Turkey's 12,000-year-old town about to be engulfed by Tigris
The small town of Hasankeyf, in Turkey's Kurdish-majority southeast, inhabited for 12,000 years, is doomed to disappear in the coming months. As the Economic Times writes, an artificial lake, part of the Ilisu hydroelectric dam project, will swallow it up. The dam, which will be Turkey's second largest, has been built further downstream the Tigris.
Ilisu is a central element of the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP), a land development plan to boost the economy of the long-neglected region, through hydroelectric energy and irrigation. Confronted with the imminent flooding of their town and a hundred villages, the 3,000 habitants of Hasankeyf are divided. While some are angry at the sacrifice being imposed on them, others are impatient for the economic benefits promised by Ankara.
Ayhan, who is retired, is steadfast in his opposition. He dedicates all his time and energy to fighting against the dam as part of the "Keep Hasankeyf Alive" collective, which brings together campaigning groups and locally elected representatives.
Assyrians, Romans, Seljuks... the empires that washed over this region have left an exceptional heritage, not least the thousands of caves that were inhabited as recently as the 1970s and are a major tourist draw.
What Turkish government says
The Turkish government dismisses the criticism, arguing that everything has been done to save the monuments. In one lengthy operation last August, the 1,600-tonne Artuklu Hamam bath house was loaded onto a wheeled platform and moved down a specially constructed road to its new home. Such relocation operations have transformed Hasankeyf into a construction site.
Busloads of tourists have been replaced by swarms of dump trucks and a crane that sits at the town's entrance. In what is left of the old bazaar, the butcher, Zeki, sits among the morose-looking traders. During the inauguration of the Ilisu construction site in 2006, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then prime minister, promised the dam would bring "the greatest benefit" to local people. Part of this promise involves building a "new Hasankeyf" on the other side of the river, with spacious flats and an ultra-modern hospital.
But the construction work drags on. Currently it is a succession of small buildings separated by muddy roads, most of them unpaved. Delays and financial issues have plagued the dam's construction -- a project first conceived in the 1960s -- "causing a lot of uncertainty in our life", he says.
What kept investors away
In 1981, Hasankeyf was classified as a special conservation zone with a ban on construction that kept investors away. That lack of investment meant fewer jobs and many residents chose to move away for work or larger homes.