Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Go East!

Ulu Cami complex (detail): not often you'll see grapes on a mosque 

After what seemed like an interminable winter, spring has finally come to Turkey, and our thoughts turn increasingly towards our next trip to Hasankeyf. Of course you can visit all year round, but the town's surroundings are certainly breathtaking in spring and early summer.

Over the next couple of weeks, we'll be sharing some pictures of Hasankeyf and the neighbouring region, kicking off with some snaps of Diyarbakır. We're starting with this incredible city mainly because if you want to include it on your Hasankeyf itinerary, you'll should hurry up: its airport is closed for scheduled renovation work from June 1 to Sept. 1.

The view from the city walls goes on for ever...

The Diyarbakır breakfast: a truly wonderful thing

So, what are you waiting for?

-- Helen

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Documentary filmmakers take on dams

Three helmet-clad riot police trying to subdue one white-haired grandmother. Angry villagers facing off with the gendarmerie. Former government supporters saying they now hate the officials for whom they once voted and prayed. From the scenes shown in a group of recent Turkish documentaries, it would appear a revolt is brewing in Anatolia -- over dams.

Though many of the new films focus on the threat of dams and hydroelectric power plants (HPPs) in Turkey's Black Sea region, the parallels with the situation in Hasankeyf are strong. People are stuck in limbo, not knowing what will happen to their homes, and to their traditional livelihoods. The affected communities are typically small, rural, and often isolated, both from ways of making their voice heard at a national or international level, and from other villages at risk from similar projects with whom they might create common cause.
Film still from "Damn the Dams"

Many of the documentary filmmakers tackling the issue say they wanted to give a voice to villagers affected by dams and help connect the individual struggles. Speaking at a panel, "HPPs and Docs," organized last week as part of the 31st Istanbul Film Festival, some filmmakers said that they didn’t see the need to include interviews with dam supporters.

"We didn't want to add to the visibility of the [pro-dam] argument," said Özlem Işıl, one of the directors of "Akıntıya Karşı" (Against the Current). Added co-director Umut Kocagöz, "HPPs are rational, so an emotional reaction has to be shown as well."

Turkish docs on dams

* "Akıntıya Karşı" (Against the Current), directed by Volkan Işıl, Özlem Işıl, Umut Kocagöz, and Ezgi Akyol
* "Bir Avuç Cesur İnsan" (A Few Brave People), directed by Rüya Arzu Köksal
* "İşte Böyle" (Damn the Dams), directed by Özlem Sarıyıldız and Osman Şişman
* "Sudaki Suretler" (Figures in the Water), directed by Erkal Tulek
Putting aside the question of whether dam construction is always the rational choice, the appeal of either a film or a movement seems limited if it does not address opposing viewpoints, as Rüya Arzu Köksal, the director of "Bir Avuç Cesur İnsan" (A Few Brave People), argued at the same panel.

“Showing the tension between antagonists and protagonists is much more effective in getting attention,” Köksal said. “We wanted to give the audience a chance to interrogate their own consciences on the issue.”


Thursday, April 12, 2012

New economic incentives target the Southeast

If the residents of Hasankeyf and environs were to develop an investment and economic development strategy for Southeastern Anatolia, how might it differ from Turkey’s official regime of economic incentives?

“We are changing the region rapidly with big projects, schools, the most modern hospitals, roads, bridges, dams, and airports,” said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, referring to Southeastern Anatolia during a speech announcing Turkey’s new economic incentive program.
Fog over Hasankeyf
The Ilısu Dam would flood Hasankeyf, making way
for electricity, fishing and water sports 

Dividing the country's 81 provinces into six categories of economic wealth (map), the new program offers higher incentives for industrial investments in less developed areas, in order to close the gap between Turkey's rich and poor regions.

It also seeks to promote market consolidation and economies of scale by giving preference to large investments. In other words, investors building large manufacturing facilities in the Southeast would see the biggest incentives, mainly in the form of reduced costs for labor, financing, and taxes.

In addition to steering investments toward less developed regions, there are special incentives for investments in economically strategic sectors such as Defense and Space & Aviation, which will be supported at the same level as those in Category Five provinces, regardless of geographic location. Investments in primary and secondary education; mining; rail, sea, and land transportation; and cultural preservation and tourism in developing regions will receive similar levels of support.

It is worth noting that by favoring large projects, the incentive program runs the risk of overlooking local initiatives, where faith, history, nature, and physical activity can be integrated with sustainable tourism.

It is also possible that the special incentives for tourism could actually open a door for entrepreneurs to propose innovative alternatives. What might happen if a large and socially minded investor backed a locally generated strategy for Hasankeyf and Tur Abdin?


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Wasted resources?

The Official Gazette announced yesterday that the Prime Minister has authorized Turkey's State Waterworks Authority (DSİ) to coordinate the evacuation of areas to be flooded by the Ilısu Dam. This directive includes work at Hasankeyf to reinforce the geological foundation of the castle, protect monuments that will remain on site, and remove other monuments to a museum in the new town.

The lower city of Hasankeyf is one of the few places in the world where scholars and tourists alike can still explore the layout of a medieval Islamic city much as it was in the 15th century.

But the Government of Turkey appears determined to flood this living treasure of Islamic civilization.

Does the Ilısu Project optimize the long-term value of Turkey's economic resources? Very likely not.

The direct revenue from the Ilısu Hydroelectric Plant would potentially approach 500 million USD at current average rates of 0.12-0.14 USD per kWh, assuming it produces at maximum capacity of 3800 GWh a year.

On the energy front, aggressive development of solar power and/or implementation of the step dam model (proposed by engineers at METU) would deliver a comparable level of energy security without flooding Hasankeyf.

On the economic front, in 2009, tourism and travel generated combined economic activity equal to 10.2 percent of Turkey’s GDP. If the people of Hasankeyf are allowed to maintain their present homes, they could pursue sustainable development strategies and contribute significantly to this fast-growing and vital sector.
As the only place in the world meeting 9 of 10 UNESCO criteria for world heritage listing, Hasankeyf could help make Mardin, Midyat, and environs one of Turkey’s most valuable tourism resources. In 2007, Cappadocia reaped more than 600 million USD from tourism. With Hasankeyf as its signature attraction, the Tur Abdin Plateau could fare equally well.

Why not energy plus tourism?