Demonstrators Occupy Brandenburg Gate to Protest Turkish Dam

BERLIN, Germany, March 14, 2007 (ENS) - Environmental and human rights activists today demonstrated at the Brandenburg Gate that once separated East and West Berlin to show their opposition to the planned Ilisu dam on the Tigris River in Turkey.

The environment and human rights organizations were protesting the grant of an export credit guarantee to the German engineering company Zueblin by the German government to cover tunnelling work on the Ilisu hydroelectric power plant worth almost 100 million euros.

"On today’s International Day of Action for Rivers, I appeal to Chancellor [Angela] Merkel and the German government not to guarantee the funding for the Ilisu dam," said human rights campaigner Bianca Jagger, who has opposed the Ilisu project for seven years.

"I hope Zueblin will reconsider their decision to be a partner in the construction of the dam and follow the example of the British company, Balfour Beatty which withdrew from Ilisu in 2002," said Jagger, the former wife of Rolling Stones' lead singer Mick Jagger.


Environmental and human right activists occupied the Brandenburg gate today. (Photo courtesy )
The Ilisu hydroelectric power project on the Tigris River is the largest planned dam project in Turkey. The dam will create a reservoir of 313 square kilometers, will flood more than 90 villages and the ancient town of Hasankeyf, and affect up to 55,000 people, mainly ethnic Kurds.

"We have occupied the Brandenburg Gate to show the people here in Germany what their government is currently planning in Turkey," said activist Matthias Dittmer.

"We have a couple of hundred years of history here in Berlin. The submergence of Hasankeyf would destroy a 9,000 year old history," Dittmer said.

According to Turkey’s projections, the 1,200 MW hydroelectric project will contribute to meeting the country’s increased energy demand and stimulate the economy of the province of Anatolia.

In addition to the actual construction costs of roughly 1.2 billion euros, the project costs of about two billion euros include some 800 million euros to be spent on resettlement and the protection of cultural assets and the environment.

For the population affected by the construction of the dam, measures such as income support, transfer of land of equal value, and construction of new villages with modern houses and infrastructure are planned, the German government said. All plans and measures are modelled on the internationally acknowledged standards set by the World Bank.


Some of the historical treasures in the 10,000 year old city of Hasankeyf will be inundated if construction of the Ilisu Dam is completed. (Photo courtesy Government of Turkey)
The cultural monuments of Hasankeyf are supposedly to be protected by a new law to be passed in the near future that will make it possible to rescue and relocate the works of art of the town to a new cultural park.

But the activists are not persuaded that the dam will be good for the region. They say there is no acceptable resettlement plan, and conditions in the region make a just resettlement unattainable.

"The people in southeast Turkey have experienced enough grief with mega dams," says Ercan Ayboga from the Initiative to Save Hasankeyf. "Practically everyone in our region opposes the Ilisu project."

"We affected people want to have a say in our future and do not want the Turkish or the German government to decide what is good for us," Ayboga said.

International Rivers Network policy analyst Ann Kathrin Schneider said, "This project violates international standards and international law. The German government will share responsibility for the environmental and human rights impacts of this dam."

"The project hurts international standards and international law," said Heike Drillisch of the environmental and development organization WEED. "In Germany it could be never built."

Turkey is considering sending 5,000 soldiers to guard the Ilisu project area for the "security of the construction work," according to the Kurdish press agency Firat.

The Swiss government agreed in December to underwrite the export risks of firms taking part in the Turkish dam project, but only if international standards are fully met, according to the Swiss newspaper "Neue Zürcher Zeitung."

The Swiss authorities gave the go ahead to the Export Credit Agency to guarantee the export risks of Alstom Switzerland, Maggia, Stucky and Colenco to provide goods and engineering services worth US$184.6 million.

But nongovernmental organizations warned that the project would damage the ecosystem and possibly lead to a dispute with neighboring countries Iran and Syria over water supply.

They handed a petition with 37,000 signatures to the Swiss government demanding that the guarantee request be rejected.

The Swiss government said it had reached its decision after ensuring that international environmental standards would be met.