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Turkey: Hydro dam threatens ancient settlement

Hasankeyf, one of the oldest continuously inhabited places on Earth, may be washed away.

“Just look at what has happened to other dams that have been built here,” said Ipek Tasli, coordinator for the Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive, an organization advocating the development of alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar power, as an alternative to the dam. “There is a lot of unhappiness surrounding these projects.”

Groups such as Talsi's are concerned over what they see as inadequate plans for resettling and compensating the estimated 50,00 to 78,000 people who would be displaced by the waters.

All these costs, its turns out, are too high for some. Last summer, German, Swiss and Austrian backers withdrew $610 million in pledged credit after independent assessments found that the project failed to meet World Bank standards for environmental and cultural preservation.

It was the second time the Ilisu project has lost international backing. A British-led consortium abandoned funding for the project in 2001 amid local and international protest.

With the project in limbo, the Turkish government has worked to appease critics, making plans to move 12 of the town’s 300 monuments to a cultural park about a mile north of the city. Then, this January, three Turkish banks stepped in, pledging between $430 million and $500 million toward the estimated $1.7 billion cost of the dam.

For most, however, the efforts to preserve the site fall short. Preservationists worry the monuments could be damaged if moved and, since so much of the area has yet to be excavated, experts can only guess at what treasures might still lie underground.

“If this is done there will be no going back. This is what makes me mad,” Tatus said. “We are sitting on 11,000 years of history and suddenly that will be gone.”