HASANKEYF, Turkey (Reuters) - Hundreds of people displaced by a huge dam in southeast Turkey fear they could go homeless because resettlement laws prevent them from moving into a new government-built town above the rising Tigris River waters.
The Ilisu dam, which Turkey planned to fill this year, will generate 1,200 megawatts of electricity but has been criticized for water shortages it will create downstream in Iraq and for the tens of thousands of people it will displace in Turkey.
For hundreds of residents of the 12,000-year-old town of Hasankeyf and its neighboring village of Kesmekopru, both of which will be submerged, housing laws may also block them from finding new homes on the nearby mountainside.
Those regulations bar unmarried adults and people with addresses registered elsewhere from claiming home ownership in the new site, residents and town officials told Reuters.
Two Hasankeyf residents affected by the laws, siblings Fatime and Hizrullah Salkan, have filed legal petitions to find new homes when the waters rise and they are forced from their houses - built next door to each other by their parents.
Fatime, 44, is not married and her 47-year-old brother, a father of four, switched his address to a neighboring province while seeking work there five years ago, meaning they both fail to meet requirements for being rehoused.
“They told us everything would be perfect - that everyone would own a house, there wouldn’t be any problems,” Hizrullah said. “But now we are doomed to be migrants.”
Also uprooted by the dam waters will be Hasankeyf’s ancient tombs, minarets and monuments, which are being transferred to a tourist park.
Ahmet Akdeniz, president of the local cultural association, said he supports the dam and the new settlement site, and expects Hasankeyf’s antiquities to be more easily accessible at their new location. But the home ownership restrictions, he said, are a disaster for hundreds of residents in Hasankeyf.
“Whoever wrote these laws is brainless,” he said. “They’ll have to change them. There won’t be anywhere for these people to go.”
Asked whether steps were being taken to address the needs of people deemed ineligible for new housing, the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry, which is overseeing the Ilisu Dam project, said local authorities had planned to make some homes available for sale but “there is no demand”.
Other state bodies, including the Environment and Urbanisation Ministry, which issued the home-ownership laws, declined or did not respond to requests for comment.
Turkey briefly started filling the dam in June, but officials said it halted temporarily a week later after complaints from Iraq about reduced water flows in summer.
Like Hasankeyf, which it faces across the Tigris River, the village of Kesmekopru will be forced to evacuate once the dam’s reservoir fills properly.
But none of Kesmekopru’s more than 600 residents will be allowed to own homes in the new settlement site because it is not considered a neighborhood of Hasankeyf, according to village headman Metin Dezen.
When Dezen asked provincial authorities why his villagers could not move to the new site, they told him: “‘You’re village people, we can’t give you a city,’” he told Reuters.
Asked about Dezen’s claim, the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry said residents of Kesmekopru had been paid for the loss of their land and had not applied for new housing from the government.
For the approximately 20 families who have already moved from Hasankeyf to the new homes, however, their present living conditions do not resemble a city.
Although authorities have said construction is 94 percent complete, the streets are still full of construction vehicles, the tap water is brownish, the air swirls with dust, and the area is barren. A clump of pine trees planted on a ridge above the site are brown and dead.
Mazlum Cetin, 27, works as a local tour guide in Hasankeyf but moved to the new settlement site in April. He fears the local economy will worsen after the dam because tourists will not be as eager to see Hasankeyf’s artifacts away from their historical location.
“In New Hasankeyf, people will just come and swipe their [museum entry cards] and see everything and leave,” he said.
Mehmet Sait Tunc, 34, sells kebabs in the new settlement. As he stood at his food truck listing his grievances over the dirty water, dusty air and arid ground his seven-year-old son Adem ran past to add one more: the noise from the construction work. “The explosions are going off every day!”
Viewing a photograph taken the previous day of his old house in Hasankeyf, now taken over by local donkeys, Tunc shook his head sadly, comparing the greenery around his old house to the landscape he now inhabits. “If the living conditions here don’t improve, we’ll think about moving,” he said.
Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Dominic Evans and Peter Graff