T here was something remarkable about Hasankeyf that made visitors fall for the town on very first sight.
Graced with mosques and shrines, it lay located beneath fantastic sandstone cliffs on the banks of the Tigris River. Gardens were filled with figs and pomegranates, and vine-covered teahouses hung over the water.
The golden cliffs, honeycombed with caverns, are believed to have actually been used in Neolithic times. An ancient fortress marked what was when the edge of the Roman Empire The ruins of a mediaeval bridge recalled when the town was a rich trading centre on the Silk Road.
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Now it is all lost forever, submerged below the rising waters of the Ilisu Dam, the most recent of president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s megaprojects, which flooded 100 miles of the upper Tigris River and its tributaries, including the once-stunning valley.
I visited the area consistently with photographer Mauricio Lima for half a year to witness the disappearance of the valley unfold in slow motion. The steadily broadening reservoir displaced more than 70,000 anguished residents. Undiscovered historical riches were swallowed up in addition to farms and homes.
The waters have rendered Hasankeyf an irretrievable antique of the bygone civilizations that had been likewise drawn to the beauty of the valley, carved over millenniums by among the Middle East’s biggest rivers.
When Erdogan turned on the very first turbine of the hydroelectric dam, commemorating the task’s completion in May, the president had his eye on more immediate issues but also on future splendors, promising that it would bring peace and prosperity to southeastern Turkey
” The wind of peace, brotherhood and success that will blow from the Ilisu Dam will be felt in these lands for centuries,” he informed the ceremony through video link.
The dam would contribute billions to the economy and water countless hectares of farmland, he stated.
Government officials have emphasised that hydropower provides their greenest choice when they chose to press ahead with the dam a dozen years back, permitting Turkey to decrease its dependence on imported coal and gas.
But many who lost their houses and incomes state they were never truly spoken with. They are bitter and traumatised. Ecologists and archaeologists, in Turkey and abroad, are upset and disappointed, too, at the loss of the valley and its treasures.
Their efforts to save Hasankeyf collapsed in the face of Erdogan’s increasing authoritarianism. International law, dragging the moving mindsets around climate change and the worth of protecting the environment, was inadequate for protecting the cultural heritage, they say.
Zeynep Ahunbay, a preservation architect, campaigned for more than a years to save Hasankeyf, not just for its historical gems but also for the value of its ancient natural setting.
” You see this valley, it is so impressive,” Ahunbay says, describing what it resembled to round the hillside and see Hasankeyf appear. “You see this river cutting the rock and it decreases and down, and in the end you have the castle of Hasankeyf. It is really marvellous, and nature and guy have actually formed this place.”
” To disturb or alter the natural process of the river is likewise criminal,” she says. “You lose the charm, you lose history, you lose nature. You are a loser all the time.”
When Erdogan first announced his determination to construct the dam, he championed it not just for the energy it would supply Turkey’s expanding economy however also for the advancement it would give the impoverished and insurgency-riven southeast.
The dam belongs to the huge Southeastern Anatolia Job watering plan that was begun in the 1980 s.
When the plan was very first developed in the 1950 s, there was little thought of its influence on the environment or on those who would be required to leave. However as Turkey developed democratically, opponents of the dam started arranging.
International activist organisations ended up being involved, too, challenging global investors over concerns about the ecological effect, the loss of cultural heritage and the damage to neighborhoods downstream in Iraq and Syria.
Ahunbay did not oppose the dam itself but campaigned to preserve Hasankeyf and resisted a plan to move the ancient monuments to higher ground and to entomb one in concrete.
As president of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, a worldwide professional association that works to protect cultural heritage sites, she and a group of colleagues took the case to the European Court of Human Being Rights. They lost in the end because none of the plaintiffs were residents of Hasankeyf.
The demonstration projects had early success in 2009, pushing numerous European partners to withdraw funding mainly because Turkey did not satisfy the requirements of social effect assessments.
However Erdogan was undeterred. He bought Turkish banks to action in and finance the job instead.
Money seemed no object. The federal government developed two brand-new towns to relocate those displaced, and brand-new highways and bridges to skirt the reservoir. Turkish companies, carefully allied to Erdogan’s federal government, won the building contracts.
The task had become a moneymaking exercise, a regional bureaucrat said, asking that he not be recognized by name for fear of reprisals from the federal government.
” They invested a horrendous amount of cash,” states Emin Bulut, a regional journalist and activist, who says the expense went to trillions of lira. “They could have fixed all the problems of the south with that.”
In 2012, federal government authorities showed up to start assessing home that would be immersed to compensate those who would be displaced. However the cash became a source of resentment, dividing the community, and even households, and raising accusations of corruption. The arguments disintegrated any combined opposition to the dam.
” We surrendered when they concerned determine your houses,” says Birsen Argun, 44, who together with her husband ran the Hasbahce Hotel, the only hotel in Hasankeyf, set in a garden of pomegranate and walnut trees along the river. “We brought it upon ourselves.”
Her partner attempted to persuade his siblings to refuse the money and defend a bigger payment in the courts, but they accepted the payment. Individuals withdrew the cash from accounts without telling others, she added.
Numerous of those who did attempt to organise a protest motion matured in Hasankeyf and were even born in the cave homes of the castle, like Arif Ayhan, 44, who started selling old coins to tourists and after that became a carpet dealer.
Politics split the project, he states, specifically when supporters of the forbidden Kurdish motion, the Kurdistan Workers’ Celebration, joined the rallies against the dam, shouting mottos and infuriating cops.
” This is why we stopped working,” he states. “We reside in the most beautiful location in the world, however we might dislike the worth of this location.”
After years of cautions, the end came all of a sudden. In August, the government closed the dam gates and released waters from a reservoir upriver. Households scrambled to move out of towns, abandoning homesteads, selling animals and even quickly constructing new homes and gain access to roads on greater ground.
” We hoped the water would not come,” says Remziye Nas, mother of 4, in the village of Bzere, where the water was lapping below her house. “We did not believe it would be flooded.”
In the village of Temelli, perched above the dam, Hezni Aksu, 60, looked down from his balcony to where his household’s farmhouse and lands were amongst the very first to go under water.
” This land was from our ancestors,” he states bitterly. His boy is now an out of work building and construction worker. “They made migrants of us.”
In Hasankeyf, under a heavy authorities presence, bulldozers demolished the old fete one weekend in November. As the ceiling collapsed and dust fell inside his store, something snapped inside Mehmet Ali Aslankilic. With a shout he set fire to his possessions in an only, anguished protest.
” It was my uncle’s shop. I had been working there because I was a child,” he states. “Burning my shop was the only method I might handle this.”
A couple of doors down, Mehmet Nuri Aydin, 42, packs his woven carpets of long sheep’s wool into sacks.
” We do not wish to go however we need to,” he says, adding that couple of shopkeepers could afford the leas in the brand-new town.
There was no wider demonstration. Because a failed coup in 2016, Turkey has actually prohibited all protests, so the campaign to save Hasankeyf had long because petered out. Activists were even cautious about what they published on social media. Government authorities kept professional photographers away.
With the bazaar demolished, families started to load furniture onto trucks and relocate to specifically developed homes in the brand-new town. They gathered the last pomegranates from the trees and stacks of firewood, some even wrenching off windows and doors frames from their old homes.
” Our hearts are burning,” Celal Ozbey, a retired civil servant, says as his wife and boys perform tables and bundles from your home.
They had been designated a home in the new town, however he was unsure they would stay, or if financial life would revive.
” Time will inform,” he states.
Fatime Salkan had refused to leave the low-pitched stone house that came from her moms and dads, neglecting the 15 th-Century El-Rizk mosque. Authorities warned her to move, however she was amongst a number of lots single individuals who, under a quirk of Turkish law, were ruled out eligible for a brand-new house.
” They informed me to leave sometimes,” she informed me in November. “If an engineer comes, I will state I am going to swim.”
She saw from her terrace in December when Dutch engineers raised the last of the mediaeval monuments, the 1,700- load El-Rizk mosque with its elaborately sculpted website, onto wheels and transported it across the river.
They transferred it on a manufactured hill next to the new town, where the government has put together numerous salvaged monoliths and constructed a modern-day replica of the mediaeval bridge. They watch out of put on the bare hillside, which will be made into a new archaeological park.
Archaeologists firmly insist that monuments preferably ought to be protected in their place however yield that if there is no other alternative, it is much better to save them in some way. For the perfectionists, however, the brand-new Hasankeyf is artificial and charmless.
” The genuine history is down there, and we are drowning it,” says Zulku Emer, 41, a master craftsman who was laying a cobbled street beside the new park. “That’s the Turkish method. We mess up something and then attempt and reside in it.”
© The New York Times