Hasankeyf: A City On The Edge Of Disappearing

Those of you who read my blog on a regular basis probably wondered why I didn’t post a lot in June. The reason was that I was traveling. Among other places, my journey took me to Hasankeyf, a small town in Eastern Turkey.

Welcome To Hasankeyf
Welcome to Hasankeyf

It was my third visit to the city beautifully located at the river Tigris. The first time I was already mesmerized by the beauty of the city: The old cave houses, the large castle on the top of the rock, the remains of the old Roman bridge…   Though the danger of Hasankeyf vanishing due to the construction of the Ilısu Dam lingers for a while now, I heard earlier this year that in two years the city should be flooded. I had already planed a trip to Eastern Turkey and therefore I decided to spend three days in Hasankeyf to experience this beautiful place again.   It nearly took me a day on several buses from Dersim/Tunceli via Diyarbakır and Batman, but when I finally arrived in Hasankeyf in the evening I went for a stroll through town, watching the sun go down over the river, shops closing and tourists leaving. I sat down in a café, taking in the atmosphere and felt happy to see this place again.

The Roman Bridge
The Roman Bridge

I went to bed early to have some time in the morning to explore the canyons behind the castle where you experience beautiful nature and seemingly endless rocks with more and more caves. As most tourists only visit the main part of the city, I was nearly alone, with the sounds of birds and insects. I enjoyed the quiet and the view of nature and culture so naturally interwoven.   In late June, the temperature can be easily more than 40°C, so around noon I went to the center again to sit in the shade with some cool and refreshing drinks. Because I can speak some Turkish I could also talk to some people and learned that no one was happy about the construction of the dam. Most people I talked to want to leave and will probably end up in the suburbs of Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir or Adana. Others want to try their luck in Yeni Hasankeyf – the new city that is already build up on the mountains. But I had the feeling that most people don’t really know what to do when they have to leave. But to me it was instantly clear that a functioning  society will be forced apart and most inhabitants have to find a whole new way of continuing with their lives.   In the afternoon, when it was cooler again, I went for a stroll on the other side of the river to take a close look at the Mausoleum of Zeynel Bey and the remains of the Artuklu Hamam. After dinner I went back to the local cafés and became acquainted with a man who showed me some old photographs from a time when most of the caves and parts of the castle were still inhabited and people needed to cross the river on a raft, because the new bridge over the Tigris hadn’t been build at this point.

The Mausoleum of Zeynel Bey
The Mausoleum of Zeynel Bey

I took this as a cue to read a bit about the city’s history – which, at this point, isn’t completely investigated. But it is clear that Hasankeyf was one of the first human settlements. The city was part of some of the oldest civilizations, and Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians and Persians ruled over the city before it became the buffer zone of the conflicts between the Romans and Sassanians. Then it came under Byzantine rule and later saw the emergence of the great Islamic empires.   And sadly, this long history of Hasankeyf is about to come to a close soon. Though some of the historic buildings should be transferred to an archeological park in Yeni Hasankeyf, it will only be a dim shadow of what the city is now.   Apart from the destruction of history and cultural heritage there are a lot of points that speak against the contraction of the Ilısu Dam: The inhabitants have to suffer the consequences of displacement and incorrectly planned resettlement (I learn that most people will get a third of the price of a house in Yeni Hasankeyf for their old dwellings) that most likely will result in unemployment for a lot of people. From an ecological point of view the dam will harm the entire ecosystem in that region. The massive construction of dams in the Kurdish region of Turkey as part of the GAP project already changed the climate from a desert to a subtropical environment which endangers a lot of spices and results in the growth of germs.

Cave Houses
Cave Houses

The next day before I left, I climbed on the rock besides the castle where I had a great overview of the city, the canyons and the castle. I felt happy taking in the view, but sad, knowing that this beautiful place will be buried under water soon.   For more information about Hasankeyf and what you can do to help, please visit Hasankeyf Matters. There you will also find links to the resources I used for this post.

As I am mainly a photographer, I certainly have some pictures, so you can get a sense of how amazing Hasankeyf is:

Additionally, here is a video I have been recently made aware of about communities endangered by dams in Turkey (Ilısu, the dam that endangers Hasankeyf) and Brazil (Belo Monte):

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Comments

125 responses to “Hasankeyf: A City On The Edge Of Disappearing”

  1. Splendid series on part of Turkey which is unknown for me. Thank you for the division.
    Beautiful end of evening.

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  2. Also worth noting all the places this river goes through after leaving Turkey. The dam (and the resulting loss of water down stream) will have an impact on regional politics as well as on the local ecology.

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    • Yes, there are a lot more reasons not to built the dam – and I left out all the political reasons, because I didn’t wanted to write too long a post. I thought to the ecological and social reasons most readers can more easily relate to.
      But there are also a lot of internal political reasons – like building barriers in the Kurdish regions of Turkey and depopulation.

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      • This madness of building great dams, like in china, bringing thousands of people, but also animals to leave their habitat, and letting beautiful places to disappear for human eyes is a shame on the economical greed of man.
        Transferring the historic buildings to an archeological park in Yeni Hasankeyf will not only be a dim shadow of what the city was and is now, it would bring a fake picture of what could have been and should have been.

        We should be much more aware of the damage such constructions, like the massive construction of dams in the Kurdish region of Turkey, as part of the GAP project already brought to the fauna and flora and climate change. Those who can speak should speak up and give a voice for those who can not be heard and will not be seen by many (plants and animals, neglected by man)

        I do hope enough Trukish people will react contra and shall find international backing to bring a halt to such demolishing plans.

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      • Thank you for your words.
        Yes, it is really sad what is done to communities due to the building of dams.
        I just added a short film to the post, comparing the construction of the Ilısu dam to a dam project in Brazil. It also clearly shows what the construction of these mega-dams means to the people.

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    • You should definitely try to visit Hasankeyf before it is too late…
      …and around that town you will also find other amazing places like Mardin, Midyat or Diyarbakır.

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    • Thank you as well.
      When just visiting Hasankeyf again just now I felt what it would mean when this place is lost – so I wanted to make – at least some people who read my blog – aware of what is happening.

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  3. I enjoyed your discussion. Well maybe “enjoyed” isn’t the word I should be using. Your discussion was worth reading and I wonder at the decisions that are made in the name of progress. Economic or political. I think my word,enjoyed, works better if I use it for the excellent images you posted.

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    • Thank you for the compliment.
      I know what you mean. I sometimes have the same feeling just pressing the “like” button when I find a good blog post about some terrible things happening in the world.

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    • Thank you for your compliment and for sharing my post.
      The South East of Turkey is already crossed by nearly countess dams that already changed the climate in that region…
      …it is a shame.

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  4. Wow Rabirius, what a great post! How sad that it will soon be under water.
    Hey you speak a little Turkish, so what nationality are you? Silly Paula thought you were American! Hey it’s not my fault! Hahahaha
    Hugs Paula xxxx

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  5. Malgré tout une bonne nouvelle, je croyer le site inaccéssible à cause de la situation en Irak et la Syrie.

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    • Non, ce n’est pas un problème de voyager en Turquie du Sud. Peut-être directement à la frontière – mais les endroits les plus intéressants ne sont pas directement à la frontière.

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  6. i did note your ‘radio silence’ but had the inkling you were probably on summer vacation (to brazil to watch the world cup?), given the time of year. thanks for the sharing, very emotional post, we have the same situation over here some years back with the construction of a ‘mother of all dams’ – the bakun dam, which led to severe environmental/ecological changes/damages and displacement of large communities.

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    • Well, I was traveling Turkey and before and after I was on some business trips.
      I think that the building of too many dams is not good for the environment – and as I sort of experienced was a dam could do to a community I, naturally, got very emotional about it.
      The Bakun Dam? Then you’re from Malaysia?

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  7. Wow. This is so interesting and sad. You did a wonderful job of describing the place and the inhabitants and making us think about what it will be like for them (and the world) when this little piece of history is gone. It’s hard to imagine standing in a place that will soon be no more.

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    • Thank you very much.

      Yes, I think it is really sad and also stupid to destroy your own history and cultural heritage. But money seems to trump everything these days…
      …still, I hope that Hasankeyf will be saved somehow.

      Greetings,
      rabirius.

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    • Thank you, Annet.
      Well, I think at the moment it is okay. I remember being in Diyarbakir two years ago and I noticed a lot of tensions in the city. But now, when I visited it, it was quite relaxed.
      But even back then, it didn’t feel dangerous, or anything – so I think it is totally okay to go there…
      …and it is so beautiful. Especially the South East, where every city is different and there is so much to discover.

      Greetings,
      rabirius.

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    • Yes, Hasankeyf was home to a lot of different peoples that all left there mark…
      …so it really is sad that all this will be gone soon.
      Thank you for the link as well!

      Greetings,
      rabirius.

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    • Thank you.
      For me, Hasankeyf is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen…
      …and I hope so much that the dam will not be build, or finished.

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    • Most houses I saw in Hasankeyf didn’t really have paintings – more like patterns and things carved into the rock.
      But it is nice and cool there, when it is more than 40°C outside 🙂

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  8. Very intersting post with a lot of beautiful places.So sad for the people and I dont understand why they lissent not at people who live there.The water wil make all the history of a people going away..So sad.(sorry for my bad English )

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    • Don’t worry about your English. I can understand you perfectly well.

      Yes, it really is sad – and after the article I got a lot of feedback about dam building and it is really bad for nature and communities living there. Also in Brazil, there are some big dam projects where indigenous peoples are relocated – but probably in a lot of other countries as well.

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  9. Reblogged this on Marcus' s Space and commented:
    Summer is the time many Europeans find time to go across their region but also to cross the borders and visit the European and Asian Turkey, knowing that for political and humanitarian reasons reasons Turkey is still not ready and probably never will be ready to become part of the European Union.

    But as Europeans looking at the marvellous beautify country we also should worry how they ttreat nature and do not mind, like the Chines in their virus of financial growth, to put miles and miles under water to get more electricity.

    The Unesco should take measures that Hasnkeyf as an important witness of the past, shall not be swept from the bottom. The testimonies of the ancient culture we should cherish. Having still some parts visible from the oldest civilizations, Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians and Persians humanity should take care that this buffer zone of the conflicts between the Romans and Sassanians shall stay there to attract visitors from all over the world, to get a picture of our world-history.

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  10. How very sad. Dams seem to make us more vulnerable to all sorts of things; thinking of the dam in Mosul. Dams and water are hot subjects in my province too. Instead of growing what the weather permits, we are using dams and waterways to help the land produce what it really wasn’t meant to.

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    • Yes, it is sad – I’m still hoping that Hasankeyf can be saved somehow – but since the European countries dropped out of the project and Turkey is building the dam by itself, I have the feeling that the activism dimmed down a lot.

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  11. Thanks for documenting this beautiful city and drawing attention to its impending tragic loss. both of its history and its current life. I tweeted this. Hopefully more people will read your very informative post about this historic place. I feel very sad for the people and animals who must relocate.

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    • Thank you very much.
      Hasankeyf is indeed a very special place, that will most likely vanish soon, and the people, animals and nature would have to pay the price – so I’m very grateful that you passed on the information.

      Greetings,
      rabirius.

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  12. Wonderful blog, Rabirius, and information I might never have learned had you not shared it. The photographs are beautiful and tell the story as well as your words. Thank you.

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  13. Lugares interesantes que nos muestras en esos viajes por medio oriente, tan llenos de historia. Que el próximo le sea igual de gratificante.
    Disculpa que haya escrito en Español.
    Saludos cordiales y un abrazo

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    • No problem, puedo hablar Español.
      Para mi, Hasankeyf es un lugar muy especial – pero, lamentablemente, se construye una represa y aguachinará la ciudad.

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    • Yes, it is. Though they will take some of the old buildings and put them up the hill in an archeological park, before flooding the city…
      …it is so sad.

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    • Sadly, news are slim. I wanted to go to Turkey in autumn to see what happens in Hasankeyf, but as there is some kind of war going on I decided to go someplace else.
      What I heard is that they want to take the buildings stone by stone and put them in an “archaeological park” – however, from what I heard I think they started a litte and ran out money. So it might well be that most of Hasankeyf will drown in the end…
      …which makes me really sad, I have to say.

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  14. Rabirius, you have a series of photos that will be very historical sadly ~ wonderful look into a great world that is so strange to know will no longer exist but in memory…

    Like

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