M. Ronayne (Junior Representative for Northern Europe – National University of Ireland, Galway) maggie.ronayne@nuigalway.ie

In WAB 12, we published a brief outline of the issues involved in the proposed Ilisu dam project in South East Turkey. That was originally written in 1999 and there have been developments since then. The following letter was sent by WAC President, Martin Hall, to the UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on 16th January. The letter is also on the WAC web site. In a reply, the UK government indicated that they wished to circulate the WAC letter on Ilisu to the other governments currently considering whether to grant export credit for the project. The reply also seemed to indicate some recognition of the large-scale cultural heritage impacts of this project despite the inadequate condition set out by the export credit agencies of the governments involved. In a more recent letter, WAC has said that ‘no amount of money and time spent on this project could deal with cultural rights, as an aspect of the human rights of the local population, in the circumstances of emergency rule prevailing in the region at present.’ At the time of writing, the governments involved have not yet made a final decision and a revised Environmental Impact Assessment and Resettlement Action Plan are awaited.

At present, there is a small number of WAC members working with Maggie on this campaign. We are always in need of help with research, translation to and from Kurdish and Turkish and advice with regard to the archaeological remains in the Ilisu area from different periods and so on. If you have any comments or queries on the campaign and for further information on how you can help, please contact Maggie Ronayne at maggie.ronayne@nuigalway.ie or +353 91 524411 ext. 3701 Fax: +353 91 525700


President: Professor Martin Hall

Centre for Higher Education Development

University of Cape Town

Rondebosch 7700

South Africa

Telephone: +27 -21-6502645

Fax: +27 -21-6505055


The Rt. Hon. Tony Blair, M.P.

10 Downing St.,

London, SW1A 2AA


Fax: 0207 925 0918 / 0207 930 9572


16 January 2001

Dear Prime Minister,

Re: Proposed construction of the Ilisu dam in South

East Turkey

I am writing to you in my capacity as President of the World Archaeological Congress in order to express grave concern with respect to your Government’s proposed support for the construction of the Ilisu dam in South East Turkey.

As you will be aware, this particular project has been the subject of widespread criticism from many quarters. I am writing today with reference to fundamental issues concerning the human rights of the large and overwhelmingly Kurdish populations scheduled to be moved from their homes and resettled in advance of the flooding of towns and villages – specifically their rights with regard to the potential cultural heritage impact of the proposed dam.

The World Archaeological Congress (WAC) is an international forum for the discussion of all aspects of the past that holds large international conferences every four years attended by hundreds of archaeologists and other interested parties. Its continuing membership comprises concerned individuals from all five continents, represented between the four-yearly meetings by regional representatives drawn from twenty-eight countries around the world. WAC has a particular interest in the areas of the protection, conservation and exploitation of the archaeological heritage, with a specific emphasis being placed upon the effect of archaeological and heritage work on the wider community and the responsibilities of archaeologists with regard to the cultural rights of indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities. To that end, an indigenous constituency is represented on the WAC Executive.

WAC is aware that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Stephen Byers M.P., has made it a condition for the granting of an export credit guarantee to the British construction firm Balfour Beatty that the Turkish authorities concerned, ‘produce a detailed plan to preserve as much of the archaeological heritage of Hasankeyf as possible’. At present, a few archaeologists are struggling to document just a fraction of the archaeological material now under threat in that town. WAC also notes with particular alarm press reports of last minute ‘salvage archaeology’ recently carried out at sites such as the Roman city of Zeugma/Apamea within the catchment area of the Birecik dam on the Euphrates River, another construction project under the management of the Turkish State Hydraulic Works. Such working conditions can never lend themselves to the fulfilment of the condition set with respect to the archaeological heritage at Hasankeyf.

In fact, WAC believes that it would be very difficult to draw up and implement a satisfactory preservation plan in the circumstances prevailing in the region at present. In this regard, WAC would wish to make it clear to your Government that the cultural heritage impact of the dam reservoir extends far beyond the purely physical confines of Hasankeyf itself in two related ways.

Firstly, hundreds of different cultural sites, dating to every period of human history, fall within the total catchment area of the proposed dam reservoir, and are therefore threatened with destruction through inundation, or associated construction and irrigation works. Individual sites of local, regional and international significance include examples dating to the Neolithic, Chalcolithic, Neo-Assyrian, Late Roman, Byzantine and later medieval periods respectively. Many other sites of crucial importance to any adequate understanding of the more recent histories of the local populations in this region, including ancestral graveyards, are also under threat of destruction and/or prevention of access.

Secondly, from an archaeological perspective it is vital to consider the relationship between the physical archaeological material and the affected communities living in the area today. There are a variety of claims to aspects of cultural heritage made by differing sectors of the population located right across the catchment area of the proposed dam, of which the importance of Hasankeyf itself to Kurdish people is only the best known. These claims and different valuations of the past, whether disputed or not, must be outlined, researched and addressed in full, and those affected must be consulted and equitably involved in any decisions regarding further investigation of this heritage. This applies to Hasankeyf but also to all of the other archaeological material mentioned above. To date, there seems to have been inadequate consultation with affected communities in the area regarding cultural heritage and no serious attempt to involve them on an equal basis. Even less recognition has been given to their capacities and knowledge with regard to this impact or their rights to retain access to and use of cultural property.

In particular, WAC must express grave concern that the vast majority of sites dating from medieval and modern times and of most direct relevance to the recent history of indigenous populations are in danger of being ignored altogether. The archaeology of these more recent periods has suffered most from the enforced brevity of archaeological surveys carried out thus far and archaeologists in the area are currently without the knowledge necessary even to begin to attempt adequate documentation. Such an oversight is all too readily made in the case of ‘salvage archaeology’ of the kind proposed for Ilisu, and can lead to the total submergence of the unrecorded material heritage of marginalised people.

The severing of people from the materials through which they understand their past has demonstrable traumatic effects, particularly when those people are already excluded, exploited or discriminated against. Several national and international bodies now emphasise the need for consultation with all sectors of project-affected communities on their cultural and social rights, the requirement to seek avoidance of detrimental impacts on those rights and in particular, the principle of free, prior and informed consent with regard to indigenous and tribal peoples. Like many other organisations, WAC is currently considering the report of the World Commission on Dams, which was the most recent statement on such issues in the context of dams and which summarises the international rights framework for foregrounding the social, cultural and environmental impacts in decisions on building a dam or opting for an alternative. WAC also notes the emphasis on social inclusion and cultural diversity in the English Heritage review of policies relating to the historic environment – factors surely as relevant in South East Turkey given the nature of society in the region. WAC itself strongly supports the rights and capacities of indigenous peoples in the use and disposition of their cultural property including access to their religious and cultural sites (whether legally held or not) and recognises the rights of different ethnic groups to give consent over any proposed treatment of their dead. The code of ethics of WAC includes an obligation ‘to establish equitable partnerships and relationships between Members and indigenous peoples whose cultural heritage is being investigated’ and ‘to seek, wherever possible, representation of indigenous peoples in agencies funding or authorising research to be certain their view is considered as critically important in setting research standards, questions, priorities and goals’.

You will see immediately how cultural rights, as an aspect of human rights, are a key priority in archaeological work since obligations include responsibilities to those communities with whom archaeologists work. In relation to the Ilisu dam, the issues of cultural rights of affected communities, of the much broader range of archaeological material at risk and of the obligations of archaeologists in these two related instances, do not currently form any substantial part of your own Government’s express condition with respect to the archaeological heritage of the region.

Adequate opportunities to discharge these professional obligations or to give voice to cultural rights are unlikely to occur at Ilisu, given the realities of the current political situation in South East Turkey. The prevailing circumstances of emergency rule in force in the region make it impossible to document the true extent of the cultural impacts of the dam in any archaeological preservation plan. It is not difficult to outline a likely scenario under the present circumstances, however. WAC believes that the inadequate respect for human rights in this area, which includes violation of cultural rights, makes it very likely that those impacts will be severe, irreversible and disastrous for long-term social stability within affected communities and in the region generally. WAC considers that violation of social and cultural rights of affected communities, in the context of the lack of any attempt to avoid present and future impacts by seriously considering alternatives to the project, is legitimate ground for not proceeding with construction of the Ilisu dam itself.

WAC asks that current and potential violations of this sort be regarded as the fundamental archaeological ground for reconsidering the UK government’s proposed funding of this project and, on that basis, requests that your Government withdraw its support for it immediately. I thank you for your attention and look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,

Martin Hall


World Archaeological Congress

cc. The Rt. Hon. Steven Byers, M.P.

Secretary of State for Trade and Industry

Department of Trade and Industry

1 Victoria St.,

London, SW1H 0ET


Fax: 0207 215 5675

The Rt. Hon. Richard Caborn, M.P.

Minister for Trade

Department of Trade and Industry

1 Victoria St.,

London, SW1H 0ET


Fax: 0207 219 4866

The Rt. Hon. John Prescott, M.P.

Deputy Prime Minister,

Department of the Environment, Transport and the


Eland House,

Bressenden Place,

London SW1E 5DU


The Rt. Hon. Robin Cook, M.P.

Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth


Foreign and Commonwealth Office

King Charles St.,

London, SW1A 2AH


Fax: +44 171 839 2417

The Rt. Hon. Chris Smith, M.P.

Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Department for Culture, Media and Sport,

2-4 Cockspur St.,

London, SW1Y 5DH


Fax: 020 7211 6249

Export Credit Guarantee Department

PO Box 2200

2 Exchange Tower

Harbour Exchange Square

London, E14 9GS


Fax: 0207 751 27649

The Ilisu Dam Campaign

Box 210

266 Banbury Road,

Oxford OX2 7DL


Further Information on the Ilisu Dam

The following web sites provide further information on the different aspects of and positions on the Ilisu dam project. They are also listed on the WAC web site.


The Ilisu dam campaign is a UK based group of NGOs and supporters set up in 2000 to lobby the UK government on withdrawing its support for the Ilisu dam project. A group of archaeologists in Ireland and the UK are working in partnership with this campaign.


A certain amount of archaeological salvage is taking place in the Ilisu area as part of an agreement between the Turkish State Hydraulic Works, Turkish Ministry of Culture and the Middle East Technical University’s Centre for Research and Assessment of the Historic Environment.


The Kurdish Human Rights Project, a UK-based NGO, produced a report on the Ilisu dam in 1999 – The Ilisu Dam: A Human Rights Disaster in the Making -which includes information on the attitudes of people in the area to cultural heritage.

The UK government commissioned a survey of stakeholder attitudes to resettlement and the dam, which includes a section on archaeology at Hasankeyf. Also available is a review of the initial Environmental Impact Assessment for the project.

ICOMOS Turkey has been critical of the proposed Ilisu dam project in the report Heritage @ Risk, published by ICOMOS in 2000.

Cultural Impacts of the Ilisu Dam: A Meeting In Sardinia

Report by Maggie Ronayne

The WAC letter about the Ilisu dam has been used by various campaign groups since its release. I was recently invited to speak on the cultural impacts of the Ilisu dam by the Sardinian Committee for Solidarity with the People of Kurdistan. This committee was set up in 1998 and is composed of representatives of local associations, trade unionists, teachers, railway workers, students etc who do this work in their spare time. Their aim is to raise public awareness of the problems faced by Kurdish people. They have sent three missions to Kurdistan, which have included local councillors and administrators, and as I write, are about to organise a fourth for Newroz (the Kurdish new year). Their main activities involve facilitating and publicising these missions and their results, attempting to establish political, social, cultural and economic connections between municipalities and associations in Sardinia and similar entities in the towns and villages of Kurdish areas. They work with Turkish and Kurdish organisations, contribute to campaigns which highlight the various issues facing Kurdish people today, raise funds for vehicles and equipment needed by Kurdish communities and organising meetings and festivals as a part of this.

From their own finances and with financial support from the city council of Quartu S. Elena which is adjoined to Cagliari, they ran the festival ‘Quartu for Kurdistan’. They paid for me to be there as a speaker and also for an Italian translator and activist who is familiar with the material to come with me. This was essentially an event about the politics of culture as well as a celebration of Kurdish cultural forms. There were photographic exhibitions, film showings, musical events (including an amazing last night concert by Koma Amed, a group of Kurdish musicians from Istanbul), poetry readings and political meetings. Some of the other discussions related to the work of the Mothers of Peace (a group of Kurdish and Turkish women who demonstrate and organise in Istanbul to highlight the ‘disappearances’ of family members and for an end to the poverty and trauma caused by political tension and conflict) and a speech about her mother’s imprisonment by the 20 year old daughter of Leyla Zana (a Kurdish parliamentarian imprisoned in Turkey for speaking in Kurdish in the Turkish parliament). I spoke about the cultural and social impacts on women, children and men of the proposed Ilisu dam project and the larger GAP development project of which it forms a part, at a meeting on Thursday 22nd February. I focused mainly on the UK/Ireland campaign to stop the dam and the letter sent by the WAC President to the UK Prime Minister about the archaeological impacts which the proposed dam will have. A film of life in and around Hasankeyf was also shown and there was much debate afterwards. The meeting was attended by members of the committee, members of the public, Kurdish representatives, students and lecturers from the University of Cagliari and two representatives from the national executive committee of the CGIL, the biggest Italian trade union. Other engagements were also organised for me and I was particularly happy to meet and make arrangements for future work with representatives of the Kurdish community in Italy and from a Kurdish women’s organisation based in Germany.

On Saturday, 24th February, I also had the opportunity to travel to Lanusei, a town about three hours’ drive from Cagliari, close to the east coast of the island, to give a talk to 150 secondary school children. In geography classes, many of them had already looked at the issues surrounding not only the Ilisu dam but also other projects such as the Three Gorges Project in China. The strongest analogy for them was with the depth of feeling in the area about Sardinian culture and their own language, Sardo, which they speak at home and any possible destruction or denial of their cultural rights in this regard, especially in ‘development’ projects in their own area. These planned developments include a national park which will interfere with the holding of land in common in the predominantly pastoral economy in the area and a ‘genetic research park’ where the genetic inheritance of the local population may well be patented by a multi-national company. Meetings like these are examples of the way in which many different groups campaigning against the ‘development model’ of transnational capitalism (or what many people call ‘globalisation’) are connecting up the present with the past. People have everyday experience of that sort of ‘development’ themselves whether it’s in Europe or the result of European money being invested elsewhere as is the case with Ilisu, and know that they don’t have a choice whether to connect these things up in opposing the destruction of cultural heritage which is organic to the social links between people.

I owe thanks to many people who made this visit possible, useful and enjoyable. They are Antonello Pabis, Chicco Pes, Carla Pes, Martina Pes, Rojin Felat, Viviana, Mariangela, Pati Luceri, Nicola Melis, Gülbahar Aslan, Salvatore Carta, Sebastiana Loi, Paolo Benegiamo, Lia Losa, Pier Paolo Frassinelli. I am grateful to the Committee and to the City Council of Quartu for funding to attend the meeting, to the Pes family for feeding and watering us and ferrying us about and to all for the introduction to Sardinian culture and hospitality. Thanks also to Willy Kitchen and Kate Geary.