Mathias Depardon

2012 - Ongoing



The town of Hasankeyf in southeast Turkey is the only place in the world that has met nine out of ten criteria for Unesco’s world heritage sites. However, the Turkish government has made no effort to bid for its inclusion in the coveted world heritage list, or to promote tourism in the ancient town located along the Tigris River. Any effort to do so would harm the development of the Ilisu dam — a state project that is supposed to entirely flood Hasankeyf, along with 52 other villages and 15 nearby towns, by 2018.

Already, a number of towns and villages located on the Euphrates River have been flooded as part of Turkey’s controversial Southeastern Anatolia Project. GAP, as it is known, is currently Ankara’s most significant territory planning project, involving eight provinces, and will irrigate 1.7 million dry hectares of earth from 22 different dams all fed by water from the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers.

The Ilisu dam will cause approximately 400 kilometers of the Tigris River to disappear and force the relocation of about 80,000 people, dramatically changing the ecosystem of the area.

Situated on the edge of the Tigris, the €1.2 billion dam will become the second largest reservoir of water and the fourth hydro electrical power station in Turkey.

Both residents of southeastern Turkey and international observers continue to question the Ilisu dam, which will destroy a unique historical site, where Assyrians, Roman, and Ottoman monuments exist in close proximity. Yet the Turkish government maintains that the project will aid the impoverished region, allowing the creation of 10,000 jobs and the development of local farming and agriculture.

Along with environmental and social risks, the geopolitical impact of the dam cannot be ignored either. The development of Ilisu has been severely criticized by neighboring Iraq and Syria, who accuse Turkey of appropriating waters of two rivers that connect to their territories, which are already hit by arid conditions and drought.

But, amid the regional strife, the Turkish government appears to be moving ahead with the project regardless of the flooding of Kurdish historical sites and the impact generated in the neighboring countries.

While photographing this project for National Geographic in the spring of 2017, I was arrested, imprisoned and deported of the country being accused of ‘terrorism propaganda’.

To complete this project, I aim to document the consequences of the depleting water in Iraq’s two historic rivers. I will cover daily life along the most significant areas of the river, in key cities such as Baghdad, Basra and the liberated city of Mosul. I will also be looking at natural landscapes that

have been severely affected by drought and pollution. I will highlight difficulties faced by farmers in Karbala, the contaminated waters of Basra, and the changing lifestyle of the Marsh Arabs in Southern Iraqi as they adapt to changes in an ecosystem.

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