road protests 2000   |   road protests (current)   |   movement links

Date: Sun, 21 May 2000 15:15:17 +0100 (BST)
From: Jo Makepeace (
Subject: SchNEWS 259, Friday 19th May 2000

Balfour Beatty AGM disrupted over Turkish Ilisu Damn project


"As the question of human rights in South-East Turkey was raised, 40 supporters stood up holding pictures of torture victims. One shareholder looked at a picture of Turkish soldiers holding severed human heads like trophies and said, "These are probably faked you know, it's easy enough to mock up pictures like this."
Mark Thomas (comedian and activist)

Balfour Beatty, the corporation itching to build the Ilisu dam in Turkey - thanks to a little financial backing from the British Government's Export Credit Guarantee Department (SchNews 244) - has not had the best of weeks. Their Annual General Meeting came to a grinding halt last Tuesday at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge, as over 50 activist's from the 'Stop the Ilisu Dam Campaign' decided that buying some shares in the company may be a good investment after all, allowing them voting rights and obliging the Board to answer their questions.

As the AGM was about to start, with Group 4 security surrounding the room like prefects at a school assembly, the Board took to the stage. Before they could sit down, 15 people lined up at the back of the room facing the Board, each with a t-shirt with one letter printed on it, spelling out 'STOP THE ILISU DAM'. Cheers and applause filled the room from supporters and in fact several other shareholders joined in, not quite realising why they were, nodding and clapping approval like they were watching a cricket match. Lord Weir promptly declared questions on Ilisu over.

Mark Thomas told SchNEWS "Suddenly, angry campaigners were all over the room, standing on chairs, trying to get the Board to just look at the photos, others rushed towards the platform demanding the company account for their actions. Group 4 started to earn their wages. Lord Weir shouted that he was suspending the meeting and the Board fled the platform amidst catcalls. We suddenly realised, as Balfour Beatty still had items on it's agenda for the meeting, we had just shut the AGM down!!!"

This hydroelectric dam is set to affect the lives of 36,000 Kurdish people, 25,000 of whom will be forcibly evicted from their homes. 19 villages in the submergence area have already been evicted at gun-point by the Turkish military (Turkey has one of the worlds worst human rights records). In all, 52 Kurdish villages and 15 towns will be destroyed, including the ancient town of Hasankeyf, one of the Kurds' most important cultural sites. Local people feel strongly that the dam is motivated by the Turkish Government's attempts to destroy the Kurds as an ethnic group. There is no resettlement package so the fate of the people to be displaced looks grim.

So why the obsession with dams? In the 50's, dams were the key to industrialisation in the 'third world', a way of controlling the flow of rivers for the production of electricity. The Indian Prime Minister Nehru declared them the 'Temples of modern India'. They were seen as a way out of poverty, their saving grace! By controlling the riverflow, governments found they could redirect the water along canals to irrigate crops such as sugar cane, which requires ridiculous amounts of water. The sugar, for example, is exported, and the country then plays its part in that lovely game-Global Trade.

But big dams are redundant. While everyone is told that dams will bring new life to communities through a constant water supply, they actually do the opposite. They neglect the local in favour of the international community. They displace and separate communities and force families to flee their homelands and sustainable livelihoods. Faced with devastation, they become bonded labourers in the cities, pushed into slums. Alternatively, they are forced to seek asylum, ironically, in the very countries that have funded the projects. Do we repent our corporate sins, apologise, and welcome these victims of torture into Britain? No, we wash our hands of responsibility, call them 'scroungers', lock them up in detention centres then send them back to their countries.

So why fund such a controversial project? Tony Blair has personally stamped his seal of approval on the project, enticing Turkey to join the EU, strengthening trade links and Hey-Presto, another new arms deal is secured. Britain will be breaching International Laws if it finally decides to give its £200 million backing to the scheme. So much for an Ethical Foreign Policy!!

The government have again been pandering to public opinion. The Export Credit Guarantee has been postponed until June while Turkey makes a few concessions and promises to be on their best behaviour. But don't count yer chickens just yet! This has by no means been seen as a victory. Richard Caburn, minister for the Export Credit Guarantee Dept has stated that "This dam is going ahead, whatever. If I can do it by creating jobs and getting people housed, then all the better." This is the same Richard Caburn that compared the Ilisu dam with the much hailed Ladywell dam in Derbyshire, acknowleging that there were some protests at the time, but everyone is happy now!

The Ilisu dam is just one of many happening all over the world, each one with similar stories of human rights abuses, displacements and environmental destruction., funded by western corporations. The Maheshwar dam on the Narmada River in India is another dam which has attracted foreign investment. Siemens have applied to the German Government for an Export Credit Guarantee. They plan to invest in the project in return for lucrative contracts to provide turbines and other engineering equipment. The Maheshwar is part of the controversial Narmada Valley Development Project, involving the construction of over 3,000 dams.

The Ilisu Dam Campaign is getting off the ground with a series of talks around the country.

If you want them to talk in a town near you, or for more info, or for a copy of 'Dams Incorporated- A Record of 12 European Dam Building Companies' -

email -

or write to Box 210, 266 Banbury Road, Oxford, OX2 7DL

and check out

June 1st, 7pm, (Venue To Be Announced) Kate from The Ilisu Dam Campaign will be talking in Brighton, + Mark Thomas (if he's not in Turkey at the Dam site!!)

road protests 2000   |   road protests (current)   |   movement links