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Turkey revives stalled $32 billion GAP dam and irrigation project

The initiative is designed to boost the restive southeast, where rebels have capitalized on residents' economic grievances to build support.

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To be flooded: The ruins of Hasankeyf will be submerged under the GAP dam and irrigation project now under way.

Scott Peterson/Getty Images

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Set in a dramatic gorge on the Tigris river, Hasankeyf's ruins date back to Assyrian, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman times. But a massive dam and irrigation project could submerge the whole town.

On Tuesday, some 80 years after Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, first proposed tapping the storied Tigris and Euphrates for energy, the government will unveil plans to complete the stalled Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP). The $32 billion project is intended to both provide Turkey with much-needed electricity and to pacify the restive Kurdish southeast, where rebels have capitalized on residents' economic grievances to build support.

But for locals and experts alike, big questions remain about GAP's effectiveness and whether it will be the magic bullet that lifts the southeast out of its long-standing economic and political troubles.

"The real problem with the project is the way it is being run.... Primarily what they did is an engineering project," says Ali Carkoglu, a political science professor at Istanbul's Sabanci University. "They are so preoccupied with conquering the geography that they are forgetting the more human issues," such as giving villages running water or developing local industry.

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