Hasankeyf's Last Vote
The fact that development megaprojects create winners and losers is not new. Nor is the notion that the "winners" might electorally reward their political patrons; one might expect a village that received electricity from the dam, or a farming community that received irrigation water from its reservoir to vote for Erdoğan's AKP. What is more surprising is that the final votes cast in Hasankeyf's 12,000 year history were for the AKP. Months before being flooded, 55% of a town that is currently underwater voted for the party that built the dam. What follows is a geospatial analysis of this historic event, and the strange political economy that led to it.
"Development from above"
|Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) in Southeastern Anatolia, 1980-2019|
|Development of the Atatürk Dam and Harran Plain Irrigation Scheme|
Water and Politics
These reactions are understandable. The rate of extreme poverty in the nine provinces encompassed by the project is more than five times the national average, with 44% of the population living below the national poverty line of US$1.1/day in 2007 (Adaman, 2016; Saatci and Akpinar, 2007: 632). Nearly two thirds of all economic activity in the region is derived from agriculture, and income gains associated with the transition from rain-fed subsistence agriculture to irrigated cotton cultivation are estimated to range from three- to sevenfold (Bilgen, 2016). Exports from Southeastern Anatolia more than quadrupled between 2005 and 2015, vastly outpacing the rest of Turkey (GAP, 2018). Below, satellite images of the region taken at night between 1992 and 2013 show a steady expansion of lights-- cities growing, highways being built, villages receiving electricity for the first time.
There is evidence, however, that the developmental impact of the project has been highly uneven, with income gains disproportionately accrued by large landowners in irrigated areas (Karagöz and Bakirçi, 2001). Even in irrigation schemes, water is often mismanaged and the soil badly eroded. Flooding caused by the dams has displaced up to 355,000 people, a number which has now grown by the population of Hasankeyf (Varsamidis, 2010). So while areas such as Harran have benefitted from GAP, many other areas have suffered dearly.
It's easy to imagine policymakers weighing up the political costs and benefits of building a new dam. On the one hand, there are the economic gains wrought by irrigation that seem to translate into deep and enduring political support. On the other hand, the political fallout from displacing hundreds of thousands of people and destroying a UNESCO world heritage site would surely be vast.
Winners, Losers, and Hasankeyf's Last Vote.
Here, in what appears to be an archetypal example of there being "winners" and "losers" in development, we are confronted with a bewildering piece of paper: the last votes ever cast in Hasankeyf.
The ballot box above (and 2.9 million others) are digitized and mapped out in this interactive tool I built below.
Bilgen, Arda. ”A project of destruction, peace, or techno-science? Untangling the rela- tionship between the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP) and the Kurdish question in Turkey.” Middle Eastern Studies 54.1 (2018): 94-113.
Harris, Leila M. "States at the limit: Tracing contemporary state-society relations in the borderlands of southeastern Turkey." European Journal of Turkish Studies. Social Sciences on Contemporary Turkey 10 (2009).