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Turkish Pop Star Battles Dam Project: 'Stop With This Insanity!'

Tarkan Tevetoglu, Turkey's biggest pop star, is using all his energy to battle the construction of the controversial Ilisu dam, which threatends to permanently submerge the 10,000-year-old city of Hasankeyf. Critics argue the ancient city on the Tigris River should be a UNESCO World Heritage site.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What drives the most famous pop singer in Turkey to become an anti-dam activist?

Tarkan: I am not blind to the crimes against nature. Turkey is rich with beautiful places and landscapes that we shouldn't sacrifice in the name of supposed progress. And the Turkish environmental movement inspires me. These people are completely passionate. They love what we are doing.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Have you already met Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan? He described the opponents of the controversial Ilisu dam project as terrorists.

Tarkan: Until now, I've only been able to meet with the cultural minister. But I have written a letter to Abdullah Gül, our president. I protested against the dam with my signature. If the politicians are getting nervous, it shows that our campaign is making an impression.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The government is arguing that the dam development will create jobs.

Tarkan: But at what price? The ancient city of Hasankeyf is over 10,000 years old. We're fighting right now to get it declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is unfair to destroy a place of such unbelievable beauty. We need to find other ways to bring (Turkey's impoverished) southeast (region) on its feet economically. This area is ideal for tourism.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Germany and the other financial backers might decide to back out of the project. You will be flying to Berlin on Thursday. What is your message to the Germans?

Tarkan: My message is: stop with this insanity. Would you destroy a World Heritage site if it were in your country? I don't think so.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You wrote a song for Hasankeyf. Maybe it will make it into the German charts.

Tarkan: The song is called "Uyan" ("Wake Up"). But it's not just about Hasankeyf -- it's about the whole planet. My fellow countrymen should realize that they too are biting the hand that feeds them.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: And? Are they waking up?

Tarkan: I think that my fans are. I get dozens of letters and e-mails that say: "You have inspired me," "I also want to do something for the environment," "I also want to drive a hybrid car." It's often small things like not littering on the street or not letting the faucet run unnecessarily. But those are all not yet matters of course in my country.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You drive a hybrid car?

Tarkan: Yes, unbelievable, right? I was the first one in Turkey. The thing was in customs for an eternity because the officials didn't know what they had in front of them (laughs).

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you still believe in the European Union? Should Turkey be a member?

Tarkan: I hope for that, yes. But even more so, I hope that we become strong through our own power. That we won't need cash injections from abroad or won't believe that we need to sell our natural treasures. I am a big fan of Europe. But if that doesn't happen anymore, it also won't be a disaster.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You have roots in Europe yourself.

Tarkan: Yes, I was born in Rhineland-Palatinate.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you feel German-Turkish?

Tarkan: I have no idea. It's a strange concept. My friends sometimes call me "Alamanci" (Turkish for German) But it actually doesn't matter to me. I would more likely consider myself a Turkish person who grew up in Germany.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: So you aren't experiencing any kind of identity crisis?

Tarkan: No, why would I? For me, it's good fortune to be between two cultures. Growing up in Germany taught me a lot. I am a world citizen. Today I can adapt well no matter where I am. Even when it's not always easy. I remember hearing "Turks, get out!" but that is not my most important memory of Germany. My German friends, the music, Nena, Falco, Trio -- those are more important.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The relationship between Germans and Turks is still not easy.

Tarkan: That could be -- but it has more to do with politicians or politics that send the wrong signals. When people get to know each other better, they usually get along pretty well with each other. I don't understand why other cultures create fear in people. Racism is nonsense. The Germans should remember that they also have the Turks to thank for their "economic miracle." And the Turks should come out of their ghettos.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: There already is a role model for German-Turkish friendship: Tarkan.

Tarkan: Thank you! It's true that I have a lot of fans in Germany.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Other than Tarkan, most Germans know little about Turkish music.

Tarkan: That's understandable. Turkish musical culture is completely different. Although it is very diverse: folk, classical, religious and pretty good hip-hop. And most Germans love belly dancing, especially the women!

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What is your biggest dream for Turkey?

Tarkan: I wish that my country would be economically strong enough to not have to sacrifice its natural landscape. That we would be more environmentally-friendly, sensible, and peaceful. That in a decade we would have no more discrimination or terrorism. That is my dream.

Interview conducted by Daniel Steinvorth

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