European governments backing out of Ilisu Dam Project in Turkey

Stop Ilisu Campaign welcomes unprecedented step

(Berlin, Vienna, Zurich – June 22, 2009) Germany, Austria and Switzerland will withdraw their export credit guarantees for the highly controversial Ilisu dam project in Turkey by July 6th, as the German daily Frankfurter Rundschau Online reported on Friday. This is an unprecedented step in the history of export finance. Environmental and human rights organisations had repeatedly pointed out that Turkey violated conditions tied to the guarantees and the environmental, social, cultural and geopolitical problems remained unsolved.

“We greatly welcome that the European governments finally take international standards for this project seriously”, comments Heike Drillisch from the German Ilisu Campaign CounterCurrent. “This is a great step forward for the protection of human rights, the environment and cultural heritage.”

CounterCurrent and the Swiss organisation Berne Declaration had only recently been to the Ilisu region on the Tigris river to analyse if Turkey was fulfilling the European conditions. „Our research showed that there is still no solution for the 60,000 people losing their means of existence nor for the salvage of the invaluable cultural heritage doomed by flooding“, declares Berne Declaration’s Christine Eberlein. “On the contrary, Turkey has continued to expropriate farmers even during the ultimatum.”

Due to repeated violations of the conditions by the Turkish authorities, the governments of Germany, Austria and Switzerland had put the contracts on hold for 180 days at the end of 2008. The deadline to decide on the final withdrawal ends on July 6th, but the German government obviously already made up its mind. As the three countries decide unanimously, this means that Austria and Switzerland will also back out.

The withdrawal is a huge victory for environmentalists and human rights advocates who have campaigned for years for the stop of the mega dam. It increases the likelihood that project will be cancelled completely, as Turkey now lacks 450 m Euro and technical know how. The political impacts of the withdrawal weigh even stronger: for the first time export credit contracts are cancelled on grounds of humanitarian, cultural and environmental concerns. The reputation of the project thus equals to zero. Therefore it will be difficult for Turkey to find new sponsors, as the European banks providing finance for the project are expected to also withdraw.

"This is an important stage win for us. We will now increase our efforts to have the project revoked in Turkey as well", says Ulrich Eichelmann from the Stop Ilisu Campaign in Austria. Prominent artists like nobel prize writer Orhan Pamuk and pop singer Tarkan have already embarked the campaign to stop the Ilisu dam and make the antique town of Hasankeyf and the surrounding Tigris river a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Heike Drillisch (CounterCurrent – Ilisu Campaign Germany), , +49 177 345 2611
Christine Eberlein (Berne Declaration), +41 794 263 056
Ulrich Eichelmann (ECA Watch Österreich), 0043 676 662 1512