The Future Of Hasankeyf – Q&A With John Crofoot

If you follow my blog for some time now, you will probably remember a piece I have written about my latest visit to Hasankeyf. Hasankeyf is an amazing town, beautifully located on the River Tigris in Southeast Turkey with a history that reaches far back to the dawn of civilization.

The picture “River” I took on my first visit and to me it is the classical view of the town.

The classical view of Hasankeyf and the remains of the Stone Bridge

Sadly, this beautiful place might not exist much longer, because a dam is build in that region and Hasankeyf will be submerged in the reservoir.

Personal engagements, and the political situation in Turkey’s Kurdish region prevented me from returning to the town – but I was always wondering how things have developed since my last visit. Certainly, I read bits and pieces about Hasankeyf – but didn’t really get a feeling of what is going on. Therefore I was looking for someone who could fill me in on the present situation.

I finally found John Crofoot, an independent researcher and writer focusing on business strategy, heritage conservation and uses of public space for recreational athletics. He also is a co-founder of Hasankeyf Matters and has lived in Hasankeyf for 4 years.

John Crofoot with Hasankeyf in the background

John kindly agreed to answer some of my questions about the present situation and the possible future of Hasankeyf that I would like to share with you:

1. Is there a fixed date now when the Ilısu Dam should be completed?

No. Construction of the dam is approximately 80 percent complete. With steady work the dam could be completed within a matter of months. However, labor disputes, the violent conflict besetting the entire region and the weakening economic conditions are among the numerous factors that have combined to slow progress on the dam.

2. Do the current conflicts in the region have any impact on the future of Hasankeyf?

The PKK announced last summer that it would target large dams in Southeast Turkey, and in the fall the State-owned Anadolu Press Agency reported that union officials estimated that PKK activity had delayed completion of the dam by 2 years.

3. There are reports of the Stone Bridge and the the Mausoleum of Zeynel Bey being moved to a higher location. Are there any other buildings supposed to get moved as well?

Preliminary work to move the Zeynel Bey Tomb has begun but appears to be advancing slowly. The project is expected to take 8 months and requires technology that is only available outside of Turkey. The government scheduled 3 bidding processes (the most recent being in January and May of 2015), but each was canceled due to lack of participation. Last fall it was announced that Er-Bu Inşaat had been engaged the work.This firm has an impressive record of restoration work, including the rebuilding of the Mostar Bridge. However, according to the company web site there is no indication that Er-Bu has the prior experience necessary to minimize the risk of harm this extraordinary monument.

The Artukid Bridge is currently undergoing some kind of restoration. As far as I know, there is no plan to move the pylons of the bridge.

Constructions in Hasankeyf

4. Are most of the inhabitants still living in Hasankeyf? Will most of them leave, or move to Yeni Hasankeyf?

Yes, people are still living in their homes and it is impossible to say how much longer they will be allowed to stay there. It could be a matter of months, or a matter of years. It’s an extremely difficult situation – both economically and psychologically.

It seems likely that a good proportion of Hasankeyf residents will ultimately take out loans for homes in the new settlement area. However, climate and soil conditions are not as conducive to gardening on the left bank of the Tigris, and house design is markedly different from the type of housing people now have on the right bank. It is difficult to under-estimate the toll that this move will take on the community. Without public and/or private efforts to record and document the community’s distinctive intangible culture (local dialects of Arabic and Kurdish language, oral histories, handicrafts, home design, gardening practices, etc.), the community will lose many traditions and practices. As much as I hate to say it, this move probably means the end of the Hasankeyf community as we know it. Please also see Tommaso Vitali’s documentary “This Was Hasankeyf

5. How do you imagine the future of Hasankeyf if the dam will get completed.

Actually, the whole region offers amazing opportunity for adventure tourism – hiking, biking, horseback riding, etc. – whether Hasankeyf is flooded or not.  In the spirit of dialogue – which by definition assumes an openness to compromise – we should recognize that no matter what happens there will surely be ways for the surrounding villages to build a tourism offering that gives visitors an authentic experience of local Kurdish traditions. For example, Temel Ayca, who served as District Governor of Hasankeyf from 2013-2015, launched an “Ecological Village” project in Üç Yol, a nearby settlement that will not be flooded. This DiKA-funded project will upgrade caves and stone masonry buildings to house tourists. The plan is also to use produce from local gardeners in restaurants specializing in local cuisine.

The ruins of the nearby monastery of Mor Aho also hold great promise. However, the Government’s strategy for attracting tourists has not been outlined with any detail. There will be a large museum to display some of the important archaeological finds that are changing scholars’ view of the Neolithic period as well as architectural fragments to be salvaged from Hasankeyf. But I’ve read that the hotel, to be affiliated with the new tourism school currently under construction, will be a 3-star facility. This may not be the best approach for building a profitable tourism business in Hasankeyf.

6. Do you think there still is a chance to save Hasankeyf?

Absolutely. Hasankeyf has important potential to serve as an anchor for tourism in Southeastern Turkey. Göreme Cultural Park in Cappadocia surpassed $600 million in annual tourism-related revenues years ago. With proper planning – for example, by spreading tourism activities across a 600 square kilometer cultural park – Hasankeyf and its surrounding villages could attract upwards of 2 million tourists a year. If these tourist stay in the area 1 or 2 nights and spend on average $300.00 during their visit, the area would reach $600 million annually. Uncontrolled development, of course, could obliterate the invaluable cultural and natural treasure of Hasankeyf, so any effort to save Hasankeyf by promoting economic development must be based on the principles of sustainability. The article “Saving Hasankeyf” (Critical Muslim 16) explores the possibilities in more detail.

Turkey is a great country, and I’m very optimistic about the future of Hasankeyf. But there’s no hope for the town without a good dialogue and exchange of ideas between all the various stakeholders, including the Government, local residents, regional leaders, tourism entrepreneurs and cultural preservation experts, etc. Should Hasankeyf be selected as one of Europe’s 7 Most Endangered Sites, I hope that the study undertaken by Europa Nostra’s international committee of experts will be a step toward a lively national dialogue about heritage conservation and economic growth.

These are entirely John Crofoot’s views and they do not reflect those of Hasankeyf Matters.