Dimension of cultural conservation and development in the context of Southeast Anatolia Project region

Bulletin 13:

Sami Kamuran,

Research Assistant, University of Dicle, Faculty of Engineering and Architecture,

21280- Diyarbakır, Turkey

14th inter-schools conference on development « Global and local development: new agendas, new Partnerships » Edinburgh 24-25 March 1997


As of 1950s, Turkey underwent a process of rapid change in the economic, social, political and cultural fields. These changes, which have been organized from a single centre have not affected all the aeras which have different characteristics at the same time the Southesat Anatolia region is among the primary ones, with its historical and social difference within the geography of the country. The peculiar social structure, together with the physical conditions of the SEAP (Southeast Anatolia Project – GAP is the Turkish acronym) region have played a role in the emergence of urban patterns which ensure the continuation of cultural accumulation and which have the quality of cultural heritage.

The rise of communication and the negative development of the economic condition have combined with the growth of the population at an increasing pace and have produced settlement problems in the aera. The factors have created contradictions with the feudal conditions of the region and thus caused adverse effects on the historical patterns of the urban settlements. The SEAP region, which bears deep traces of the « Mesopotamia culture », has therefore entered a structuring which has problems of degeneration in the social the urban pattern. Phenomena such as population growth and rural emigration at an increasing pace, cultural erosion, economic shortcomings, housing problems and informal urban growth have increased the inputes to the problems which have been growing with the problematic social structure of the region. The characteristics of the SEAP will be a determinant factor in the solution of the structural problems of the region because the starting point of the SEAP, which has the feature of being an integrated project, has the claim of rearranging the underdeveloped economic structure of the region. The questions of how the dams, hydroelectric power plants and irrigation projects will affect the « phenomenon of accomodation », which is a combination of the urban and cultural structures of the region, has not been carified. If the expansion of the benefits of ecenomic growth to all the strata of society has been well aimed, then the respective roles of the trio existing cities, settlements and cultures in the region must be decided in a satisfactory manner because there are the marks of hundreds of civilizations among the factor governing the formation processes of the cities which determine the important settlement patterns of the SEAP region.


The SEAP consists of a series of projects to be applied on the rivers of Euphrates, and Tigris, covering nine provinces in the Southeast Anatolia Region: Diyarbakır, Siirt, Batman, Gaziantep, Şırnak, Adıyaman and Kilis. The SEAP has the identity of a regional development project which covers 8.5% of the population of Turkey and which contains significant water ressources and fertile lands.

The SEAP has acquired a concrete position with the addressing of perception within the contemporary framework and ideas of restructuring covering the Southeast Anatolia Region together with the Tigris and Euphrates basins (Açma 1991). The SEAP has a considerably large potential of development in terms of ressources and population balance. Nevertheless, the region has lagged far behind of the average of Turkey in the aeras of socio-cultural, economic and urban development levels. Therefore, the SEAP has great significance for the utilisation of the population and ressource potential of the region. The running of the planning projects within a system the rised of economic efficency the addressing of cities together with rural development in a spatial dimension, and the reorganization of infrastructures services will determine the continuation of the aims and cultural preservation in the future.

The economic power which 22 dams and 19 hydroelectric power plants, whose construction is in progress, will create is going to mobilise stagnant social and cultural structure of the region.
Despite the positive developments which SEAP brings about, the fact that the socio-economic and physical infra- and super-structures in the region have not matured and the the feudal structure is still effective will cause difficulties in achieving there aims.

Therefore, acceptance of the values of modern industrial society by the SEAP region, which has the character of an agriculturally-based society without having defined the role of the present economic developments within the sistem, is going to strain the nature of urban structure and will deform inter-cultural continuity. If the physical and economic developments are kept away from the social past, then cultural preservation and developments are forsed to lose their characteristics. Thus this requires that the past accumulations of all kind of socio-economic and cultural movments in the SEAP region be placed in a very good position within the SEAP project.


Throughout the historical development periods, communities which have manifested socio-cultural and ethnic differences and which have persued a settled life style have undergone effective structuring in the Mesopotamia region for hundreds of years (Dağ, Göktürk, 1995).

To think that the socio-cultural and spatial structure of the region will not be affected by the SEAP would be overlook the characteristics of the project. The real problem is that we have to determine the feasability and to figure out the descriptions of the intensity of the interaction between change and culture, because when we analyse the period covering the recent past of the SEAP region, it appears thet the spatial units have demonstrated a parallel development with the wishes and cultural structure of the region. While the « surplus value » to be created by the SEAP in the economic sense is reflected in the settlement structures within his perspective of urban development, it should not have a detrimental effect on the cultural values which society embraces. Especially the « concept of culture », which has not been able to find a clear definition within the social anthropology theory will be discussed even more within the process of SEAP.

Features of cultural and spatial tissues have a meaning directly depending on development and structuring process of each country. There are opinions which define culture as a composition of a serie of social procceses or an accumulated civilization of a society or all societies (Güvenç 1991). Each social group has it own customs of using spaces and cultural accumulation peculiar to themselves and they try to apply their experiences within the environment in which they survive (Cone, Pelto, 1969). In the light of the above theories and definitions SEAP will not be lasting by virtue of economic benefits it will bring about, but change, continuity and a cultural reconciliation will take place place as social, cultural, and spatial usage preferences which determine the settlement policies pursued in the region thus far have created urban tissues which have developed vertically due to economic concerns only and not reflect the cultural heritage. Particularly the gap between modernisation efforts and social data placing priority on economic considerations has led to a distortion of horizontally – evolved urban silhouettes of Diyarbakır, mardin, Şanlıurfa and Gaziantep which are among major cities in the SEAP Region in terms of their historical identities as well as deterioration of their identity of historical cities. Revitalisation of cultural values based on historical accumulations by reflecting them on spatial tissues within the phenomenon of new developments will function as mirror of the social structure of public which can adapt themselves to developments. (Curran, 1983)

And individual, who creates his/her social and folk values within a time scale, can provide a contribution to the development of his/her environment as much as she/he is able to embrace them within his/her values judgments. However, sudden and forced developments create opportunities for the disappearance of existent, i.e accepted values(Fathy, 1960)

The common denominators of the developed or developing countries within the process of urbanisation have mainulated urbanisation policies over the principle of « preservation of historical identity ». We can see that especially some developing countries, like Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, etc. have definited as the phenomenon of the « preservation of historical identity » described as the common denominator in their cities in a very good fashion and this can be seen in pratctices. Cities such Cairo, Tunis and benghazi are among the primary examples of those cities which have managed to preserve their common denominators without being exposed to any urban demolition (Ekinci, 1992). Therefore, the pursuit of protective policies aiming at the development of the urban strucutres of settlment will illustrate the healty development of new settlement aeras. The phenomenon of environment, human beings and sttlment is comprised of various components within its totality. The matter which renders these three concepts significant is the existence of a regular relationship among them (Rapoport, 1977)

It is necessary not to overlook the existence of the « housing phenomenon » which constitutes a combination of the cultural and spatial problems of the SEAP Region. The orientation of rural emigration towards urban centres will necessitate the construction of new settlement aeras. The quantitative growth of the world population has brought about some problems and some solutions. Some countries have managed to produce their solution policies without carrying the wishes of individuals to scale of problems. Some others have sought solutions through the options of mass production, mass communication and mass education as they have failed to produced future-oriented policies. The attempts, which are the solutions of the modern world, are insufficient for the solution of accumulated problems. They have even affected the existent cultural and traditional values in a negative way. It is necessary to seek solutions within the milieu of the historical past of the country or the region rather than introducing aggregate solutions to spatial and cultural problems (Fathy. 1976)


SEA Project aims at directing the cities towards a new structuring by mobilising the social and spatial transformations at the marcro level. It would be useful to perceive the transformations experienced in the structure of settlements in Turkey before analysing the transformations that will occur in the cities within the region due to the SEAP:
These can be listed as:

  1. The macro features of the transformation which the settlement system experiences
  2. Differentiation of size settlements
  3. The processes of spatial differentiation and growth (habitat II, Turkey national report, 1996) The Factors of population and agricultural efficiency of the SEA Project, which will determine the transformation of the regional settlement system, will start new structuring processes at the urban space dimension by combining with industry.

Large scale integrated projects such as SEAP create multi-dimensional structural changes at the new sttlement level at the regions in which they are implemented. « The Aswan High Dam Construction » project which was implemented in Egypt, caused the flooding of the Nubian settlement aera, which had a historical past, with the dam water and thus new sttlement aeras were established for the people of Nubia in the surrounding aeras of Nubia (Hawas, 1994). This kind of large scale spatial changes which have been carried out in an environmental dimension have created disappointments at the emotional level. As in the example of Egyptian Nubia the fact that people of Nubia found nothing that belonged to their past inNubia led to their disappointment. The fact that efficiency of the spatial organisation in the former settlement aeras was not taken into consideration in the new sttlement aeras has weakened the existent social ties. Social and cultural measure have to be addressed together with the implenmentation process of the project in order to make sure that similar problems are not encountered in the SEAP region.

The SEA project will provide the emergence of new phenomena due to the characteristics it has had in the physical and social environment at the regional level. The important point in these transformations is the arrangement of the adaptation processes very well. In its current situation, the SEAP region has the wishes of experiencing an industrial process based, on agriculture through the contributions that the SEAP project will make. In this way, the production and industry which will develop will have created new employment conditions and urban developments and will be shaped not by impact of the feudal system but by the new social order concept to be created by the SEA project.


Although all the works that have been realised so far within the totality of the SEA project have been passed through certain phases, the stages of balance or planning between the spatial development planned in the region and the economic revenue factor is very weak. In the master plan and action plan research carried out in interim periods, we see that the contributions that SEAP will make to the economy have been priritized as a goal. However, the rôle of spatial and social development within the SEAP is not at the desired level. The contradictions of settlement,society and the culture will create new contradictions from which reversal will be difficult, unless the interrelationships of power among culture, space and the factors motivating the society are questionned. The factors of space and culture have been isolated in both multi sector decisions in package project type and in works performed with the purpose of developing a single sector and development has been as depent on only economic data (Eraydın, 1987).
It has been stated above that SEA project is based on an industrial policy based on agriculture and which prioritizes agriculture because the present economic structure of the region is an extension of a culture of agriculture. Therefore, the cultural accumulation which the historical process has created within the region cannot be ignored in the reconceptualisation of urban settlements and reformation of the existent ones. If a barrier between the accumulation of the past and the power of the SEAP is left behind, then degenerations of the city, housing and culture which are experienced in the region will acquire a new dimension.


  • Açma B Sanayileşme perspektifinde Güneydoğu Anadolu Bölgesi ve Güneydoğu Anadolu Bölgesi projesi, Eskişehir, Anadolu Üniversitesi Yayınları, pp. 15-29
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  • Dağ, R: Göktürk, A: GAP yeniden yapılanmalıdır, Ankara, DTSO Yayını, 1995 pp.12-16
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  • Habitat II, Türkiye Ulusal Raporu, İstanbul, 1996, p.18
  • Hawas, S:Z, Survival versus tradition Values change due to environment urban shifts, immigrations and replacements, value in tradition, fourth conference, december 17-20. 1994, Tunis
  • Rapoport, A. Human aspects of urban form, Towards A man-environment approach to urban form and design, Oxford, pergamon press Ltd. Headington Hill hall, 1977, p.9

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