Economic development and cultural-historical preservation should not be mutually exclusive. This was the sentiment expressed by Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during a speech delivered near Ilısu, in Mardin province, in October 2010.
Who can argue with that?
Of course, when push comes to shove, economic considerations usually carry more weight than archeological ones. On its Web page summarizing the benefits of the Ilısu Dam, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs notes that, in some cases, “the interests of archeology have to be subordinated to those of economic development,” if people are to “enjoy a modern lifestyle.”
Indeed, while many Hasankeyf residents are angry about plans to flood their homes and their ancestors’ graves, some insist that the biggest problem they face is a lack of jobs. But the dam currently under construction exacts a high social and psychological toll for the promise of a better future. And the loss of Hasankeyf would not only deepen the trauma that local residents have suffered from the day the idea of the Ilısu dam was first muted 50 years ago, but it would be a tragic loss for all of Turkey and the whole world.
The painful circumstances of Hasankeyf raise the thorny question of how to balance the right to socio-economic mobility with the right to cultural heritage.
It’s not enough to say Hasankeyf meets 9 of 10 World Heritage List criteria (pdf). Someone has to show that the potential economic impact of Hasankeyf as a center of archeological and environmental conservation can exceed that of the Ilısu Dam. Money is only one facet of the Hasankeyf-Ilısu controversy, but it is both a key factor and an aspect that can be debated in cold economic terms and therefore provides the chance for opposing parties to set aside, for the moment, political differences and examine the matter jointly.