As part of the Southeastern Anatolia or GAP project consisting of dams and power plants in the Kurdish region of Turkey, the
Turkish government is planning a dam at Ilisu on the Tigris river, 65 kilometres upstream from the Syrian and Iraqi border. An
international debate has emerged between private sector contractors, governments and NGOs in several European countries
around the political, social, environmental and cultural implications of the dam.
As of January 2000, some of the concerns raised during 1998 and 1999 by the media and NGOs were in the process of being
addressed. Serious issues, however, remained unresolved in the areas of:
• Conflict: the project has already been criticised for exacerbating civil conflict between the Kurdish people, specifically the
PKK guerrilla movement, and the Turkish state. Several NGOs argue that the building of the dam will provide an opportunity
for ‘ethnic cleansing’ and removal of Kurdish populations from the area. There are also serious concerns about increased
tensions between Turkey and its neighbours, given its upstream position on the Tigris river and potential ability to pressurise or
blackmail the other riparian countries. NGOs claim that the proposed project contravenes core provisions of the UN
Convention on the Non-navigational Uses of Transboundary Waterways (signed in 1997 by 103 UN members with the
exception of Turkey, China and Burundi). The dam has attracted protest from the Syrian and Iraqi governments and the Arab
League. The British government, among others, has called for public assurance from the Turks that downstream flows will be
maintained at all times;
• Human rights: in particular the appropriate level of consultation and compensation of local populations and the need to
develop a comprehensive and internationally acceptable resettlement plan, including public agreement on how many people will
be affected (a number which differs widely depending on the source but is estimated to be between
• Culture: in particular better consultation, agreement and plans on how to preserve as much as possible of the archeological
heritage of the ancient, part-Kurdish town of Hasenkeyf, which is currently threatened by the dam;
• Environment: concerns here are wide ranging, but focus in particular around issues of water quality, the need for waste water
treatment plants, the possible increase in infestations of malaria and
leishmaniosis, and the danger of sedimentation.
The international actors
A variety of environmental and human rights NGOs have been actively campaigning against the project. These include: Friends
of the Earth; the Kurdish Human Rights Project; Amnesty International; and the
Swiss-based Berne Declaration. Their key targets have been:
• The governments and export credit agencies (ECAs) of Austria, Germany, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, the
UK and the USA. The World Bank declined to fund GAP projects in 1984 and will not become involved in
Ilisu. External financing will therefore depend on official export credits and guarantees from these ECAs to private companies in their
respective countries that have been contracted to the Build-Operate-Transfer scheme for the dam;
• Private contractors that have been involved to-date. These include: Sulzer Hydro and ABB Power Generation (Switzerland);
Balfour Beatty (UK); Impregilo (Italy); Skanska (Sweden) and Nurol, Kiska and Tekfen (Turkey). Union Bank of Switzerland
has been arranging the finance package.
In July 2000, a cross-border parliamentary committee of the British House of Commons recommended that the government
should block an application by Balfour Beatty for export guarantees to help cover its part in the international consortium.
The NGO campaign has raised growing questions for western governments and the OECD on the value and
appropriateness of export guarantee programmes in general. The Financial Times newspaper argued in a July 14 2000 editorial, linked to the Ilisu
dam, that such guarantees can lead to waste, distorted markets, inappropriate projects in developing countries and even
corporate bribery and corruption.
The above example illustrates the varied and complex range of issues, actors and countries involved in one strategic
infrastructure project. A project that on the surface has great potential to bring economic growth and progress to the
surrounding region, but on further analysis has even greater potential to create internal and cross-border conflict.