Most of the villages were submerged in the 1990s under the waters behind the dam on the Euphrates at Birecik. The town was therefore removed to the village of Karaotlak, the building of the new town is now complete. A tourist boat tour is visiting the former Savaçan Village flooded by the reservoir lake of the Birecik Dam on the Euphrates river. Turkey
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A tourist boat visits the former village of Savaçan, flooded by the reservoir lake of the Birecik Dam on the Euphrates River. Turkey.Mathias Depardon
Most of the villages were submerged in the 1990s under the waters behind the dam on the Euphrates at Birecik. The town was therefore removed to the village of Karaotlak, the building of the new town is now complete. A tourist boat tour is visiting the former Savaçan Village flooded by the reservoir lake of the Birecik Dam on the Euphrates river. Turkey
The dam was the first and uppermost of several large-scale dams to be built on the Euphrates by Turkey. Although the Keban Dam was not originally constructed as a part of the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP). The reservoir created by Keban Dam, has a surface area of 261 sq milies and is reputedly the fourth-largest lake in Turkey after Lake Van, Lake Tuz, and the reservoir created by the Atatürk Dam. Men on a ferry boat travelling across the euphrates river near the Keban dam in eastern Anatolia. Keban, Turkey.
The Ilisu Dam project due in 2014 will flood 80% of the ancient monuments of Hasankeyf along with 52 other villages and 15 small towns by the year 2016 destroying a unique historical site where a mix of Assyrians, Roman and Ottoman monuments belong. A restaurant terrace on the banks of the Tigris river. The river is predominant in the life of the inhabitants of the region. Hasankeyf, Turkey.
Boys standing on top of a hill dominating the banks of the Tigris river.  The river is predominant in the life of the inhabitants of the region.Kesmeköprü, Turkey
Ilisu dam construction site. Ilisu, Turkey.
Local tourists visit the former village of Savaçan, flooded by the reservoir lake of the Birecik Dam on the Euphrates River. Turkey.
Local girls from the village of Hasankeyf are meeting over a çay together. Hasankeyf, Turkey
Men swim in the waters of the Batman Dam. Batman, Turkey.
A herd of cattle walk back toward the village by the banks of the Tigris River. Kesmeköprü, Turkey.
The Ilisu dam project due in 2014 will flood 80% of the ancient monuments of Hasankeyf along with 52 other villages and 15 small towns. By 2016, it will destroy 400 kilometers of the Tigris’s ecosystem. Children playing by the banks of the Tigris river. The river is predominant in the life of the inhabitants of the region of Hasankeyf, Turkey.
Halfeti is a small farming district on the east bank of the river Euphrates. The village was partly submerged in the 1990s under the waters behind the dam on the Euphrates at Birecik. The town was therefore removed to the village of Karaotlak (also called New Halfeti) where the building of the new town is now complete. Karaotlak, Turkey
A man is stepping out of his door one evening. The number written outside his house is for the municipality to know which house belong to whom so they can financially compensate the house owners of the city. Hasankeyf, Turkey.
The view from the terrace of a restaurant above the Tigris River. Hasankeyf, Turkey.
A man paddles in a boat across the Euphrates River near the hydroelectric Keban Dam. Turkey.
A man sits by the road along the bridge leading to Hasankeyf over the Tigris River. Hasankeyf, Turkey.
A tourist boat visits the former village of Savaçan, flooded by the reservoir lake of the Birecik Dam on the Euphrates River. Turkey.
Mathias Depardon
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Discover the Cultural Treasure Turkey Threatens to Flood

Mar 25, 2015

“Absurd." That’s how documentary photographer Mathias Depardon describes the surreal scene of a mosque’s minaret jutting out from the water as a boat passes by in Savaçan.

The tiny community along the Euphrates River in the predominantly Kurdish southeastern region was flooded by the filling of the Birecik Dam's reservoir about 15 years ago, pushing its residents and others nearby into a new settlement erected by the country's housing authority.

Activists worry Hasankeyf is next. The small village with ancient roots on the edge of the Tigris River is upstream from the hydroelectric Ilisu Dam, the last major dam to be built within the decades-long Southeastern Anatolia Project, Turkey's largest hydropower project that is comprised of 22 dams and 19 power stations. Once construction on Ilisu is done—Turkey was forced to secure alternative funds after European backers pulled out, putting it behind schedule as environmental campaigns steadily lobbied against it—the filling of an 11 billion cubic-meter reservoir will inundate some 74,000 acres, including Hasankeyf.

Ankara has long-positioned the dam as a provider of irrigation and jobs to an impoverished corner of Turkey, and considers it part of the solution to the country's dependence on foreign energy imports amid increasing domestic demand, as the dam is expected to generate some 2% of Turkey's current electricity supply. The tradeoff, aside from the further of squeezing crucial supplies downstream in Syria and Iraq, exacerbating already strained tensions from decades of cross-border water disputes, is that part of Hasankeyf—along with its found and still hidden archaeological treasures—and other nearby sites will morph from open air exhibits on ancient Mesopotamia to underwater treasure chests. (Hasankeyf was placed on the World Monuments Fund's 2008 Watch List.)

Turkey says archaeologists are working to excavate, record and preserve "as much as possible." And, like others impacted by dams, residents due to be displaced by water can move into a new settlement built across the river.

Depardon, who is half-French and half-Belgian, heard about the project after he moved to Turkey a few years ago. For the 34-year-old photographer, who estimates that he shoots 30 to 50 assignments in a given year, the disappearing village became part of his personal project: an environmental portrait of a land steeped in history before it's drowned.

A lot of people have assumptions about what Hasankeyf will be like, he says, especially in light to what happened to Savaçan: “People don’t go [to Savaçan] with the nostalgia of the place. Obviously, they didn’t know the place before that, they'd never been there. But they go there and they visit as they would an entertainment park." Still, he adds, not everyone in the area is against the dam.

Hasankeyf is the iconic at-risk community, Depardon says, but his project is more of a visual look at overall Turkish dam policy that's driven, he says, by anti-environmental policymakers in Ankara. That’s part of why he named the project Gold Rivers. The expected completion of the dam this year, and the energy that it will help generate, will help pad state coffers while impacting local tourism industries: “The water is now money.”

Mathias Depardon is a documentary photographer based in Istanbul, Turkey. Follow him on Instagram @mathiasdepardon.

Mikko Takkunen, who edited this photo essay, is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism.

Andrew Katz is a News Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @katz.

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