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Harvard University

Bucerius Fieldwork Grant

Sedimented Encounters: Dams, Conservation, and Politics in Turkey


This dissertation is an ethnography of socio-natural encounters that shape, and are shaped by, the building of dam infrastructures within the Çoruh River Watershed of Turkey. Known as one of the fastest-running rivers in the world, the Çoruh River has been converted into a hydropower “resource” over the last two decades, through the construction of fifteen large hydroelectric dams. In contrast to the imagery of dam reservoirs as giant infrastructures that simply conquer and erase the natural landscape, this dissertation traces the formulization of soil sedimentation in the reservoirs as a problem to be solved by watershed forestry, which has refashioned forests as protective infrastructures of “water resources” and hydraulic infrastructures. This refashioning, I show, occurs through sedimented histories of nation-state building, developmentalism, and authoritarian populism taking shape in material infrastructures and environments. My ethnographic research among the implementers of the Çoruh River Watershed Rehabilitation Project to prevent sedimentation in dams reveals the encounters between the foresters’ and upland villagers’ conceptualizations of abandoned mountainous farmlands as landscapes of natural recovery versus desolation. I then shift my focus to the valley floor and examine the making of the Yusufeli Dam reservoir as a process narrated and experienced by town inhabitants through the trope of (self-)sacrifice for the greater national interest. In response, local state officials intend to compensate for these sacrificed zones by relocating agricultural soil and local fruit trees. These practices of what I call salvage agriculture render the sedimented and laborious histories of working the land a resource to be tapped into for the reconstruction of a new town. Drawing on eighteen months of ethnographic research along the Çoruh Valley and its mountains, as well as five months of archival research in ministries and other institutions, Sedimented Encounters explores dam construction as a generative process that enacts and intertwines the making of “natural resources,” the nation-state and its developmental and conservationist endeavors, and the politics of negotiation and sacrifice. Along this process, I argue, socio-natural landscapes are produced simultaneously as places of natural recovery, (self)-sacrifice, and salvage.

Ekin Kurtic is a Junior Research Fellow at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies, Brandeis University. She holds a PhD in anthropology and Middle Eastern studies from Harvard University. She worked as a postdoctoral scholar and teaching fellow in the Department of Middle East Studies at the University of Southern California (2019-2020). Currently, Kurtic is working on turning her dissertation into a book analyzing the making of state, expertise, and landscape in Turkey through the governance of infrastructure and ecology. She is also beginning a new project, "Soil as Carbon Sink: A Historical Ethnography of Soil Conservation in Turkey," which investigates the techno-politics of rendering soil a "carbon sink" against the backdrop of the climate crisis and its implications for regulating rural spaces and human and more-than-human lives.

2019: “Sediment in Reservoirs: A History of Dams and Forestry in Turkey,” in Transforming Socio-Natures in Turkey: Landscapes, State and Environmental Movements, eds. Ethemcan Turhan and Onur Inal, Routledge Environmental Humanities Series, pp. 90-111
2013: “Problems and Prospects for Genuine Participation in Water Governance in Turkey” (coauthored with Zeynep Kadirbeyoglu), in Contemporary Water Governance in the Global
South: Scarcity, Marketization and Participation, eds. Leila M. Harris, Jacqueline A. Goldin and Christopher Sneddon, Routledge, Pp. 199-215.

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