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Monday, September 02, 2013

Dig Reveals Dam Site Neolithic

Tarkan signs petition to protect the Tigris river from being dammed up
Tarkan petitions for the historic hamlet of Hasankeyf
in 2009
It has been reported in a recent archaeological news story that human remains dating back 11,000 years have been discovered in the Hasankeyf district of the Batman province, on the site of Tarkan's wildlife battle with the Turkish government over the building of a dam.

Excavations, which started as far back as 2009, have revealed that ancient human relics discovered underground date the site back to the Neolithic age, almost 11,500 years ago, according to a Japanese team working in Hasankeyf.

Head of the excavation, Batman University's Prof. Dr. Abdüsselam Uluçam said that a tender had been put out for the movement of Hasankeyf to a new place before Ankara's plans to build a dam in the area, adding that it should move to its new place as soon as possible, and it was out of question for the ancient city to be submerged underwater before the end of movement process.

Prof. Dr. Uluçam - who featured in a BBC news report about the site - had criticised celebrity activism in 2009, saying that concerts do more damage than the building of any dam to historical sites. It was a presidential dinner, and he had been talking about Tarkan.

When Tarkan signed up as a spokesperson for Turkish nature conservation society Doğa Derneği in 2007, part of that commitment included the "Stop the Ilisu Dam" campaign that opposes the Turkish government's redevelopment plan in the southern part of Turkey - notably Hasankeyf which the singer visited to open a conservation office in 2008 to much media fanfare.

Tarkan at Hasankeyf in 2008
It's not the Neanderthal man Holly Valance sang about in her cover version to Tarkan's signature track, but will Neolithic man help the cause?
Photo © Manfred Hermsen Stiftung, 2008

Although the purpose of the dam is hydroelectric power production, flood control and water storage, it has drawn international controversy because it will flood portions of ancient Hasankeyf and necessitate the relocation of people living in the region. Vowing to protect Batman's historic hamlet from the destruction this would cause, since then the music artist has campaigned to raise awareness against the building of a hydro-power dam in the region.

Hydropower is considered a clean renewable energy source because it uses the Earth's water cycle to generate electricity, but the construction and operation of hydropower dams can significantly affect natural river systems as well as fish and wildlife populations.

Assessment of the environmental impacts of a specific hydropower facility requires case-by-case review, and in this case Doğa - strongly backed by Tarkan - have been arguing that it is damaging to the surrounding natural habitat, as well as destroying part of an ancient site and displacing the communities living there.

A study for the dam was made in 1954, and in 1997 it was added to the national plan. On 5 August, 2006 the foundation stone for the dam was laid and initial construction began, and it has been faced with opposition ever since.

The ongoing battle with Doğa has had its ups and downs, but no public petition or court order has yet been able to stop the construction of a dam that proponents say will revitalise the region to create new jobs and energy resources, while critics say it will destroy homes, engulf an ancient site underwater, destroy the habitat of local wildlife and dam the Tigris, the last free flowing river in Turkey.

The Ups and Downs of Tarkan's Nature Trek

Tarkan by the Tigris River
Tarkan by the Tigris River
To avoid inflation and other economic repercussions, Ankara has often sought outside assistance to build the dam. Doğa's campaign has been successful in getting its European backers to pull out of the project, but this wasn't enough to deter the Turkish government.

When the dam officially lost international funding in 2009, this suffered a setback when it was announced in 2010 that domestic backers - Turkish banks - would gap the funding hole. However, the campaign is still very much alive.

One argument made has been that the damming of the Tigris could lead to political crisis, as stopping the flow of the river to Syria and Iraq, coupled with the increasing water crisis in the Mesopotamian basin, would lead to regional conflict. But the main legal argument made by the anti-dam campaign is that there has been no adequate Environmental Impact Assessment made for the site.

On this issue, the government had legislated to make such constructions exempt and effectively free up redevelopment, but on 13 January this year the Turkish administrative courts ruled this contravened European law, and from now on, all such projects would have to go through rigorous assessment.

Tarkan had celebrated this decision by posting a note on Facebook, but unfortunately the court decision, although a victory for environmentalists, was not retrospective. Due to more exempt legislation, this meant that the court decision applied to new projects, but would not bite-back to ones currently under way.

Faced with what Doğa has called the government's "steam-rolling of human rights and environmental protections" it has decided to take the fight further afield and unite their struggle worldwide with other dam-affected communities under the DAMOCRACY banner.

In May this year, as part of an international rivers conference held in Istanbul, organisations from South America, the Middle East, Europe, the US, and Africa blocked the entrance to the construction site of the Ilisu (Ilısu) dam, but the government plans for construction still continue.

The dam-busting campaign see hope if Hasankeyf is declared a UNESCO's World Heritage site, but that has not happened so far. A study from the University of Istanbul in 2009 did confirm Hasankeyf's eligibility as a UNESCO World Heritage site, along with the Tigris Valley. The region is said to fulfil nine out of ten possible UNESCO-criteria, more than any other existing world heritage site.

Diversion of the Tigris, however, began during a ceremony on 29 August 2012, and as of April 2013 the project is 55% complete. The Turkish government hopes that the dam - part of its long-term plan to develop the poor, mainly Kurdish region - will create up to 10,000 jobs, irrigate farmlands and attract tourists. With the first of the newly built green-friendly towns completed, Ankara has promised to compensate local people who will lose their homes and that all the valuable artefacts will be relocated before the dam's completion - which has been extended by a year.

According to reports, Hasankeyf attracts 500,000 visitors from all around the world each year, yet part of Hasankeyf's historical area will be flooded once the Ilisu Dam project starts. The symbolic Hasankeyf Bridge and an ancient mosque will remain underwater if construction is concluded, as current plans stand, in 2014.

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