Ilisu vs Hasankeyf

Once located on the shores of the Tigris River in the province of Batman in Southeastern Turkey, Hasankeyf was flooded in early 2020 by the rising waters of the Ilısu Dam built some fifty kilometers downstream. I have written a short article here on Hasankeyf, the Ilısu Dam, and the Kurdish Movement in Turkey published in a volume edited by Stephen E. Hunt titled Ecological Solidarity and the Kurdish Freedom Movement.

Despite all of the efforts by archaeologists to salvage its archaeology, the pressure of environmental activists and human-rights advocates to stop the Ilısu Dam, the support of celebrities like Turkish pop-star Tarkan or Nobel Prize laureate Orhan Pamuk, the countless number of protests and Global Action Days both locally and internationally, and the general agreement worldwide, except perhaps in Hasankeyf itself, that the town should be saved, Hasankeyf, in the end, was submerged by Turkey’s latest, state-of-the-art engineering feat in the early months of 2020.

Ali Ergül is a documentary filmmaker from Batman in southeastern Turkey who has a Sociology degree from Diyarbakır’s Sociology Department. His film “Suyun Ölüm Tarihi” (Water’s Date of Death) shows the historic town of Hasankeyf just before being submerged and explains how the historic town has been a source of inspiration for other natural and cultural heritage struggles.

Suyun Ölüm Tarihi / Water’s Date of Death from Ali Ergul on Vimeo.

Other films include Heskîf by Elif Yiğit.

Hasankeyf would feature regularly in the New York Times and National Geographic, oftentimes in these somewhat exaggerated terms: “a 12,000-year-old village . . . something out of a surreal fairy tale . . . a place with a palpable feeling of historical continuity and survival . . . one of [the country’s] most mythic places” (Hansen 2018). There has been a general tendency to romanticize Hasankeyf in these journalistic accounts as this dreamlike, even spiritual place, stuck in a faraway Orientalist past. Hasankeyf has made teh news worldwide, including pieces by Arianne Shahvisi in the London Review of Books, by Suzy Hansen in National Geographic, as well as many others here.

Other more in-depth articles on why Hasankeyf never became an UNESCO world heritage site by Durrie Bouscaren

NGOs that have organized against the construction of the Ilisu Dam and for the preservation of Hasankeyf include Hasankeyf Matters, the Manfred-Hermsen-Stiftung, the International Rivers, the Hasankeyf Koordinasyonu, the Turkish Doğa Derneği and the Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive. One of its latest reports (2019) is available here in English and in Turkish.

My own article on “Hasankeyf, the Ilısu Dam, and the Kurdish Movement in Turkey” was published in 2021 in a volume edited by Stephen E. Hunt titled Ecological Solidarity and the Kurdish Freedom Movement.

I have written elsewhere about the opening ceremony by Erdogan of the Ilisu Dam.

Here is Turkish popstar Tarkan in Hasankeyf in 2008 to help open the new office of Doğa Derneği. This is Aynur Doğan’s song Rewend, which is dedicated to the people of Hasankeyf, in a video shot by Turkish-German film director Fatih Akın. Its translation can be found here.

Ulrich Eichelmann of RiverWatch, a global platform against any projects harmful to rivers, shows the 50m high rampart built to prevent the cliffs of Hasankeyf from washing out and collapsing into the reservoir.

A 2018 article in Gerçek Hayat (close to AKP) explaining how Hasankeyf will soon become a cultural and tourism city, another 2018 Anadolu Ajansı piece explaining how Hasankeyf will find life again as a cittaslow while its caves are turned into a “butik otel”.

A 2016 article published on the Local Futures website describing the links between Hasankeyf, the Mesopotamian Ecology Movement, and Rojava, with an interview of Ercan Ayboğa of the Mesopotamian Ecology Movement

You can find links to articles on Hasankeyf written by Ian Hodder, Bahar Aykan, Maggie Ronayne, and Daniel Shoup, as well as Gülçin Erdi Lelandais, Sarah Elliot, Pinar Aykaç and Mesut Yılmaz.

The Zeynel Bey mausoleum–a cylinder-shaped tomb weighing more than 1,000 tons built during the 15th century in Hasankeyf by the Tigris River–was transported a few kilometers away from its original location on 12 May 2017 in anticipation of the Ilisu Dam being built upstream. It was adorned that day with a large Turkish flag, as well as banners of the construction company ER-BU in charge of moving the structure, Turkey’s D.S.I (Devlet Su Işleri or State Water Works) responsible for the dam, and Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The move lasted almost four hours and cost the D.S.I. more than $4 million. It was a carefully planned engineering exercise and a meticulously orchestrated media operation covered by just a handful of selected journalists and photographers. None of the controversies behind the building of the dam itself were raised that day, but instead the relocation offered the government the opportunity to claim that Hasankeyf had been “saved.”


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