Eyüp Aytekin, Yusufeli Mayor for the past three terms, talks about the problems of the district, which will be completely evicted when Yusufeli Dam is completed, the process that led to the March 2019 Municipality Elections, the new settlement area, and his visions and plans for the future.
What dominates the agenda in Yusufeli?
All you see right now will soon be gone. Everything will be expropriated by the state. A new district is being built in a very rough geography. That district is slowly fading away. We do not know much about how things will turn out. Yesterday, a new tender was issued. Once they opened the tender files to us, I looked at them to inspect the balconies, the bedrooms, and the living rooms of the residences that will be built. I am trying to figure out which parts of the new district are under construction. I work out what is located above or below it. I know all these things which people are curious about.
How are the plans for the new district drawn? Did the locals participate in the process?
The architects drew the blueprints.
Are the architects familiar with Yusufeli?
No, they are not. The architects have some data available to them. Zehra Eminağaoğlu from Çoruh University has written a research paper about the architecture of the region. This research focuses on the architectural structures, how women use home spaces, what women want to have in a house and what kind of house design women prefer. Leaving aside the traditional life in Yusufeli, modular life also has something to offer to people; in other words, people have different wishes. You are probably all born and raised in the cities. You might be the children of families who left the villages and migrated to the cities, but still, you are all urbanites. The reasons and expectations that brought your families to the cities are still shared by people who are still living in the countryside. It is the opportunities in the urban locations that determine these people’s future and what they want to have, not what they already have in the countryside. They do not want a house similar to their old ones, they want more practical and useful spaces. Therefore, the architects when they plan the dwellings do not say, “This is the old house of this man. Let’s draw a two-bedroom house because it is where he used to live and what made him happy.” Today, there are standard two-, three, four- bedroom houses and people want them. When you think about it, it all boils down to worldwide standards. People say things like “I want a three-bedroom house”, “I want a four-bedroom house”, “I want to have this in my kitchen”, “I want to be able to place my dining table here”, “I want storage space”, or “I want to have a balcony”. In terms of the standards, people do not take their current living standards as the criterion, they aspire to the prosperity of the people who live in urban areas. Perhaps as you walk around here you see the houses and think that they are beautiful, cute, and cozy. But people who live here when they see the houses with balconies and huge windows in the cities think that those buildings are magnificent. Everyone desires what they lack or do not have.
Yusufeli is located inside a valley, next to the river. The new settlement area will be on the slope, up there. Are there any worries about the new location of the district?
In 1954, the Electricity Survey Administration conducted a study titled “Çoruh Basin Energy Plan”. On the way here, you must have seen that there are no agricultural areas along the river. The dam is not planned for irrigation purposes, the goal of the dam project is to produce energy. I was born in 1964. So, the story of the dam is older than mine. I have listened to the stories about the dam since my childhood. A dam will be built, Yusufeli will be submerged under water, a new settlement area will be constructed, people will be resettled in Adana or in Antalya… People talked about these things until the 2000s. The foundations of the Deriner Dam were laid in 1998 when Shervardnadze, Demirel, and Aliyev were the presidents of their countries. And they set the project in motion.
What were the problems that the state encountered back then? The treaties that concern waters that cross borders allowed the neighboring countries to use the water as if you did not have the rights over the use of the water. What this meant was that the countries who already have access to the water, wanted to keep the water flowing into their countries. They started the construction of the dams in Turkey from the lower regions and then they moved to the upper regions. First, the Muratlı Dam was built. It was followed by the Borçka, Deriner, and Artvin Dams. Yusufeli is bigger not only in terms of the lands that will be expropriated but also the population that will be displaced. Yusufeli is the key dam. We built the dams like Güllübağ and Arkun toward the northern side. They built the Ayvalı on the other side. For example, there are other dams that will be built such as the Bağlıkbayram on the Şavşat road; Barhal on the Barhal Stream; and the Laleli Dam which will be built up there. They started to construct the dams in the wrong order. Perhaps, it is because of the financial limitations of the state. However, instead of starting from there and going down, they went up.
Yusufeli is a key dam because it will affect the people the most. It will also undertake the role of an important regulator that will increase the profitability of the dams below it. Yusufeli will be the dam that will hold the most water in its basin. Now you are going to film down below, or you have already filmed up there. You will not be able to see the water of Deriner Dam. “There is a dam here, why are they building another one up there” is a problematic populist discourse. Although the Deriner Dam was full in spring, the water continued to flow; it could not retain the water. It dumped the water to Borçka. It could not hold the water and convert it into energy. If the Yusufeli Dam has been constructed, it would hold the water here.
It is my 11th year as the mayor. I have listened to many stories on this issue and what it all means not only from many different people but also from the state officials. It is obvious that there is an energy deficit in Turkey and this project lies at the heart of this issue no matter how much it bothers and distresses us. As a municipality member, I am the one who is seen as the one who is responsible for every kind of trouble. We have seen that this country needs development, that serious amounts of money is paid abroad for energy and that from time-to-time other countries use the energy deficit against us. You probably remember the times when other countries threatened with cutting off the natural gas, electricity or not supplying oil. Hydroelectric power plants provide us with a practical solution to these problems. When Arkun is activated, it starts providing electricity to the system within two minutes. For instance, for an online power plant in Bursa or a solid fuel online power plant to come into operation, it must be on for 24 to 48 hours. This is the case for natural gas as well. Currently, we are not a very rich country in terms of solar energy. They are improving those systems, but so far, the capacity is low. You are not producing nuclear energy anyways; you had missed that train. It has its risks and troubling aspects, but in the end, life has to go on.
If your camera battery is dead, whatever you do, you will not be able to film me. This is energy. I mean, it is such a messed-up situation. It is like the chicken and egg story. Therefore, it is an important project for the country in terms of energy security. You all see that all the works carried out in the Çoruh Basin are very valuable. That said, these projects have serious social costs for the people who have to pay the price. I am 55 years old; my personal story is shaped by this issue. We would like to end this problem which we inherited from our grandparents. Let’s initiate a good way of living in this country. We hope that our grandchildren will not have to talk about the dams anymore. We want the distressful questions of “when will we move to the new settlement?”, “where will our new house be?”, “where will I work?”, and “how will I earn my living in this region?” to be questions of the past. The previous generation paid the price and lived with these stories. We do not want another generation to live through them.
This uncertainty should end, we are ready to face the consequences
This uncertainty should end. We know what awaits us. We are at the darkest hour of the process. People still do not have a concrete idea about what is going on, but we are at a stage where the implementers and the state are taking concrete steps. The new settlement is under construction. The dam has reached 130-140 kilometers. It is almost over now. 60% of the expropriation has been finalized. People want to see what is awaiting them. Because of the dam, approximately 12,000 people will be resettled in the new area. The district center and four villages will be completely affected by the dam; 16 villages will be partially affected. The state had already undertaken such resettlement projects. For instance, Samsat, the capital of the Commagene Kingdom, a historical heritage site, had been cleared off. Halefi also had been cleared off, one-thirds of that settlement is located outside the city walls and the rest had been moved to another district. Simultaneously with what is happening here, Hasankeyf is going to be submerged under water in no time. The state has experience in these projects. Our people’s awareness about what to question and criticize has also increased. Our state has been transformed. Maybe we cannot say that we are at a stage where everything is human-oriented. Many mistakes, inadequacies, wrongdoings mark the way, but nonetheless, when our bureaucrat fellows and we look each other in the eye, we feel the same feelings, we see the same shortcomings, we test the same things. This means that we are having trouble finding solutions. Why? Our legal regulations are wanting. Perhaps, the resources of the state are not apt for us to realize all our dreams. Perhaps we have problems, or the geography has its limitations. I have not asked where you are from.
İstanbul, Adana, Sivas, Samsun.
The geography of your hometown is flatter than here, isn’t it? Farming areas. Where you come from, you can look around and immediately figure out how people sustain their livelihood. Can you do that here? No. This is a very rough geography indeed. For sure, these projects have an impact on migration. But it is not as simple as that. Let’s consider the example of Samsun. What is the ratio of people living in the countryside to the urban population living in Samsun? A person who decides to leave his village, first goes to Çarşamba and then to Samsun. Then, probably the first city that comes into his mind is Istanbul, right? Çorum does not satisfy him. He does not say that I will go to Giresun or Ordu, he never thinks of going to Trabzon. Artvin is completely out of the picture. “Where did that come from?” he says. Everyone tries to go to a bigger city.
I am pretty sure that if you cannot access the internet for a day or two, you would not stay here either. My children’s future plans involve Istanbul or Ankara. My daughter is an interior designer and she has left for Istanbul to work for a minimum wage. I said to her “work here” and she replied saying, “No, dad. I cannot make it here”. I said, “at least stay in the region, work in Trabzon”, but she still went. She works in Istanbul. My son also works there. The youngest of my children, who is a senior in college, his eyes are also on Istanbul. I mean, this is natural, there is such a perspective. But this dam caused economic mobility here. People had received sums which they did not have before. The expropriation money. Once people receive this money…
Once people receive the money, do they go to Istanbul?
There are places where we have social connections. These are locations to where our elders had migrated. Where do the people from Yusufeli mostly live? Mostly in Bursa. In other words, in Burtvin. Go to Atakum in Samsun, you’ll see that most of the people are from Artvin. A lot of people live in Eskişehir, Antalya, Manisa, İzmir. When a couple of families move and make it there, the rest follows suit. There are even some people who moved to Tekirdağ. I went there and visited them. Large farming lands. Especially when compared to here. But the size of the land has a different meaning there. There, 10 decares or 20 decares of land does not amount to much. Nobody who owns that amount of land says “I have farming lands. I am doing agriculture”. But our fellows from Yusufeli, in order to have a bit more than what they own here move to those locations as those places further develop. There is such a flow, such a situation. This is quite understandable. Although an administrative center is necessary in this rough and difficult geography, what we have to do is to provide the people who migrated with infrastructure, opportunities, income-generating structures, new ideas, new thoughts so that we can offer them something if they want to return to their ancestors’ lands. What can we offer them? We try to keep most of our population here. How can we be the best of our own geography so that we do not lose people to the big cities? How can we be better? We endeavor to be better.
When the time to resettle in the new area comes, do you think that people would stay or leave?
Now, of course, we may find it hard to keep people here. We may experience troubles because the changes that we currently undergo are, how shall I say, traumatic changes. Thinking that it will provide you with an incredible life and opportunities, people move to Istanbul and get a flat. People probably have many other problems there; I am not familiar with the conditions of that place but perhaps there are many other issues that people face there. Maybe people buy these houses which are not designed by architects, or which are not solid and earthquake resistant buildings. Or they sell these people a piece of land in the middle of nowhere which will not bring any economic income to its owner. These are the main problems. Or, for example, a man who has spent 50 years of his life in a village or a town, suddenly finds himself on a street in the middle of Ankara. This is a guy who does not know the world outside his own room. He has no clue about the sort of relationships that govern city life. Such things pose difficulties. But once he gets the expropriation money, the first thing that comes to his mind is to move to another place. This is also the case in Istanbul, isn’t it? That is, if someone is living in a shanty town, when he finds the money, the first thing that he will do is to move to a new house on a better street. If he finds more money, then he would move to a place seeing the Bosphorus. Or he would keep moving to wherever is popular and hip. This is a common practice. It is such a cycle. Of course, people keep moving there. They want to give it a try. However, to make this place a permanent home for people and to differentiate this place from other locations in the region and render it special we need to come up with job opportunities for people, provide them with proper infrastructure, comfort and the kind of aesthetics they look for. If we can provide these things to people, if we can produce these opportunities, if we can come up with ideas catered for their needs, we can achieve this. I believe that we will make this place beautiful.
You have mentioned that uncertainties make people uneasy. How do you inform people in this process? Or can you inform them?
Of course, I inform them. I am a part of the people. In order to inform people, we do TV programs or speak to them on the streets. But the problem there is that I am not the one who is running the projects. The State Hydraulics Works builds a dam. The dam is financed by the State Hydraulics Works; the Mass Housing Development Administration builds a district. And as the representative of the people here, as someone who has been elected, I try to influence the decisions of these institutions. I mean if there is something wrong or if something is causing unease for the people I try to intervene saying “can’t you do it like this instead, wouldn’t it be better if you do it this way, or perhaps that process can progress like this”. To keep people’s motivation high and build a new district here, I also get involved in these projects and try to convey the beautiful things I see or beautiful things that can be in the future. Or I share the problems with the administration and try to fix them. I am kind of a catalyst. I am not the main ingredient. In the language of chemistry, I am not a part of this reaction. Therefore, the outcome is not completely mine. Just as the input is not totally mine. I act as a catalyst to try to find places, spaces, and solutions that will make people happy or less unhappy in the future.
This issue perhaps has an impact on the local politics as well. We heard that the election was highly competitive. Did the expropriation process influence the election agenda?
Yes, of course. The election here was not a simple municipality business. Apart from everything that is going on here, the social costs of national projects on Yusufeli impacted the agenda of the election campaigns. The whole election process was governed by a perception operation. Something will pass right across the district; a viaduct will pass over it. They will start the construction soon. There is a viaduct there which will divide the district into two.
You cannot have a district without a road. You should not. This is an awful and awfully long story. There have been discussions about whether it should be built or not. I could not say that it should not be built. But my opposition said, “I will not let this viaduct be built”. This is the road that will connect this place to the district center, it connects the center to Artvin. The new district center is going to be this place. There are live videos, I could brief you about them as well. This viaduct will pass through the district. The district is being built; the dam has already reached 140 meters. I could not say “first construct the new district and then build this viaduct”.
I could not say no, why? Because the money the state will make out of the Yusufeli Dam is 1 billion 200 million TL annually. I asked myself the following question: I am a mayor from the governing party; I might be a successful mayor or an unsuccessful mayor. It seems as if I am a successful one so that I found the chance to run in the elections for the third time. For the third time. However, I do not have an extra political power to say such things as “Do not take this money for the next two years, this state does not need 1 billion 200 Turkish Liras” or “Do not take this money, do not evict these people” or “Postpone the project for two more years, once people move out and settle elsewhere, then do whatever you want to do”. I also do not find this logical given the general interest of the state. I clearly stated my views here, I talked to the mike and said “look, this is my take on the issue”. I am not that powerful. Therefore, I will not say that I will not let them build this dam. If I say that, I would be lying.
“It will be constructed and tomorrow I will be evicted from my home.” “I have a shop, my order will be disturbed.” One person is saying “it will be done, you will be operated on” and the other says “you don’t have to have an operation, I will give you a pill, and you will be fine.” Those who say “you will be fine” made things difficult for me. I mean, we should have won this election by a landslide, but instead, we were almost going to repeat the elections. This is one of the fundamental issues.
How many buildings or shops will be affected?
Under the viaduct, currently, there are fifty residences and seven shops. But as you can see, it passes right through the district. It will not affect only those people. There is a 600-student school right above the mosque, next to the school there are five or six government offices, and there are more than 2000 people who live up there and 30 something villages. In other words, it will affect the flow and the life of the city and everyone living here one way or another.
So, the people will not be able to move to the new settlement area before the construction of the viaduct is over. What will happen for the coming two or three years?
Yes, they will not be able to move in. The State Hydraulic Works implements the project in the city. There are many stories on this issue. You open one door and others follow. For instance, there is the issue of ownership which is addressed by the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization as stipulated by the Resettlement Law. According to this regulation, the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization is obliged to cover the rents of the people who own property there or live there, and the State Hydraulic Works is obliged to show these people their new houses and resettle them there. They have to build prefabricated structures in the city and resettle the people there to begin the construction works. They have to build the shops in locations that would satisfy these people so that they can earn their bread. They have to rebuild the school in a location where people will not turn away from. It is important for the primary and middle school students to be able to reach the new location on foot. All these issues have social consequences.
They say that they will not let the viaduct be built over the city and nobody will suffer. Well, do people believe these words? No, they don’t. However, when you tell such small, pleasant, and sweet lies to momentarily catch people and psychologically influence people.
Even people I know well say “oh yes, that shouldn’t happen.” But it happened. It is a 50-year-old story. Now if you think about it for a second, you’ll realize that people are not necessarily at fault for not voting for us. Imagine for a moment that you are extremely depressed and about to explode. Whereas one side says, “take it easy, there is nothing to worry about”, the other side says,” be patient, it will hurt a bit longer but…”. Which one would you prefer? Actually, the one who claims that there are no problems tells a lie that will cause more trouble for people in time, but people buy into these discourses because they want to save the day.
Have the locations of the houses and shops of people been designated? How will that process unfold?
The Resettlement Law is implemented in a specific way in Yusufeli. An additional decision had been decreed by the cabinet to address our needs and problems as well as to facilitate the protection of our new settlement area. With this decision of the Cabinet, we are more motivated to govern this process. This is how the process will proceed.
What are the basic criteria? If you are a tenant, in order to qualify for a residence in the new area, as of the date of the announcement you must have been living here for three years. If you own property here, then you automatically qualify. Let’s say you have a large family, and five families are shareholders in a. Those five families also qualify because of that 100 m2 house. Many people who had never been to Yusefeli in their whole life, who did not know this place at all also qualified for a residence in the new area. The number of residences that are going to be built in the district is 3200. In 2016, a study was conducted in Yusufeli about the sizes of the families. Our families on average have four members. A family of four, a mother, a father, and two children. Today, the population has gotten a bit older; the fertility rates have dropped. So, you can say that today the number is 3.5. When you multiply this number with 3200, we are talking more than 9000 people.
Currently, according to the address-based population registration system, the population of Yusufeli is 7400. In the same Yusufeli, Turkey’s most important and biggest project is under construction and 4500 workers are working on that project. Yet, the population is this big. People stay on the construction sites. There are people who stay in the villages. Not everyone is located in the center. Right now, the economy of Yusufeli is pretty vibrant. In that sense, whereas people feel the effects of the crises all around the country, we are kind of immune to it. A very small district, 4500 workers. If everyone buys tea, sugar, or something else, we keep the ball rolling.
I ask myself the following question: What are we going to do in the new district? Today, we are talking about 4500 workers, but what about tomorrow? Will we be able to find a job for 1000 people? What will I do, what should I do? Our job is to find solutions to these problems, and the solutions we come up with will cover the needs of 4500 people. Therefore, I claim that the residences will be enough. This is my answer. Residences will be sufficient. Therefore, I put pressure on the state to not build anymore residences. “Do not build lodgings” is what I say to them because the people who come to the district will find a place to live here. All of the houses will not be sold. People will not be able to buy them. They will build new lives for themselves in other places.
They give a very advantageous offer. For five years, you will not pay. For the next 15 years you will pay but with zero interest. You will not pay anything for five years. You will pay it all in 15 years. Today’s figure will not change; there will be no interest, no WCI, no CPI, nothing. I went over the previous projects implemented by the state. The state demanded the people to pay for the first five years. Then they saw that this money erodes in the face of inflation. This is too much for the civil servant to take action, for the employment of the civil servant [sic]. So they started not to take this money anymore. From where did the state decide not to take this money? From Halfeti. From Samsat.
Unfortunately, this situation has become a matter of manipulation during the election process. People were saying things such as “These houses do not cost that much. They are asking for too much; they are buying your houses for 100,000 TL and selling you the new ones for 500,000 TL”. What does this all have to do with the municipality? Nothing. But I got the beating. Let me tell you something. Do whatever work you want in politics, work at whatever level you want. But never become a mayor. Because it is bad. You have to be resilient and strong. In two to three months, I got five years older.
Do you have any memories of Barhal and Çoruh or any stories that you will miss once the place is submerged in water? What did you used to do in the rivers?
My hair turned gray here. We have many stories. Before I became the mayor, I held meetings with the officials from the State Hydraulic Works to ask about the status of this project in the eyes of the state. I wanted to accurately convey the previous experiences of other people who had been through similar processes. Calling people from all non-governmental organizations and political parties, I visited all the places I mentioned earlier. We draw on that beautiful and fruitful experience which also shaped our attitude towards the problems of Yusufeli.
Whatever we do, we will miss the hardships we experience here. Whatever we deem as hardship or bad today will be valuable for us tomorrow. This geography has made us who we are. It was here. Therefore, I always say this: Particularly my generation, the people who are actively working today, we do not do anything for our own sake. We are working for our children; we are trying to contribute to the creation of a country that would make them happy. If we can make it a perfect place which will address the needs of our children and be a home for them, then we can count ourselves successful. Yet, even if we say “Ohh, this place turned out to be so beautiful” for the new settlement, still, that place is foreign to us. Therefore, everything we lose is valuable to us. There may be a price for all this. But, indeed, it is priceless. Therefore, everything is memorable. I mean, our hair went gray here.
Did you strive, at any point, for this project not to be built or to be built somewhere a bit further away from Yusufeli?
Yes, of course.
Perhaps people said to you “You are from the ruling party, can’t you do that?”
Certainly. I was a teacher here. So, I witnessed some of the discussions on whether this dam should be built here or not. I was among the people who demonstrated. It is not possible to say that the resistance was that serious and strong. But I lived through all these things together with the locals. When I became the mayor I thought about from which angle I can tackle this issue. There is a dam here and I will be working for the municipality. What kind of services will I offer? What stance will I take? When I stand in front of people, what will I share with them? During that process, I realized that for the state this issue was over. The construction of the dam was inevitable at that stage. I said the following back then: “For Yusufeli, the dam is its destiny.” Having said these things, I got excluded. The only thing we can do here from this day on is to figure out how to cause the least harm to these people. How can we move them to another settlement causing the least harm? Did we succeed? There is a huge difference between where we started and where we ended up.
I have seen other examples. For example, Samsat. Samsat is a wonderful place, and it has been resettled. The mayor of Samsat is from the AKP. We held a meeting. He also based his entire policy on the opposition to dams. But he was not able to stop it. He could not protect the interests of his own people. A new district was built there, but this new place involves nothing from the previous lives of the people. They built there whatever they imagined for the inhabitants. However, I am involved in this project from head to toe. I am involved in every stage of it. And I think that I have an impact. I fixed many things. I am a teacher. I teach religious culture. I have nothing to do with cement, but everyone asks since when I have been working as an engineer.
We currently have more than 30 publications, and they are one of our most valuable contributions as a municipality. We gathered together the oral, historical, and cultural values of this place. Collecting is not enough. We also prepared 54 pamphlets about what we have here and 16 pamphlets about how the new district should be established, what its architecture should be like, and how the social life in the new district should be organized. Saying I did it is not enough to establish a new district. What will tourism be like? What will agriculture be like? What will its architecture be like? What are we going to do with the artificial tourism areas?
Once the place is submerged under water do you think that tourism will still be an option?
There are tons of ideas. Those ideas that I will be able to realize today are about now, but actually there are many ideas for projects that I cannot realize today and that the future generations will inherit. Tons of ideas. Who came up with the ideas? Our academic friends at the university. We invited them over and they came and worked in teams for days here. What can we do in this geography? What did it have previously and what can it have in the future? They laid all the options before us. It is all about people wanting to realize these things.
Perhaps, the most income-generating aspect of this place will be the lake which is about two thirds of Lake Van. We will have a lake here. It offers serious opportunities in terms of tourism, water agriculture, and caged fish farming. But we have to be prepared for all this. Our elders still run away when they see a fish, thinking that it is a snake. So, we have to familiarize the new generation to this culture, we have to teach them this culture. We have to teach them how to use the water. Human resources are vital here. People will do these things. People who come to the dams below are from Rize, Trabzon, Hopa. We do not know much about water. We are river and creek children. When we see a lake, we think of drowning. But if we prepare for these developments, then we will not have those hardships. We would manage it properly. It would offer our people a livelihood and an income. It would be even better than today.
What will happen to the cemeteries?
The cemetery will be moved. We made an assessment about the graves. Younger generations are rather crude about it. This is one of the things that affected me the most. We set up commissions, we arranged meetings with experts from the neighborhood. Of course, here we do not have cemeteries that have maps about their sections or layouts. People came here, buried their dead and left, all in traditional ways. They buried their funerals sometimes in their gardens, sometimes in their houses. There is a 25-acre cemetery in this area. We do the identification work for moving the graves. Some people even ask “where was it” for the grave of their father who died five years ago. You see, they don’t know. Our identification work remained at 10%. We could identify only 10% of the large cemeteries. Nobody knows where their fathers’ and grandfathers’ graves are.
So, will the unidentified ones be buried anonymously up there?
You cannot possibly move a grave that is known to no one. People should come and apply to us and say, “this is my grandfather’s grave, I want to have it moved”. They should also know the location of the grave, so that it can be moved from there. If the location of the grave is unknown, it will stay.
People look for their father’s grave and say, “where did we bury him?”. They ask the elders of the neighborhood about it, it’s heartbreaking. Maybe they attended the funeral, maybe they themselves put the coffin in the grave, but they don’t know the location of the grave. Why do our youth not know and care about the grave of their ancestors, their grandparents, and parents? Asking “why do the youth not see the cemeteries as places to have emotional connection with their lineage, generation, and geography” is more valuable than just saying “Sir, these graves will be submerged under water.” Because no one knows where their father’s grave is. There are many cemeteries on earth that we did not know about.
The state makes a tender for it. For those who want, the state is transferring and will transfer the identified graves to new cemeteries. The municipality council made a resolution about it, two years before the transfer. It does not allow newly dead to be buried in the areas that will be submerged under water. We have not yet placed any bans in effect. Anyways, only a few people choose to bury in the cemetery down there. Villages have been moving for years. We have a neighborhood cemetery that will remain above water. Those who cannot take their funerals to their villages choose to bury their funerals there.
This is not the first time that Yusufeli is being resettled, right?
This is a 70-year-old town, and it is going to be moved to its seventh location. Look, there is a book called “Yusufeli Yedinci Yerini Ararken 1” [Yusufeli Seeking Its Seventh Place], it is about this place. The story of Yusufeli is very special in this sense. The town arrived here in 1950. There is this advantage that our very serious cultural artifacts are not under water. And those who know the story of this town being built and those who know the story of the new town are father and son or grandfather and son. The grandfather knows the first time this place was built, the grandson witnesses the first time that place was built. So, the stories are actually living. I hope we will stay at seven. Seriously, we will stay where we are.
At what stage are the construction works carried out in the district?
90% of the excavations have been completed. Walls are built on the fronts of the valleys you see, the rear sides are being filled. The fill areas and green zones are being leveled. The ground of the other residences are rocks; they cut or blow up the mountains. Filming these processes from time to time would provide a valuable documentary and story for the newly established district. Shooting the stories of the workers, or an engineer is important in itself. Because in a location where not even a single plant grows, they are building a district. This is an incredible thing.
First stage residences have been completed. They are concrete, and the brown spots are wood painting. Marble and stone. In other words, externally, they have incorporated some features of the local architecture. Now, there are new houses to be built in this region and we are waiting for new tenders to be issued. That gendarme building, high-school building, and the Community Health Center. Seven villages will be built from scratch; currently 30% of the excavations in that region have been completed. Even going there and filming the establishment of the village from scratch in itself would be a documentary. Where will this village be built? On the stones. It will be a village of 250 households. There will be 120 m2 single-story houses with gardens in 400 m2 areas. This is an incredible story.
When will the project be completed?
The President in a meeting he held at the center said that it will be completed in 2021. Here, he gave the orders to the ministers to finish it by 2022. I personally think that the testing of the dam will begin in 2022. It will be operationalized in 2023. I think we will be resettled in the new area in 2023. Of course, I cannot be certain given the economic crisis and the wars.
That is what I was going to ask. The workers were not paid their wages.
The economic crisis brings about this. They say that the money transfer from the state to the companies, from time to time, gets interrupted. The firms also say this. We sometimes come across this, when there is a lay-off, the workers come here. They say, “I have been laid off, they have to re-employ me, I do not have money”. Therefore, depending on the turn economy takes, this process can evolve one way or another.
How do you govern this process? For instance, the workers come here.
You have to talk to the relevant company. If what the firm has done is unlawful, you talk about that. More than one company operates here. Up there, for instance, the Güriş Santral Mining Company will extract gold. They claim to be “one leading mine in Europe”. The value of gold has increased, and they say that they will invest soon. Limak has two different groups, one group is constructing highways. The highway is 68 kilometers long, 50 kilometers of it are tunnels. It passes through the mountains. There is the firm Matsen which constructs the connection roads. There is another firm that builds the infrastructure in the new settlement area. They dig, build the walls. There is another firm that works up there. The contractor of State Hydraulic Works is Limak and they built the body of the dam. There is also another firm that handles the electromechanics of the dam. Taking all these into consideration, we can easily say that this is a place where Turkey’s most crucial projects, the biggest-money consuming projects, take place.
I can say that this struggle was implicit to the March 31 elections. These are massive projects. The halting, delaying, postponing of the projects, causing problems here or creating a confrontational environment would have disturbed the whole country and demotivated the people. For example, if you have been following the news lately, you can see that Yusefeli and the dam find news coverage at least two or three times a month. Why? Because this project has strategic importance.
Water is the most strategic resource. Therefore, the issue here is not solely about building a dam and producing energy. This country is not very rich in terms of water. Look, we will not have drinking water in the large cities in 50 years. We need these waters. We transport the most powerful and easily flammable gas to other continents. Where could you transport the water? What are we talking about when we talk about water? This is a life and death matter for a country. It is not only about the size of the dam. As the people of Yusufeli, we are paying a price. But we are aware of one thing as of this day. Heroism is not only about retelling the stories of our ancestors, but also about paying the price when it comes to you. It is about realizing the right dream when we are talking about our country, our nation, our future. Therefore, we are paying a price. Can the state, with what it has, do better and more beautiful things for the people here? Of course, it can. But today, our youth, who are 20-25 years old, work for a minimum wage. We hear them becoming martyrs. They also have their own loved ones. As they die today, we cannot make a fuss about relocation. You should not do that either.