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Turkey: Drowning the Past in the Waters of Progress

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Once the waters rise, about three to four meters of the minaret of the El Rizk mosque, built in 1409, will still be seen.

For half a century, Hasankeyf, a Bronze-Age-era town on the banks of the river Tigris, has faced the threat of being submerged by construction of the proposed Ilisu Dam, part of a controversial 23-dam project in southeast Turkey. If completed, the dam would wipe out a town that has been continuously inhabited for over 6,000 years.

Despite ongoing protest against the project both in Turkey and abroad, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan leaves no doubt about his determination to bring the dam to completion. Citing concerns about the project’s social and environmental impact, Germany, Austria and Switzerland withdrew their financial support for the construction project in 2009, but the Turkish government was able to secure the needed 1.1 billion euro (about $1.58 billion) domestically. Last year, Erdoğan shaved two years off the dam’s official opening date -- from 2016 to 2014.

The relocation of villages that will be affected by the dam has already started. Tens of thousands of people could be affected.

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Jonathan Lewis is a freelance photojournalist based in Istanbul. Constanze Letsch is a freelance writer also based in Istanbul.

Turkey: Drowning the Past in the Waters of Progress

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