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Privatised hydropower development in Turkey: A case of water grabbing?

Mine Islar
Center of Sustainability Studies (LUCSUS) and Centre of Excellence for Integration of Social and Natural Dimensions of Sustainability (LUCID), Lund University; mine.islar@lucid.lu.se

ABSTRACT: This paper investigates how river privatisation in Turkey is deployed to expand renewable energy production and the implications this has for issues of ownership, rights to water and community life. Recent neoliberal reforms in Turkey have enabled the private sector to lease the rights to rivers for 49 years for the sole purpose of electricity production. The paper focuses on the re-scaling and reallocation of control over rivers through technical-legal redefinition of productive use, access and rights; and on discursive practices that marginalise rural communities and undermine alternative framings of nature. In order to actuate hydropower projects, what previously constituted legitimate water use and access is being contested and redefined. This process involves redefining what is legal (and therefore also what is illegal) such that state regulatory mechanisms favour private-sector interests by the easement of rights on property, government incentives and regulation of use rights to water. Through this lens, in some cases this particular privatisation in Turkey can be understood as an instance of 'water grabbing', where powerful actors gain control over use and increase their own benefits by diverting water and profit away from local communities living along these rivers despite their resistance. The analysis is based on empirical evidence derived from semi-structured interviews, newspapers, governmental and NGO reports, and observations during 3 months of fieldwork in Ankara and several villages in North and South Anatolia.

KEYWORDS: Hydropower, water use rights, neoliberalism, privatisation, Turkey