Berlin May Bail on Divisive Turkish Dam

The German government is reviewing export guarantees made to construction firm Züblin after an expert report criticizes the dam project

Germany is considering suspending export guarantees for the planned construction of a controversial bridge in Turkey that would flood ancient cultural treasures and force the displacement of tens of thousands of residents.

Export guarantees that had been pledged to German construction giant Züblin totalling more than €100 million ($154.4 million) have been made subject to a "critical review" of the plans to build the Ilisu dam along the upper stretch of the Tigris River, a spokesperson for the German Foreign Trade and Investment Scheme said.

The German government moved earlier this month to delay and possibly suspend the export guarantees following the release of a new report by a commission of international experts hired by European governments sponsoring the project. The report concluded that the Turkish government had failed to meet many of the 153 criteria that had been established as prerequisites for the project to receive German government-backed export guarantees. Turkey had been required to fullfil those criteria by the end of 2007, but the experts have accused the Turkish government of ignoring most of them and of failing to adhere to international standards set for the project.

The panel said the project didn't go far enough to protect the environment or preserve the cultural treasures in the ancient settlement of Hasankeyf, which was established several thousand years before Christ's birth. It also criticized the planned resettlement of close to 55,000 residents living in areas that will be flooded by the dam, complaining that residents had not yet been provided with sufficient information or consultations about their relocation and that no agency had been set up to handle complaints. The Turkish government, the experts claimed, couldn't even provide an estimate of the exact number of residents who would be displaced.

"The Report Is Dynamite"

Germany -- along with Austria and Switzerland, which are also helping to finance the project -- had tied its export guarantees to international standards that were to be monitored by the independent expert commission.

"The report is dynamite," Ulrich Eichelmann of the organization ECA Watch, which monitors export credit agencies, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. "If they take their own experts seriously, then the Germans, Swiss and Austrians must immediately abandon the project."

German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul of the center-left Social Democrats has said she will "withdraw export guarantees if the agreed to measures are not applied."

Turkey wants to build the dam in order to provide water supplies and electricity to the country's southeast. It's part of the South East Anatolia Project (GAP), which includes plans to build 22 major dams, 19 hydroelectric plants and dozens of irrigation systems in the region. But the project has become a lightning rod for criticism, with critics describing it as a smaller version of China's Three Gorges Dam project.

The Turkish government has promoted the project as one aimed at helping the region's ethnic Kurdish population, but the Environmental Defense Fund notes that the majority of those displaced by the dam would be "ethnic Kurds who have long been abused by Turkish authorities." The area where the dam is to be located, the organization notes, has been "devastated by an armed conflict between Turkey's security forces and the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK)." The organization also claimed that local Kurdish opposition to the dam has been repressed by the Turkish government. The government counters, however, that the project will give the area a desperately needed economic boost.

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