Turkish dam project would wipe out ancient city


The recently released images of the ancient city of Hasankeyf are nothing short of shocking. In scenes and sounds reminiscent of the destruction of Palmyra by the Islamic State and the Taliban blowing up the Bamiyan Buddhas, stones rained in some areas following the sound of the blasts, rocking the 12,000-year-old settlement on the shores of the Tiger in Turkey, in some cases destroying history. In other cases, historic structures have been photographed being washed away.

It’s all part of the ongoing controversy in the latest installment of a decades-old saga that brought Turkey on the verge of losing track of at least 10 civilizations. This unique cultural heritage could have been preserved – it could attract millions of tourists if properly excavated – but instead, Ankara maintained a cold resolution to submerge an area of ​​313 square kilometers under the waters of a dam. hydroelectric with a maximum lifespan of 60 years. Proposed in the 1950s, construction of the Ilisu Dam began in 2006 and continued with national funding after three European governments withdrew from the project. The dam is finally almost finished.

In May, authorities moved the mausoleum of 15th-century warrior Zeynel Bey in a staged show designed to silence critics by supposedly showing the government respects historical heritage. Other monuments, including mosques, public baths and a citadel gate, should also be transferred to an archaeological park in “New Hasankeyf”. Is it really preserving history? What is humanity really losing at Hasankeyf?

Simply put, Turkey will inundate an area preserving 12 millennia of history and some 300 archaeological sites. Ninety percent of Hasankeyf will disappear, and with it a myriad of monuments built by the Romans, Byzantines, Umayyads, Abbasids, Artuqids, Marwanids, Ayyubids, Seljuks and Ottomans, among others. . The lost heritage will include the largest arch bridge still in existence from medieval times as well as mosques, remains of palaces, mansions, madrasas, a mint, fortress walls and gates, water canals, inns, baths and cemeteries.

There is also the issue of some 6,000 cave dwellings carved into the rock, which the government downplays as worthless. Many of these homes remained in use until the 1980s. According to a 2012 Nature Association survey, 29% of Hasankeyf residents said they or their family members had lived in the past in a cave dwelling. While this type of accommodation alone makes Hasankeyf worthy of protection, Hasankeyf’s Archaeological Excavation Directorate’s list of excavations is mind-boggling. It includes 38 main sites, many of which include several major monuments. According to the Nature Association, some 300 archaeological sites have been identified to date, of which only 5% have been excavated.

Hasankeyf is also a multilingual city, with 70% of the population speaking Turkish, Arabic and Kurdish. In other words, what will perish here is not only history, but also a multilingual and multicultural basin of civilization.

Archaeologist Nevin Soyukaya says the planned dam has hampered the region’s economic and cultural development for decades. “No development project has been undertaken in the past 50 years,” she told Al-Monitor. “No infrastructure for tourism has been developed. The ancient city has been abandoned to its fate. The culture ministry, Soyukaya said, has only carried out rescue excavations in a small fraction of the roughly 300 archaeological sites identified.

“The excavations started in 2000 and ended in 2012,” she said. “In order to push back the criticisms and to mislead [the public], they planned to move nine monuments. Hasankeyf, however, is a whole – with its topography and nature, palaces, caves, churches, mosques, ceramic kerns, workshops, riverside mansions, streets, bridges, prehistoric establishments, its thousand-year-old cultural heritage and its multilingual and multireligious fabric. To claim that the city will be saved and tourism developed by moving nine monuments is an insult to human reason.

The archaeologist called the situation “horrible”, noting that “hundreds of cultural monuments will be inundated before we even know what we are losing on these lands, where the firsts in human history have taken place. “. Soyukaya added that the Tiger ecosystem would also be destroyed, stressing that no official report had been made on the dam’s environmental impact, as a 2013 law exempted the project from the mandatory environmental investigation.

The Tiger ecosystem will be destroyed.

Asked about the series of explosions and shaking rock falls, Soyukaya explained that authorities came up with a plan last year to strengthen the rocky terrain that serves as the foundation for the upper town of Hasankeyf – the area of ​​the castle that lies located above the area to be flooded. – and build a replica of the ancient port after the water rises because of the dam. The plan calls for the removal of 24 rocks deemed dangerous, the filling of 4.75 million cubic meters of some 210 caves and the strengthening of the Little Hasankeyf Palace. Some believe that the dislodged rock should be used in the port project, but experts believe it is more likely to be used as backfill in projects related to the dam. Soyukaya said the government announced in June that the port project had been put out to tender.

Also according to Soyukaya, the non-governmental initiative Hasankeyf observed that rocks presenting no real danger are also being removed. “They used explosives which cause huge vibrations, noise and environmental pollution,” she said. “This endangered other rocks and caves and damaged the topography and natural fabric of the area. Some of the rockfall damaged the remains of churches and wine cellars. Mehmet Ali Aslan, a deputy from the Kurdish-dominated Peoples’ Democratic Party, chained himself to a rock in the area in protest.

Why is Turkey destroying unique historical riches for a dam? Soyukaya thinks there is a political dimension to the question. “The area affected by the dam is located at the intersection of the roads that connect the countries of the south with Turkey, Europe and the countries of the north,” she said. “In addition, the Tigris meets Iraq’s water needs. With this roadblock, a new definition was formulated, that of “safety barriers”. The aim is to control regional roads and use water to discipline southern countries.

Aslan said he decided to hold a protest after “three sleepless nights” sparked by news of the rock demolition. “It is no different from what the Islamic State and the Taliban have done,” he told Al-Monitor. “I spoke to the traders [in Hasankeyf], and everyone was talking about explosions that rocked the city and terrified children. … My conscience took me to Hasankeyf so that our grandchildren would not spit in my face in the future.

Aslan, who represents Batman in parliament, described Hasankeyf as a “unique city in the world,” where many phases of human history can be seen in one place. He stressed that Arabic is the “essential language” of the region. “The Kurds have settled there over the past 50 years,” he explained. “The Arab identity of the region will also be destroyed.

According to civic groups, more than 100 endangered plant and animal species are also threatened with extinction in Hasankeyf, as is history. However, Batman City Council, which asked the State Water Authority what action was being taken on this matter, received the following response: “No action has been taken because no endangered species exist in the Tiger Valley. . This, in a nutshell, is the Turkish state’s approach to history and the environment.

About John A. Provost

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