Controversial Ilisu Dam on Hasankeyf Halted by Turkish Court
The Turkish State Council ruled on January 7 in favour of the legal case filed by the Chamber of Architects and Engineers (TMMOB) against the construction of the Ilisu dam project, ordering an immediate halt to the controversial dam construction in southeast Turkey.
The Council of State concluded that the Ilisu dam construction on the Tigris River, proceeding without the legally required Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), goes against Turkish Environment law and EIA regulations.
The massive dam being constructed on the Tigris River has drawn international controversy because it will flood the ancient city of Hasankeyf whose history stretches back over 12,000 years. It is an area that meets nine out of 10 UNESCO criteria for World Heritage status, but the government is refusing to nominate the site and guarantee its protection because it would stand in the way of plans for the Ilisu dam.
The dam’s project outline was finalised in the 1980s but it prompted strong reaction from local communities, environmental, cultural heritage and human rights groups as well as academics and celebrities in Turkey and abroad. In 2009, three European Credit Agencies withdrew from the project due to the Turkish government’s failure to meet international standards to protect nature, culture and the rights of over 25,000 people who would be displaced.
This is the second time the government lost a case on the Ilisu dam before the State Council. In 2011 the State Council had already ruled against government’s attempt to bypass EIA regulations. Then, the Turkish government introduced new regulation exonerating the project from the required EIA in an attempt to override the ruling. The Office of the Prime Minister had also published a circular order allowing all works related to the infrastructure of the dam including roads, power lines etc. to go ahead without any EIA.
TMMOB countered the Turkish government’s actions again last year by bringing the case before the State Council a second time. The Council’s recent ruling against the government brings hope to the local communities and NGOs that have been trying to stop the ongoing dam construction.
The government can object to the State Council’s ruling within seven days. Alternatively, the government may again choose to pass new legislation to override the court’s ruling.
“It is evident from the actions of government that the Ilisu dam could never be built if the law were observed. The Turkish government has instead been choosing to bypass conservation laws by passing new regulations designed to allow the dam’s construction at whatever cost,” said Engin Yilmaz, Executive Director of Doga Dernegi (BirdLife Turkey). “This time the world is watching. The ruling must stand, in the interest of protecting our common natural and cultural heritage. The project must be cancelled, and the region designated as a World Heritage Site,” he said.