved not to follow the project from the printed news, the minister also openly invited their delegates to go down to the region and inspect the work site for themselves.

"Not a Cut and Dry Case"

However, as the project's reputation is now diminished, anti-dam campaigners say they will increase their efforts to have the project revoked in Turkey, as environmentalists believe there are better alternatives than recent government efforts - which appear not to be working - to boost employment and bring prosperity to the impoverished southeast.

While critics of the project are pushing for the 10,000 year old ancient town surrounding the Tigris River and the river itself to be designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a panel on renewable energy set up a few weeks ago in southeastern Turkey led to a heated debate on the project, with some accusing environmentalists of blocking progress in the region and of ignoring the demands of the people and the interests of the country.

But the head of the local Chamber of Electrical Engineers called on the Turkish government to give up the project and "engage in an effort that can take us into the future and leaves [the ancient town] where it is".

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