ERCAN AYBOĞA FROM THE INITIATIVE TO KEEP HASANKEYF ALIVE: ‘It is not a Dream to Save Hasankeyf, We Can Hold a Referendum’

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  • June 11, 2019
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* Photograph: AA (Archive)

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The Ilısu Dam Project, which will engulf the ancient city of Hasankeyf, 199 villages and biofiversifically rich Tigris Valley, is about to be finalized.

Though the government authorities announced that the filling of Ilısu Dam reservoir would start on June 10, the recent information coming from the local sources has confirmed that the process has not started yet.

We have spoken to Ercan Ayboğa from the Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive about the latest developments in the region. Referring to other projects that were cancelled though their construction had been completed, Ayboğa has said, “It is not a dream to save Hasankeyf, let’s raise our voice.”

‘The government says nothing’

“We have not yet received information that the filling of the dam reservoir started today (June 10), we are still waiting for information from the local [sources]. But, since yesterday, we have been receiving news that it has been postponed.

“If the filling of the dam is postponed, then, it is because of our reactions against it. We would, of course, prefer the cancellation of the project. Though we have written numerous letters, the government says nothing. The government is unfortunately playing deaf and dumb.

“On June 7-8, people came together in 35 cities of the world, which is important. Solely in Iraq, people reacted against it in 10 cities. People defended Hasankeyf from Iraq to Basra. They laid claim to it across the Mesopotamia.

“Prominent people from Turkey took up a stance in protests on June 7-8, which is also important.

‘Upcoming months are very critical’

“We want to develop it further in the upcoming weeks. The upcoming months are very critical. We have gained a momentum with the protests. The Ilısu Dam needs to be stopped in autumn without any interruptions.

“I don’t think that it is an imaginary demand, because what is at stake here is a cultural heritage. Hasankeyf is the heritage of all peoples in Middle East.

“And we want all peoples to claim it. Hasankeyf is a critical point: Yes, the construction has been continuing for years and so have the campaigns. The construction was halted for five times in 20 years as a result of reactions.

“It is the struggle of us all, everyone can do something in their own right. There are several projects in the world that were not put into operation though their construction had been completed.

“There were dams and nuclear power plants among them. For instance, in Thailand, the construction of a dam named Pak Mun was completed, but they backed down from filling the dam as a result of fishers’ protests.

* Photograph: AA (Archive)

‘Turkey can also hold a referendum’

“In Austria, a nuclear power plant that was built 40 years ago stopped operating as a result of a referendum. A referendum can also be held in Turkey. We can suggest something like that. What we say to the Turkish government is this: Stop it now.

“OK, they perhaps do not cancel the project immediately, but come here and discuss it here with the local community. Let us initiate a common discussion process and act in accordance with the result of this discussion. The government should take such a step, it should talk to the local community about issues concerning the society.”

‘Hasankeyf meets 9 criteria of UNESCO’

Concluding his remarks, Ayboğa has commented on UNESCO’s silence about the issue in following words:

“Sur [in Diyarbakır] is also on the UNESCO World Heritage List, but it does not do anything about it, either.

“The World Heritage Committee should attend this issue, it consists of 21 states. Since they are all aware of the incapability to protect heritage sites, they keep silent about it. For us, there are dirty alliances among the states.

“It is said that Tigris valley meets nine of the 10 criteria necessary for the world heritage list. It is based on a report published in 2018, it was prepared by Prof. Dr. Zeynep Ahunbay.

“While the majority of protected sites across the world meet five of these criteria on average, a site which fulfills nine criteria must be paid attention.

“The report also shows that there is a mound. But the government and the ministry do not take it seriously.” (PT/SD)