Turkey: Dam deluge for Kurds

The proposed 12,000 megawatt Ilisu dam on the Tigris River in south-east Turkey is one of the world’s most controversial hydro projects. Up to 78,000 people, mainly Kurds, but also other minorities including Arameans and Arabs will be directly affected by this project. Thousands more people will be affected in the downstream neighbouring countries of Syria and Iraq. Moreover, the 313 square-kilometre reservoir will destroy the habitat of numerous animal species, and 300 archaeological sites, including the 12,000 year old town of Hasankeyf.

Companies and funding

In 2004, a European-led consortium was formed to build the dam comprising of Austrian (Andritz AG), Swiss (Alstom Switzerland) and German (Züblin) companies.  In 2007 the consortium secured government-backed export credit guarantees from each country, subject to Turkey meeting 153 environmental, cultural heritage and resettlement conditions set out to help bring the project in line with international standards.

In July 2009, when it became clear that Turkey would not meet the conditions by the set deadline, the three export credit agencies (ECAs), and several private commercial banks withdrew their financing, leaving the Turkish banks to provide additional funds. Andritz AG will be the only European company to remain involved with the project.

In 2010, the construction of the dam resumed, after being put on hold in spring 2008 due to the temporary suspension of funds­.


Some consultations were held with the affected communities; but these were not as extensive as appropriate for the scale of this project; and were not conducted in an environment that encouraged freedom of expression. Reportedly, security forces sat in during the consultation meetings, which local communities found intimidating, particularly given the long-standing clashes between security forces and the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) in the region, and the prevailing human rights violations experienced by the Kurds. A number of military posts were also set up around the construction site, increasing this sense of intimidation and that the area was being militarized. 

State authorities also threatened to terminate consultation meetings if people continued to voice their opposition to the dam. The Turkish Water Authority (DSI), when visiting the area with international experts, agreed to consider peoples’ views regarding the resettlement site for the village of Ilisu. However, the DSI did not keep its promise and decided on the site of the new resettlement area, without any input from the affected villagers and ignoring objections that the new area was unable to sustain irrigated agriculture, key to local peoples’ livelihoods.


At the end of 2010, villagers of Ilisu had to move in to their new houses, as life in the old village became intolerable due to the disruption caused by the dust and noise from the construction site. Villagers received 20,000 to 35,000 Turkish Lira (about £7,000 to £12,000) in compensation for their old house. However, they have been charged 70,000 Lira (About £25,000) for the new houses.

In addition, villagers have claimed that their new homes are poorly constructed and not adapted to facilitate their needs. For example, sheds for livestock were built next to the kitchens which render them unusable; villagers have no land to grow grains for the livestock, as all the fields in the vicinity are owned by people from other villages. This has forced villagers to sell their livestock before moving to the new homes.

In the new Ilısu village, it is also forbidden to grow vegetables, which has heavily impacted subsistence farmers that have been resettled here. Overall, the land, suitable sheds and greenhouses that had been promised as part of the resettlement (these being part of the ECAs conditions) have not been provided. Support to help villagers find alternative ways to earn income have been provided, or training courses to help the resettled communities adapt to their new environment have not been provided; and no redress mechanisms including grievance procedures are been set up.

Some villagers have been able to get work on the construction site, however they have complained that their wages are very low compared to workers from other parts of Turkey. In early 2011 this caused unrest and the construction site was forced to close for a few days. Low wages and in lack of income are making it impossible for people to pay debts incurred for the new houses.

Once the dam is completed construction will cease to be a source of income for locals and thus many will be forced to move away from their families in order to search for work in urban centres. If working individuals seek to move away with their families then they will lose entitlement to the new houses.

For more information on how natural resource extraction is adversely affecting minorities and indigenous communities around the world, read MRG's report State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012.

Photo of a girl from Hasankeyf, whose village will be washed away by the Ilisu dam, by Barbara Millucci.

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Date: 27/06/2012




State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012
Land Rights

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