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Turkey can avert a tragedy on the Tigris

It can develop energy and progress into the future without washing away the town of Hasankeyf, its jewel of the past.

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In the southeastern corner of Turkey near its borders with Iraq and Syria, environmentalists, human rights organizations, and archaeologists recently won a battle in the effort to avert a cultural tragedy.

Swiss, German, and Austrian firms pulled out of their contract with the Turkish government to build a dam that would flood and destroy a historical ancient city, harm ecosystems downstream, and displace thousands.

To permanently protect this area though, it should be designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Ilisu Dam, a cornerstone in a project to develop Turkey's electrical and water capacities, is the largest and the most controversial of the 22 dams and 19 power plants scheduled in the $32 billion Southeast Anatolia Project.

At the heart of the controversy is the town of Hasankeyf, carved into the limestone cliffs above the Tigris River. Hasankeyf is reputed to be one of the oldest continuous settlements on earth, at least 10,000 years old, with relics found this summer that may date it to 15,000 years old.

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