Allianoi, the world's oldest known spa settlement, in Perg
Allianoi, the world's oldest known spa settlement, in Perg

Turkey has embarked on one of the biggest dam-building projects in the world.  It aims to meet the growing energy demands of Turkey's booming economy. But the scale and speed of the project is causing concerns about the country's environment and archeological heritage, as well as the prospects for tens of thousands of people who will lose their homes to make way for the dam and reservoir. Those concerns might affect the country's bid to join European Union.

In the Loc Valley in northeastern Turkey, construction is around the clock on the 1,000 dams planned for the region. The high mountains and deep valleys that run to the Black Sea are ideal for hydroelectric power. But the region is also home to much of Turkey's plants and wildlife.  And that means that dams like those under construction in the Loc Valley are at the center of a battle between environmentalists and the government.

Along the Devrekani River, Zafer Kecin is leading the local campaign against the dam. He says the way of life for people in the region is at stake.

"We are losing the flowing creek," Kecin says.  "This is where our homes are, our picnic areas, with all their beautiful nature, where we fish, our life is here.  All of this will be flooded and replaced by a stagnant lake."

Last year, environmentalists in the capital, Ankara, campaigned against the Loc Dam Project. The environmentalist movement known as Doga Dernegi has been in the forefront of opposing the initiative, particularly in Turkish courts. That is because many of the dams are being built in protected nature reserves.

According to Dicle Tuba Kilic of Doga Dernegi, the government in recent months has made changes to the laws in the wake of losing several court battles.

"They opened all the legal way to make construction easily. And more than 1,700 hydroelectric power plant dams are planned. And if they finalize all of them, this will affect all the wetland ecosystem of Turkey and our local cultures living in deep valleys or on top of the mountains because they are now forced to migrate from their villages," said Kilic. "They will destroy archeological sites because they have opened them to make construction without any environmental impact assessment and social impact assessment. You don't have to do anything."

The European Union has strongly criticized the legal reforms in its latest progress report on Turkey's membership bid, even though the changes were introduced to promote Turkey's accession. And the European Green Party is campaigning against the dam projects.

But Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan calls the environmental opposition "alarmist," saying the country needs hydroelectric power to break its dependency on expensive imported oil.

"They are misleading my people with fabrications," Mr. Erdogan says.  "We are showing utmost sensitivity to nature and for its sustainability.  We are lovers of nature," he says. "We are crazy for nature. We planted millions of trees in the most barren lands."

Construction on the dams continues. And for activist Zafer Kecin, these are difficult times.  He says communities are divided. But, he says, opponents of the dams remain committed to stopping them.

Turkey's environmentalists have persuaded the main opposition People's Republican Party to refer the reforms to the country's constitutional court.