Ilisu dam

Despite massive local and international opposition, the Turkish government is pressing ahead with construction of the Ilisu dam on the Tigris river 65 kilometres upstream from the country’s Syrian and Iraqi border. It is the largest planned hydropower project in Turkey.

Few infrastructure development projects have caused as much international controversy in recent years as the proposed Ilisu dam in the Kurdish region of south east Turkey, 65 kilometres upstream from Turkey’s border with Syria and Iraq. Scheduled for construction on the River Tigris, the dam is intended to generate 3,600 gigawatt-hours of peak hour electricity a year and is Turkey's largest planned hydroelectric project.

The dam would displace over 78,000 people, the majority of them Kurds, who suffer repression and human rights abuses under the Turkish state.

The project would disrupt downstream flows of the Tigris to Syria and Iraq, jeopardising agricultural production and heightening tensions in an already politically tense area. Famed as the "cradle of civilization," the region would lose much of its ancient cultural heritage, such as the 10,000-year old city of Hasankeyf, to the dam's vast reservoir.

In 1996, the Turkish government contracted a Swiss turbine manufacturer and a British construction company, Balfour Beatty, to build the dam. Other construction companies from Italy, Sweden, and Turkey joined the construction consortium. With approximately half the construction costs comprising imports from Western Europe and the United States, the companies sought government support from the export credit agencies (ECAs) of Austria, Germany, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. On 13th November 2001, however, Balfour Beatty announced its withdrawal from the Ilisu project on social, environmental and economic grounds.

In 2004, however, a new European-led consortium was formed to build the Dam, led by Austria’s VA Tech Hydro (since taken over by Andritz AG), together with Alstom Switzerland and the German construction company Züblin. VA Tech Hydro and Alstom would supply the electromechanical equipment, while Züblin would undertake construction together with Turkish construction companies Nurol, Cengiz and Celiker. Engineering works would be the responsibility of two other companies, Stucky (Switzerland) and Temelsu (Turkey), and Swiss consultants Colenco and Maggia are also involved.

Despite widespread opposition in Austria, Switzerland and Germany, the three consortium companies secured government-backed export credit guarantees in 2007 from each country, subject to Turkey abiding by 150 social and environmental conditions. Funding was suspended temporarily in December 2008, however, after Turkey failed to implement these conditions. In July 2009, the three export credit agencies (ECAs), and several private commercial banks, withdrew their financing permanently as Turkey had not addressed the resettlement concerns. To our knowledge, no ECA has ever withdrawn from a project having agreed to fund it.

Nonetheless, Turkey is adamant that it will complete the dam. Construction has continued, and villagers’ land in the immediate area of the dam site has been expropriated. In early 2010, two Turkish banks, Akbank and Garantibank, agreed to back the project, filling some of the financial hole created by the withdrawal of the European ECAs and banks.

The Corner House has been working in solidarity with those affected by the proposed Ilisu Dam since 1999 to stop the involvement of European companies, banks and export credit agencies in the project. It continues to work with regional groups to ensure that the rights of those affected by the dam are respected, including those downstream in Iraq and Syria.

For the most up-to-date information and photos, see the website of Stop Ilisu -- Save Hasankeyf

See also the website of the Ilisu Dam Campaign in the UK.