Turkey seizes Kurdish lands for Ilisu Dam

With all the focus on the crisis over Kurdish separatist rebels taking refuge in northern Iraq, largely overlooked are the multiple reasons that Turkey’s Kurds have to be discontented. We noted two years ago the pressures on eastern Turkey’s peoples from the Ataturk Dam. Now more Kurdish lands are being expropriated for the Ilisu Dam, as noted by a recent European fact-finding mission to Anatolia. From Kurdish Media, Oct. 23:

Berlin – The European Ilisu campaign has learned during a site visit, that without the knowledge of responsible authorities in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, the Turkish government has begun to expropriate the first affected villages at the controversial Ilisu dam site on the Tigris river in a move that violates conditions imposed by European export credit agencies.

Expropriated people are extremely angry at this development and the affected population’s overall indignation at the Ilisu dam project is growing. Christine Eberlein of the Swiss organisation “Berne Declaration” and member of the European Ilisu campaign observed this when she visited the villages of Ilisu and Karabayir in mid-October. Her report reveals the miserable compensation packages offered and the unfair processes by which the Turkish authorities are forcing the affected families to resettle. A Kurdish Human Rights Project delegation made similar observations in September during a visit to the affected areas.

By attaching 150 conditions to their approval of export credit guarantees, the governments of Germany, Austria and Switzerland intended to ensure that those facing resettlement receive fair compensations and new income possibilities. Although the final guarantee contracts have not yet been signed, the Turkish government has started the expropriations – completely ignoring these conditions.

No adequate resettlement alternatives were offered to the affected families, as the conditions demand. As a result, all families have been left with little choice than to accept financial payment which does not adequately compensate them for their losses. In addition to farming, many of the affected individuals in Ilisu earn a living from tourism. The loss of this income will not be compensated for at all. The families whose lands have been expropriated feel cheated and have challenged the compensation levels in the local courts. However there is little scope for them to challenge the fact of the actual expropriation. It is especially ironic that the head of Ilisu village, who came to Germany, Austria and Switzerland last year at the invitation of the Ilisu consortium to promote the construction of the dam, has now voiced his frustration with the expropriation process in a letter to the European ECAs and asks for immediate support.

“The first badly run expropriations reveal the full tragedy of the Ilisu dam project” states Heike Drillisch of the German non-governmental organisation WEED, which has monitored the Ilisu dam project for many years. NGOs alerted the export credit agencies (ECAs) to the lack of adequate resettlement land a long time ago. “It is a shame that the agencies believed obviously unsubstantiated assertions by Turkish officials. The affected population is now faced with ruin.” Christine Eberlein adds: “The conditions are completely worthless if they can be ignored so easily by the Turkish government. The ECAs now say that they take our concerns very seriously. Had they been more diligent in their assessment of the project in the first place, they would have easily foreseen the problems that are now arising, and would never have become involved.” The NGOs demand that the export credit agencies press for corrections to the expropriation process and insist that conditions be honoured, or withdraw from the project immediately. They call on the private banks and companies involved in the project to put their engagement on hold until a satisfactory solution to the expropriation and resettlement problems is found.


The governments of Germany, Austria and Switzerland approved export credit guarantees for the Ilisu project of some €500 million at the end of March 2007, enabling Andritz AG (A), Ed Züblin GmbH (GER) and Swiss companies Alstom, Colenco, Maggia and Stucky, to profit from the project. The private banks DekaBank (GER), Bank Austria Creditanstalt (A) and Société Générale (F) signed financing contracts in August 2007. The final guarantee contracts have yet to be signed.

The Ilisu dam project will affect between 55,000 and 78,000 people, mainly Kurds. At least 11,000 people will lose all of their land. The expropriation has started in the villages next to the construction site, including the villages of Ilisu and Karabayir. ECA representatives have called the re-settlement of the affected people in these villages a test for the expropriation of the villages in the future reservoir area, which will take place at a later stage.

The European Ilisu campaign, a network of European organisations including Amis de la Terre (F), Berne Declaration (Switzerland), Eca-Watch Austria, Forests and the European Union Resource Network (FERN, Brussels), Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP, UK), The Corner House (UK) and World Economy, Ecology & Development (WEED, Germany), has been monitoring the Ilisu dam project for many years in close cooperation with the local Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive. BankTrack is a network of non-governmental organisations focusing on the role and responsibilities of the financial services sector in fostering sustainability.

Further information The fact-finding mission report by C. Eberlein and the letter by the head of the Ilisu village, as well as further project information can be found at www.evb.ch/ilisu and www.weed-online.org/ilisu.

See our last posts on Turkey and Kurdistan, and regional struggles for control of water.