Uncertainties and Coping with Destruction:
Mukhtars of Artvin are Narrating


*This text consists of a collection of the phone interviews conducted with the mukhtars of settlements which have been or will be completely or partially submerged under water.

I am speaking on behalf of the people. We are dissatisfied about everything we are going through.

Within the city limits of Artvin, there are six dams over the river Çoruh. Between 2005-2015 four dams, namely Muratlı, Borçka, Deriner, and Artvin, have been operationalized, respectively. The Yusufeli Dam is still under construction; however, the effects of the dam have already begun to be felt. 80 villages in the districts of Ardanuç, Borçka, Merkez, Murgul, and Yusufeli are affected by these dams. Some of these villages have been completely or partially submerged under water and have been relocated; for others the process has begun only recently.

Together with the Green Artvin Association (Yeşil Artvin Derneği, YAD), we began our research on the locations and populations of the villages. First, after meticulous research, YAD came up with a list of the villages that are affected by the dams. Then, in order to confirm this list, the chair of the association, Neşe Karahan, and two members, Selçuk Cem Ulutürk and Tolga Odabaş, began to call the village mukhtars one by one. In the interviews they conducted, besides information pertaining to the village populations, they came across complaints, demands, as well as stories about the villages. Given the striking content of what they hear, we have decided together that I should also be a part of the process and interviews. This collaborative work turned into a journey very different from what we had in mind. We have conducted interviews with 53 of the 80 village mukhtars in the blink of an eye. These interviews, beyond confirming a list of numbers, provided us with narratives focusing on more vital aspects.

“It has been so many years; did it just strike you?”

When I first started this research, I was hesitant. What kinds of responses would I get? How was I going to convince them to talk to me? I was really confused. And very excited.

When I made the calls, I told the interviewees that I call from YAD, that we are conducting collaborative research with them and that I am talking to the mukhtars of all the villages that are affected by the dams. Most of the interviews lasted about five minutes. Some of the mukhtars remained silent at first, others tried to find something in common with me. Almost all the interviews there was a feeling of being accustomed to the project accompanied by weariness and years long despair. It was not easy for me to talk, answer the questions, or move to the next question.

There was one person who left me stunned with his question: “It has been so many years; did it just strike you?” As I stuttered and tried to answer his question, he hung up saying that he does not want to talk. This village has been affected by the Deriner Dam which started to hold water in 2012. Years have passed. He was right, did it just strike us?

Where are they now? Where will they stay? Where will they go?

We know that 9 out of 80 villages have or will be completely submerged under waters; the remaining villages will be partially affected. Three of the villages that are submerged under water, Zeytinlik, Oruçlu, and Narlık are affected by the Deriner Dam. The remaining six villages will be affected by the Yusufeli Dam. These settlements are Yusufeli district center, Yeniköy, Irmakyanı, Tekkale, Çeltikdüzü, and Kınalıçam.

Whereas in some of the 71 villages that are partially affected a neighborhood is submerged under water, in others the most fertile lands, vineyards, and olive groves are devastated. Additionally, while the waters dry up in some villages, in others the alternative roads used to reach the village are destroyed and it takes more time to access the districts.

Those from villages that are submerged under water either stay and try to build their future anew with the expropriation fees that received or leave their hometowns and migrate to other regions of the country. I was curious about the whole process and interested in what happened to these villages, from the life of villagers to the fate of the olives grown. Locals are the best witnesses, and their stories are the best testimonies to what has been going on.

  • It takes longer now. We have to travel more. The distance of the road we have to travel has been increased from 9 to 23 kilometers. There used to be a suspension bridge here. We were able to go to Borçka or Artvin. They removed it. The Çayağazı Neighborhood has been completely evicted, they have expropriated the village. Borçka/Avcılar
  • The place is covered in dust and smoke. When they were building the dam, people got affected by the dynamites. There are two concrete plants, one in Deriner, and the other in Yılmazlar. We are very uncomfortable. There is nothing to be done. They are covering the needs of Artvin. Merkez/Şehitlik
  •  We are rebuilding the village. Together with Deriner, it was completely submerged under water in 2009. We bought land from the state; a land for 70 households. We stayed in sheds, in containers. Some people left for Artvin. The state does not chip in on the land, but it holds us responsible to abide by the project it planned.  The houses are 400-500 m2. How are you going to do agriculture? They will be summerhouses, the pensioners will settle in. Merkez/Zeytinlik Bucağı
  • It has been completely submerged under water. We were devastated. We turned our old hamlet, the uplands into our new settlement. We had to start from scratch. We spent double the money we received for the house and garden. We are cultivating our farming land again. Reservoirs and all the other infrastructure have been built anew. This is a very high location. The altitude is 1150-1200. The altitude of the previous settlement was about 400-500. Merkez/Oruçlu
  • We can produce anything in the village. We brought in an engineer from the State Hydraulic Works to extract water, he was not able to do it. We are tired of these things, we come and go, but there is no water. You can even build a greenhouse in the winter, but you need water for that too. If you do not have water, you can do agriculture. There was an olive grove, but it is under water now. I really do not get it. They told us that it will hold water, but there is no water. Some people returned because of the pandemic. But the state must help us extract water so that we could all have water. That way people would not have to leave again. These people come here; they want to cultivate their gardens. They must water the garden to grow vegetables. They have to lay the pipes so that we have an irrigation canal. Yusufeli/Tarakçılar
  • The village has been completely submerged under water. It has been 8 years. We are the victims here and we are still waiting. I have the title deeds of 32 decares of land. They will provide us with an extra 64 decares and we will rebuild the village. Currently, we are living in Yusufeli. There are 21 households waiting in Yusuefli. Yusufeli/İnanlı
  • We were not affected that much by the Artvin Dam. We are two kilometers away from the body of the Yusufeli Dam. We are going to pray to God. I guess the state is building a place for us. We heard that TOKİ will undertake the construction. They have already carried out some land reconstruction and road construction works. It will be above water level. It is not clear when we will go there or what we should do. I guess they are still waiting for the body of the dam to be completed and the roads to be constructed. Yusufeli/Yeniköy
  • We have only one problem. They are building a viaduct and the whole place is covered with dust clouds. We want to settle in the new area, but they have to finish the construction. It has to finish. I have a tea shop. I will get a house, but I will not get a shop. When they complete the construction of the bridge, I plan to move to Eskişehir. Nothing good will come out of the settlement they build over there. They have been building it since 2008. The construction was supposed to be completed on 19June 2018. The dam will be finished in five months, they have almost completed it, only 50 meters or something of it is left. It will be finished around March next year. The other day we went to the new settlement with the district governor, I was not satisfied. They have done nothing about the infrastructure or the landscape planning. Yusufeli/Merkez
  • People left the village after the construction of the hydroelectric power plants. 80% of the village have been expropriated. The state is victimizing the people here. The state officials said that they will build a new village here, but so far, they have not taken any steps in that direction. We are still waiting. During the expropriation process, the State Hydraulic Works stated that they will build a village for us, they said that they will give us agricultural lands and that they will not touch us until the dam holds water. But they exploded dynamites and quarried stones, and all that dust traveled to our village. We go and talk to the district governor and all he says is that he cannot do anything since the expropriation has already been carried out. I am 56 years old and I gave up hope for the state. At the moment, we are living in the village. But the village, which is not ours anymore, has been expropriated. They passed roads through our village, and the whole village has been covered in dust and smoke. We are experiencing all kinds of grievances. Yusufeli/Mesecik
  • The agricultural land was 770 parcels in total and 680 parcels of it has been expropriated. People blindly sold their land. We tried to prevent them from selling their lands. We are affected by everything, including the road construction and dust clouds. The roads have been altered; they have damaged them. They are going to build a hydroelectric power plant in Kılıçkaya village, and we do not want it. Yusufeli/Kılıçkaya
  • All the fertile lands in our village will be submerged under water. They are going to build a new settlement area; they are done with the land arrangement. They are building a settlement with 80 houses. Three neighborhoods have been affected, and we have gathered them in one neighborhood. We were not able to provide irrigation water. Nobody can enter because of the expropriation. People are affected by the construction works. Yusufeli/Çevreli

“Our water supply has diminished, perhaps due to the climate …”

Water is very important. One cannot let go of water; it is vital. Wasn’t this the origin of everything, the desire to control water?

We are talking about six dams that will be over the river Çoruh. I am interested in how the drinking water, spring water, irrigation water, the water that is necessary for infrastructure have been altered after all those dam and road constructions. I traveled back to September of 2019 when I saw a woman carrying bottles of water on a wheelbarrow in the Sebzeli village of Yusufeli. In such a geographical location, why was she carrying water to her house situated next to the river?

She was carrying water to her house because the water has diminished after the dynamites that were exploded during the construction work. Everyone I talked to told me that the water has diminished after the explosions, that it flows thin and that its source might have been depleted. I learned the following from what people told me: the flow of water has changed direction.

In our conversations with the mukhtars we were trying to figure out the reason for the decrease in water supply. People were forming sentences such as “There is humidity, there is drought. It is because of the climate or the dam, I do not know but…” They were asking me questions about what the reason might be. They were not sure about what causes the decrease in water flow, but they were witnessing vital changes after the construction of the dams.

“Here, we could grow anything we want…”

We are affected in many ways. There is humidity, fog, and the rainfall has increased. The water has dried out after the dynamites. Hydroelectric power plants have destroyed nature. The main riverbeds have been filled because of the roads. Borçka/Aralık

The effects on climate are obvious. It is very windy; it has not rained for 2-3 months. Yusufeli/Tarakçılar

The climate has changed. We do not have enough drinking water; we have water only in one region. If it also dried out, we would be left with nothing. Merkez/Derinköy

They began building the dams, and the spring waters have dried out. There are all kinds of problems. Because of the dams, there is not drinking or irrigation water. There is no water for the hamlets or the highlands. Merkez/Aşağı Maden

Our waters dried out because the dynamites exploded. Previously, they were delivering water with 20cm pipes, now the width of the water flowing is very thin. We are having extreme water problems. I am fighting for our water; I am writing petitions. I cannot water my gardens or vineyards. The water has diminished up to 70%-80%. This water has been running for many years. There is no water in the hamlets either. Ardanuç/Gökçe

The effects are not good. We are not happy. The water has diminished by half in two years. We handed in a petition for the water, but it is constantly postponed to the next year due to lack of funds. Ardanuç/Naldöken

 I have talked to some people; there is no water, and this is our most important problem. We have lands in the village, how can we make the most of them? Will the state provide us with water from the dam? Yusufeli/Arpaçık

During the construction of the tunnels they used dynamites and as a result the water has dried out. Yusufeli/Bahçeli

We have a water problem. The state should find a solution to this problem. Maybe they can bring us water with the newly constructed tunnels. Yusufeli/Kınalıçam

Half of our spring water has dried out, disappeared. I do not know if this is because of the dynamites or warm weather. However, it is for sure that the water has changed its direction. Yusufeli/Çıralı

This is such a geography that it hosts villages true to its name. These villages used to feed both themselves and their surroundings. Vegetables and fruits grown in some villages used to reach the whole districts, and sometimes Erzurum, a city bordering Artvin. In almost all the villages everything except citrus were grown. That said, in some villages of Yusufeli even lemons were grown. The hazelnuts and grapes of Borçka used to be famous. Ardanuç used to sustain its livelihood through vineyards and olive groves. It is said that there are no words to describe the olive groves of Yusufeli. Everybody that I talked to narrated the time before the dams in such enthusiasm that the best part of the conversations was to reminisce about those days. The voices of those talking changed as we traveled back in time. Sunshine covered everywhere.

However, today the problems are so many to count. The climate change, the drying up of waters after dynamite explosions, the dust cloud from the explosions and the construction works that covered the trees, and top of everything else, the struggle to earn one’s living during the socioeconomic crisis that affects the whole country… People said that the agricultural lands which used to feed them as well as their neighbors are no longer sufficient even for themselves. People were confused about the vegetables and fruits that got rotten before being harvested as well as the previously unseen insect species. There was no longer even an inch of the enthusiasm that infused the conversations about the fertility of the soil, abundance of products, or taste of the food on the table.

  • We can neither eat vegetables nor yield products anymore. The best lands where we used to grow agricultural products are all submerged under water. After the dams, there appeared many butterflies and an insect called fitch. We cannot yield any products, hazelnuts and corn are gone. The fitch insect kills the plants; it covers them like mold. Be it vegetables, fruits, or hazelnuts, we cannot yield any products. Borçka/Çavuşlu – Muratlı Dam
  • There is an agricultural product we call the black grape. I guess because of the humidity levels, it no longer turns full black but remains red. Beans and vegetables become freckled. Hazelnuts have this weird thing that looks like mold. A new insect species, fitch, appeared and they are all over the houses like ants; they come in the autumn. Borçka/Taraklı – Borçka Dam
  • We can no longer produce honey. Vegetables and fruits do not grow as they used to. They rot from inside out. Previously, there used to be iron apples. There were pears that we used to store during the winter; we used to put them in the barns. Now, after two months, they all rote away. Borkça/Aralık – Muratlı Dam
  • Back in the day, we provided the vegetables and fruits for the Ardanuş region. Vegetables and fruits are not like they used to be. They rot immediately. We did not own much land, but what we owned was fertile. We were able to grow anything except tangerines, oranges, bananas, and lemons. Now they are infested with insects, they rot. Particularly the olive trees and vineyards. We blame the dam for it. Merkez/Sakalar – Deriner Dam
  • Because of the humidity, seasonal normals have changed. We are engaged in apiculture. Previously, we would get the honey in mid-May, but now we get it in mid-June. Our olive grove is submerged under water. Nothing is as it used to be, yield is low. Merkez/Dikmenli – Deriner Dam
  • Our lands have been ruined; we cannot produce any crops. Animal husbandry disappeared, so did agriculture. What can a person with no opportunity do or say? Merkez/Aşağı Maden – Deriner Dam
  • Climate has changed. Previously the winds were not as they are today. I am watering the garden right now, but I do not know what will happen with this wind. It dries up the moisture, it dries up the fruits. Agriculture has disappeared in this village and animal husbandry is not as it used to be, it will also end in one point. We are on a higher altitude, and we moved the trees up here. I am growing olives, but it is also not like it used to be. Ardanuç/Gümüşhane – Deriner Barajı
  • We used to provide the vegetables and fruits of Ardanuç. Now, it is not possible to grow anything because of the dust. Grapes, cherries, and olives were the most important products. I used to grow two tons, but now I do not have any to eat by myself. Ardanuç/Ferhatlı – Deriner Dam
  • As agricultural products we used to grow everything except citrus, lemon, and kiwi. Mildew covers the products now. They said it would rain and provide moisture. Exactly the opposite happened. There is also the issue of wind. Olive groves and vineyards are all submerged under water. They were the natural products of Artvin, we used to sell them the neighboring cities. We are shopping from the supermarkets now, we are devastated. Ardanuç/Naldöken – Deriner Barajı
  • We used to produce vegetables and fruits. Today the water is not sufficient for the lands in the village. I do not think that it is possible to cultivate the land anymore, it is not worth the effort. Gas and fertilizers are very expensive anyways. Yusufeli/Arpaçık
  • Agriculture is dead here; we do not have lands anymore. We were able to grow anything we wanted in Yeniköy. We used to plant beans three times a year. Yusufeli/Yeniköy
  •  We have greenhouses, it is still possible to grow something there. We are doing agriculture but until the dam is finished, and the dust is gone nothing good will come out. The dust clouds that come from Limak destroy us. The crops get rusty and they rot. Yusufeli/Çıralı
  • The dam has affected us negatively, our situation is not good. We cannot eat vegetables. Previously, people were planting vegetables for three months, today nobody deals with it more than fifteen days. We were able to grow anything here, I do not know where to begin. Yusufeli/Bostancı

From Artvin to Bursa and Eskişehir

At the onset, we started by looking for mukhtars from whom we can gather population data. We wanted to conduct a demographic comparison of Artvin between the years 2000 and 2020 and trace the migration network. What is the dimension of the migration caused by the mega projects? Did those who migrated return to their villages or family lands? Did those who migrate live with their kins, move to other cities or settle in one of the nearby villages? What had been changed, added to or removed from their experiences?

Most of the villagers whom we migrated told us a story about migration to Bursa. Bursa is called Burtvin because it receives large numbers of migrants from Artvin. Other cities they were often mentioned are Eskişehir, İstanbul, İzmir, Antalya, and Ankara. People who have changed locations in Artvin have also been frequently mentioned.

  • There are no more young people. People migrated mostly to Bursa and Artvin. Once they get the expropriation money, they move next to their relatives. Merkez/Kalburlu
  • Nobody left this place after the construction of the dam, and this is the case only for Oruçlu. 80% of the people moved to the upper parts. Merkez/Oruçlu
  • Certain people, particularly the old people are the ones who constitute the population of the village. Merkez/Dikmenli
  • People from our village have always migrated to other places. They mostly settle in the shantytowns of the big cities. The population is gradually decreasing. Merkez/Aşağı Maden
  • People migrated to İzmir, Ankara, İstanbul, Bursa, and Yalova. They left, we stayed. We are struggling here. Ardanuç/Gümüşhane
  • The population of Ardanuş decreased to 6,000 from 20,000. There were 100 houses before, but today there are only 70 left. People mostly migrated to İzmir, Bursa, and Adapazarı. There are some people who moved to Ankara. Ardanuç/Naldöken
  • Some people migrated but they still keep their places in the village. They mostly left for Bursa and Ankara. All the young people moved away.
  • People left their places, they bought houses in other places. For instance, after selling their land, they bought houses in Bursa. They spend the winters there, and come back here in the summers. Yusufeli/Arpacık
  • Only 33 houses are left. Only the old people stayed. Those who migrated moved to Bursa and Samsun. Yusufeli/Yeniköy
  • Those who received their money moved to Eskişehir or Bursa. Nothing is certain here. People are investing in other places. There has to be a reason for people to stay here. The population is about 15,000; 7,000-8,000 of it are dam workers. Yusufeli/Merkez
  • Some people are waiting for Yusufeli to move away. Morkaya is not affected by the dam, some people are moving there. Yusufeli/Kınalıçam

They built the dam, then what?

As I conversed with people on the phone, traces of the geography, people who are living here, anger against the hardships they experience, demands, and hopes slowly began to figure in my mind. This is a geography where not one but many feelings are felt.

People were bearing the longing for the old days of the region as well as the uncertainty and weariness of what is to come. Instead of enthusiasm, people were carried away in calculations. The voice at the other end of the receiver was saying “We do not profit from it, I hope, at least, that it would not cause us any harm”.

  • The dam and its reservoir has no use apart from their view. We lost two neighborhoods. You can only see a small lake from the window. Merkez/Kalburlu
  • They tricked people. We were supposed to pay less for electricity after the dam. This evening they raised the prices by 35%. There is nothing more to say. Merkez/Bakırköy
  • In the village, some lands and fields cracked open. We reported it to the disaster and emergency management. Geological engineers came and they monitored the situation for three years. They said that it has nothing to do with the dam, but it all happened after the dam. Merkez/Hamamlı
  • There are a lot of young people. Young people are working for Limak Construction. Once the dam construction is over we do not know what these young people will do. Yusufeli/Arpacık
  • We are suffocating in dust clouds. The construction stopped because of Covid-19; they say that it will restart in one week. Yusufeli/Bahçeli
  • The dam business is annoying. The dust from the dynamites covers the trees; people are going to get sick. What is more to say? Leaving aside Yusufeli, we woke up in the morning only to find our cars covered in dust. Yusufeli/Bostancı
  • We are affected just like Artvin. Humidity increased. We are affected by the dust and smoke that comes from the roads. The roads are destroyed. What is done is done, they built it and the construction is about to finish. Whatever I say is meaningless. Yusufeli/Altıparmak

[1] Kiwis, lemons, oranges, tangerines, and bananas.