“protected with the utmost care”

Regarding the dam construction, all of the historical and cultural heritage, especially those of Hasankeyf, has been protected with the utmost care.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during the inauguration of the Ilısu Dam and Hydroelectric Power Plant on May 19, 2020

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s inaugural speech lists all of the supposed benefits of the controversial mega-infrastructure and proclaims that everything has been done to preserve the heritage site of Hasankeyf.

The Ilısu Dam and Hydroelectric Power Plant were officially inaugurated by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on May 19, 2020. Turkey’s fourth-largest dam is part of the Southeast Anatolia Project (Güneydoğu AnadoluProjesi or GAP), a development project implemented in 1984 to improve, according to its planners, the economic and social conditions of the country’simpoverished, mostly Kurdish, southeastern provinces. During the opening ceremony of the Ilısu Dam, President Erdoğan declared that all historicaland cultural heritage threatened by the rising waters of the recently builtmega-infrastructure, including the medieval town of Hasankeyf, had been“protected with the utmost care.”

The opening ceremony took place inside the hydroelectric power plantitself. Two red mushroom-like buttons, ready to be pushed in order to igniteone of the eight Austrian ANDRITZ Hydro turbines, were placed for theoccasion on top of a futuristic-looking table bracketed by two white podi-ums on a large aqua blue stage. A short promotional film projected in thebackground during the inauguration showed high-flying cinematic droneshots of the mega-infrastructure and its recently filled reservoir, as well as scenes of water gushing down abundantly from the dam’s flood gates, high voltage switchyard and transmission lines sending electricity across thecountry, and boys and girls running through irrigated fields of pesticide-covered vegetables.

The clip then ventured inside the belly of the beast withstylized shots of pristine cables and wires, close-ups of rapidly spinningturbines, and a quick peek inside the control room’s state-of-the-art monitor-ing equipment. High-energy technology aestheticized to its fullest shown inperfect harmony with its surrounding environment. Nature, in other words, tamed for the good of the nation, or at least for its political and economicelite. The event was aired live on most government-controlled news channels, including TRT HABER, as well as on President Erdoğan’s Facebook page.

Not present inside the power plant amid the Covid-19 outbreak, Erdoğan delivered the inaugural speech from his office in Ankara by videoconference with a small Turkish flag pinned on his pickle green, plaid suit and the official seal of the Presidency (a sixteen-pointed sun surrounded by sixteen five-pointed stars standing for the sixteen Great Turkic Empires as mythologized in pan-Turkish ideology) behind him. The ceremony provided Erdoğan with an occasion to rewrite the past by placing his Justice and DevelopmentParty’s reign (the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi or AKP) in power since 2002 at the pinnacle of Turkish history. During the AKP’s eighteen-year rule thusfar, Erdoğan reminds his audience, Turkey has gone from 276 to 861 dams, from 97 to 778 power plants, from 202 to 587 irrigation ponds, and from 84 to 331 drinking water facilities and other facts. He announces during the samespeech the future construction of one dam per month for a total of seventeenin the next year or so.

“In energy and water, do you know what this means?” Erdoğan concludes,“ Turkey can be counted as one of the top revolutionarycountries in the world in renewable energy.” His AKP, Erdoğan claims, has done more since its ascension to powerin 2002 than any other party since the founding of the Republic in 1923. This might sound like pumped-up electoral rhetoric, but it also indicateshow Erdoğan places himself historically above Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, thefounding father of the Turkish Republic. Elsewhere, Erdoğan reminds us all how his rule has not only boosted the country’s democracy and economy,improved education, health, justice, safety, and transportation but also satis-fied the needs of local farmers whose soils were hungry for the dam’s water.

Ilısu, he adds, will not only irrigate fields but these farmers’ hearts as well. Elsewhere, he calls the newly built infrastructure a necklace adorning theTigris River. It not only embellishes the river and its surroundings, accordingto Erdoğan, but will also blow a wind of peace, brotherhood, and wealth thatwill be felt in the region for centuries. Finally, he claims, the magnificenceof the dam will crush terrorism. It is the best answer, he adds, to anyone inTurkey who complains about their country to foreigners.

In this inaugural speech, President Erdoğan not only delves into what BrianLarkin (2013) has called the politics and poetics of infrastructures but also lists some of the dam’s more technical attributes (for example, it is 135 metershigh and possesses a reservoir capacity of more than 10 billion m3 and a total established power of 1,200 MW). The Ilısu Dam, combined with the soon-to-be-built Cizre Dam further south near the Syrian-Iraqi-Turkish border, willhave a total energy capacity of 1.1 billion KW/h and irrigate at least 765,000hectares of land. According to the speech, it will make 2.8 billion Turkish liras every year. Much of the speech, in fact, consists in enumerating all of the dam’s benefits in comparison to its cost.

He states, for instance, how the cost of the Ilısu Dam, including the resettlement, the protection of historical and cultural heritage, the construction work and other spendings, reached a total of 18 billion liras. Regarding the dam construction, all of the historical and cultural heritage, especially those of Hasankeyf, has been protected with the utmostcare. Just for the works at Hasankeyf, a total of 200 million liras was used. This is a rare occurrence in the speech where Erdoğan refers to Hasankeyf flooded just a few months prior to the inauguration. Here, however, the medieval town represents just another cost for him. More generally, the protection of cultural heritage is equated to so many million Turkish liras, but how exactly this large sum was used is not detailed.

For Hasankeyf, the amount itself (200 million liras) seemed to be proof enough that the town had indeed been saved. The sum is not negligible of course, but it is relatively small compared to the 2.8 billion liras the dam will bring each year. What is more important for Erdoğan, however, is how the money spent on the protection ofcultural heritage allows him, in the end, to make the claim, true or false, that indeed Hasankeyf “has been protected with the utmost care.”

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