Turkey to start power generation on controversial Tigris dam, which will submerge an ancient city

Turkey to start power generation on controversial Tigris dam, which will submerge an ancient city
The Ilisu dam, construction of which displaced thousands and submerged an ancient city, will start power generation next week.
2 min read
12 May, 2020
The Ilisu Dam could cause water shortages in Iraq [Getty]
Turkey will start power generation on a controversial dam on the Tigris river next week, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Monday.

"We will start operating one of six turbines of Ilisu Dam, one of the largest irrigation and energy projects in our country, on May 19," Reuters quoted Erdogan as saying.

The massive Ilisu Dam was first approved in 1997 but construction faced a number of hurdles, and authorities did not start filling the dam until last summer.

The project has attracted controversy both at home and abroad.

Its construction has uprooted as many as 80,000 people from 199 villages. Among the areas affected was Hasankeyf, an ancient town dating as far back as the 18th century BC and across the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires.

Local residents and activists from across the world had long protested the planned submersion of Hasankeyf due to rising river levels caused by the filling of the dam, with some calling for the Turkish government to nominate the town as a UNESCO world heritage site. 

Those calls fell on deaf ears and the old city eventually began to disappear under the rising waters of the Tigris river late last year.

The project has also caused alarm downstream in Iraq. Authorities and activists have warned the project could cause devastating water shortages and the ravaging of the the Mesopotamian Marshes, a UNESCO world heritage site and home to several at-risk bird species and the Marsh Arabs, a Shia-majority community previously persecuted by former dictator Saddam Hussein.

Iraq claims existing dams and irrigation projects in Turkey have already reduced water levels in the country by 80 percent, a factor that Baghdad says contributed to mass protests in the southern city of Basra in 2018.

The Ilisu Dam is set to generate 1,200 megawatts of electricity, which will make it Turkey's fourth-largest dam in terms of energy production.

Ankara argues the project will provide cheap domestic energy and bring prosperity to the country's poorest region.

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