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GİLA BENMAYOR >We could not save Hasankeyf

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The Hasankeyf Culture and Arts Festival was scheduled to be held next month in the southeastern city of Batman, where a trustee has been appointed to replace the mayor. The four-to-five-day festival has been organized for almost 10 years. Its aim was to draw attention to the ancient town of Hasankeyf, which will soon be under the waters collected by the Ilısu Dam. 

It is not difficult to guess that the festival will be cancelled after the appointment of the trustee. 

Prof. Oluş Arık, who conducted excavations in historic Hasankeyf between 1986 and 2002, said: “Hasankeyf is the only center where Iran and inner Asia, the eastern Mediterranean and Mesopotamia and later Rome represented by Byzantium were all blended. There are open marks of this merge in trade, architecture and production fields. Hasankeyf is unique.” 

Arık has expended much effort to stop the Ilısu Dam from submerging Hasankeyf in return for “some water and some energy.” 

Unfortunately, he did not succeed. Neither did the volunteers in Hasankeyf, whose voices were heard more in the early 2000s. 

The Ilısu Dam, which will collect water as of 2017, was the death warrant of Hasankeyf. More than 5,000 caves, some of them still inhabited, historic mosque and church ruins, graves, historic bridges and 250 mounds will be underwater. Some 60,000 people will be displaced. 

In Arık’s words, “There is an alternative to the dam, but there is no alternative to Hasankeyf.” This small town is being demolished in front of our eyes. 

My association with Hasankeyf started in the beginning of the 2000s when, as I said, the volunteers had louder voices and the media was showing more interest in this unique historic heritage of Turkey. 

During the “Resolution Process,” Hasankeyf was hosting nearly 1 million domestic and international tourists yearly. “Loyalty to Hasankeyf” trains would depart from Istanbul; concerts attended by superstars were held at this unique historic venue. There were cases opened at the European Court of Human Rights. 
None of these activities, none of the court cases, were adequate.

I looked back into my personal archive; I have written numerous articles; in some of them I was happy that Hasankeyf would be saved, in others I was sad that Hasankeyf was not going to be saved. One of my titles was “Hasankeyf should not be Abu Simbel.”  

As a matter of fact, a creditor for the Ilısu Dam at that time claimed that Hasankeyf could be relocated, as Abu Simbel in Egypt had been. As voices against Ilısu Dam were heard across the borders of Turkey, the consortium of Germany, Austria and Switzerland withdrew.  

Nevertheless, the Austrian company was right about relocation. Prof. Abdusselam Uluçam, who took over Hasankeyf excavations from Arık, said the symbol of the historic town, the Zeynel Bey Mausoleum, will be relocated starting in November. 

Not only this tomb in Hasankeyf, but also the El Rizk Mosque, the Sultan Süleyman Mosque, the İmam Abdullah Tomb and the Yamaç Social Complex will be relocated to the cultural park of the new settlement. 

As Arık said, “The valleys that waters have carved in the rocky terrain, the hills that have tuned into a stone lacework with thousands of caves,” the church and the other ruins will be submerged. 

For a dam that will serve 50 or 60 years at the most, we are destroying a unique historic and cultural heritage of thousands of years.

September/13/2016

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