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Hasankeyf: doomed to a watery demise

Monday, February 20, 2006
Experts say it will be almost impossible to salvage the historical and cultural assets of Hasankeyf once construction of Ilısu Dam is completed
ANKARA - Turkish Daily News

A symposium was held in Diyarbakır over the weekend to discuss the salvation of Hasankeyf, which faces submersion when Ilısu Dam is constructed.

Hasankeyf, located on the Tigris River in the southeastern province of Batman, is an ancient city dating back 10,000 years that was declared a natural conservation area in 1981. However, the district as well as its historical and cultural wealth are in danger of being inundated by Ilısu Dam, part of the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP).

Hasankeyf excavation leader Professor Abdüsselam Uluçam said the cultural and historical assets of Hasankeyf were in dire straits.

Noting that construction of the dam was scheduled to begin next month, Uluçam told the Anatolia news agency: "Hasankeyf as well as many other small settlements are in danger of being submerged and lost forever to the waters of Ilısu Dam. Thus, work on its rescue are multidimensional in that it aims to preserve both Hasankeyf and nearby settlements as well as the cultural and historical treasures of the city."

"Around 80 percent of Hasankeyf's treasures have either been ruined or are about to disappear due to natural phenomena or lack of interest," he said, adding that the Zeynel Bey Tomb and Large Palace (Seyran Köşkü) faced the risk of ruin. "Fully 90 percent of the area will be submerged when the dam is built," he added.

Rescue work too slow:

Stating that archaeological and salvage work initiated in 1966 had proceeded slowly due to a lack of funding, Uluçam said: "We began excavation in Hasankeyf. We conducted an almost 15-year excavation study in just two years because of a sudden increase in financial support due to the dam's imminent construction."

"A total of 19 new cultural assets were discovered during this excavation. Their architectural identity was confirmed and they were physically shored up," he added.

Commenting that further work should be realized in two steps, he said: "Firstly, it is important to document the cultural assets that will be submerged by the dam, a 60-year task. Secondly, the artifacts excavated so far should be restored and protected."

Hard to save Hasankeyf under these circumstances:

Professor Ahmet Adil Tırpan of Selçuk University said at the Diyarbakır symposium that he had taken part in various excavation projects aimed at saving artifacts at risk of submersion and that construction of the Bakü-Ceyhan pipeline as well over historical structures had prevented some excavation.

"Culture tourism is very important, yet we don't really realize just how much. Although many projects aiming to save these kinds of artifacts are being drawn up, we need more coordination between them. We can't revive Hasankeyf's historical and cultural treasures after they are lost," he said. "It's really hard to save Hasankeyf under these circumstances."

Speaking at the symposium, Turkish History Foundation Chairman Orhan Silier said there were approximately 1,200 existing and future dams in Turkey, with 350 currently under construction and 100 more on the drawing board.

"The construction of dams damages the natural and cultural environment, which is almost impossible to revive later on. This damage should be reduced to a minimum," he said.

Don Quixote again on stage:

Osman Akkuş, dubbed "Don Quixote" for his activities to protect nature in Turkey and who went to Iraq as a live shield, held a demonstration in Diyarbakır to save Hasankeyf.

Arriving at the area on horseback with a lance in one hand and a shield in the other, Akkuş protested the dam's construction with a photograph of Hasankeyf and a note that read "Don't touch Hasankeyf."

"Hasankeyf is a world city and part of the common heritage of all humanity. It is our honor to keep it alive. We will not allow those determined to destroy Hasankeyf for the sake of energy to do so," he said.

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