Hasankeyf , Bitter Story of a 12.000 Year Old Historical Treasure, Turkey 2019

It is in May 2019 when we drive to the South East of Turkey , to Mardin , Midyat , Diyarbakir and the surrounding area .

It is an area with a very interesting background that I have been few times before but each time discovering new little villages or having new historical findings .

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It is an area which is very special as you don’t discover old history but very old history !

What makes our trip different for this time is the visit of the historical site of Hasankeyf in the region that you can reach out either via the Mardin -Batman or Sirnak -Batman highway .

We are very excited as our trip to Hasankeyf has a special meaning this time . Hasankeyf is and was a topic in the national as well as international press since long years – unfortunately not for very good news. The issue is that this ancient district will be overflooded till end of this year and the purpose of our trip is to give it a last tribute , witness its beauty and admire it for the last time before it will be disappeared in the waters of the Tigris River .

After a long road trip as we are coming from Mardin , we arrive at the old city of Hasankeyf which is situated in a kind of a canyon between the Midyat and Raman Mountains at both shores of the Tigris River at a sea level of 520 m and which is about 40 km from the city of Batman and about 110 km from Mardin. Along the shores there are thousands of caves containing tombs, ancient churches and settlements which people were used to live in since many centuries .

The river has a nice green color which is matching nicely with the greens and browns of the natural surrounding as well as with the historical site .

Since the region did not change too much in the past hundreds of years you can easily imagine how it was looking like and you can explore the area and understand the ancient times and civilizations passing by – it is also a very important part of the world -the Mesopotamian region – as critical events , inventions for mankind were made at this place such as the scripture, the farming , the trade and others which somehow started in this area or very close by .

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Lots of civilizations have passed by this region within centuries . In the ancient world it was a strategic point on the route from North Mesopotamia to Anatolia and a strategic spot on the Silk Road .

Throughout the centuries Assyrians , Artukids , Byzantines, Romans , Mongols, Persians, Ottomans and many other folks were living here and left their traces behind .

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It is said that there are about 200 very valuable historical sites at this location , most of them not disclosed and discovered yet and that it is one of the oldest settlements on earth which was permanently inhabited .

Only 10% of Hasankeyf is archeologically discovered and would you begin to explore the region probably you would find one civilization upon the other in the ground.

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People tell that about 20 different cultures are settled here . Experts assume that Hasankeyf is about 11-12.000 years old and consists of about 300 archeological monuments from the different epochs .Therefore it is for all these reasons worth to count it a highly precious historical treasure .

There are some significant symbolic monuments in Hasankeyf belonging to the different periods eg

The Roman fortress that was built 300 AD under Constantine the Great .

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There is also the Artukids bridge that was built across the Tigris in the 12th century which was one the largest bridges in its time in Anatolia as well as the Artukids Kings Palace .

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Moreover there is the El Rizk Mosque with its decorated minaret

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and the ancient tomb of Zeynel bey with its beautiful turquoises tiles that were built in the 15th century .

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One of them is also the ladies hamam from the Artukian time.

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These are few monuments who resisted the centuries .

History everywhere left its traces behind.

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Unfortunately the fate of this ancient town began when few decades back the local government decided to build up a dam , called the Ilisu Dam , at the Tigris river which will directly affect Hasankeyf . The dam project is a part of the South Eastern Anatolian Projects ( GAP ) and will be one of the biggest and most important hydropower projects of the region.

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About 300 villages in total will be affected via the dam and due to the rising water when the flap gates will be opened this historical site will be overflooded . The dam construction started in 2006 and is ready to go and the city will be under water probably by end of this year .

The discussions and protests were going on since very long years as national and international organizations and activists tried to stop the government and to rescue the ancient site trying to register it as a UNESCO heritage site for protection but the actions were done in vain .

Hasankeyf is the only place in the world who meets 9 out of 10 criteria to become a UNESCO World Heritage. It is also home to lots of threatened species in the area .

The ancient city nowadays has about 3000 residents whom the government tried to re-locate in the past weeks . New settlements about 700 houses are built at the upper part of the canyon in a distance of 3km.

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New houses with a small garden which architectural wise do not fit into the surrounding at all .

On the other hand the government tried to rescue some of the most important historical monuments and moved them to the upper city as well .

In 2018 due to this reason 8 of the main monuments were re-located .The government transported eg the Zeynel bey tomb, the El Rizk Mosque and the Artukian Hamam from their original place to their new locations on the higher plateau.

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At their new places these historical buildings look somehow lost and odd as they are disconnected from their natural and historical environment .

Part of the shops which were existing at the rivers edges and at the lower canyon side on both sides are going to be closed one by one and will move as well . The people living there feel very depressed .

A beauty is facing its end and fell against modern industry and civilization after having passed thousands of years untouched by the modern world .

The inhabitants started to move by moving their cemeteries first – these are the graves of their families that they do not want to leave behind as all will be under water soon .

They open the recent graves and bring the remains of their ancestors to the upper city which is already a drama and deep depression for the local people .

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They lose their houses , their little wineyards and fig trees ,their culture and what they get is not a real substitute to what they had .

The new city is constructed , not natural , not part of the environment , not ancient , not cosy – just simple and functional , far from their real roots and without a soul.

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It is very sad to see all this and to recognize that there was no chance to save this great treasure which is like an open air museum of mankind – huge , full of historical secrets and values , full of knowledge about the past of human mankind , full of a gorgeous natural environment and full of mighty and beauty of its own .

The question is whether it was worth to sacrifice this 12.000 years old jewel of civilization and history to a dam that will maybe useful for few decades – was there no other intelligent solution to have both – the dam with its energy power on the one side and to save the site on the other hand with all its hundreds of historical remains and leave it at its original place with all the people and the culture where they belong to . People say it would have been possible to change the way of the water with todays technologies .

Was there no way to use a different energy source such as sun or wind ?

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Maybe it is a question of understanding history and culture seriously and deeply and to value it correctly as the way it is realized today shows how history can be damaged and not valued at all .

I feel regretful to have a last view to precious Hasankeyf and not to be able to do anything .

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