Thursday, July 9, 2015

Rare examples of Seljuk visual culture at risk

The ruins of the Artukid Bridge trace the route by which travelers entered the lower city of Hasankeyf in bygone centuries. Built in 1145 by Kara Arslan, this bridge was the largest of its day and no doubt made a lasting impression on all who approached the city. From high above the Tigris River, those crossing the bridge enjoyed a sweeping view of khans, madrasahs, mosques, churches, and, in the distance, suburban villas and gardens.

The 250-meter bridge collapsed long ago, leaving the seven pylons

In its scale and beauty, the bridge attested to the wealth of Hasankeyf and the civil engineering capabilities of the Artukids (established in Hasankeyf as vassals of the Great Seljuks).

A reconstruction of the Artukid Bridge by Albert Gabriel

In addition, a series of relief carvings of human figures – thought to be court pages in ceremonial dress – were displayed on the bridge pylons and served as symbols of the sultan’s sovereign power and authority (Whelan 222). Scholars speculate that there were originally eight, possibly twelve figures; five have survived and are clearly visible to anyone who knows to look for them.

One of the five remaining relief carvings on the Artukid Bridge
Museums and libraries are full of illuminated manuscripts, ceramics, and metalwork reflecting the richness and complexity of Islamic visual cultures throughout history. What is less commonly known, however, is that at different periods, artistic tastes favored the use of human figural representation in architectural ornamentation, for example, among the Umayyads in Syria as well as the Seljuks of Iran and Anatolia. Many visitors to Hasankeyf are surprised to discover these carvings, which so clearly contradict the mistaken yet widespread assumption that the representation of human form is forbidden in Islam. Unfortunately, countless examples of human figural relief carvings and sculpture have been lost along with the secular buildings that held them; in some cases, they may have been “replaced by abstract floral and geometric ornaments and inscriptions” (Baer 51).

These relief carvings are visible from the courtyard Rızk Mosque

As the last remaining site in Turkey where one can observe a collection of human figural relief carvings in their original setting, the Artukid Bridge at Hasankeyf is an invaluable example of Seljuk cultural heritage. Turkey’s other surviving examples are few and far between. Two reliefs depicting angels remain from the Konya Citadel; one is held by the Konya İnce Minareli Medrese Museum and the other is in the Staatliche Museum in Berlin. The 12th-century bridge near Cizre also bears relief carvings showing human form, but the bridge actually stands within the borders of Syria.

Restoration work on the Artukid Bridge (July 2015)

No detailed plans for conserving these relief carvings have been published. Despite the fact that the waters of the Ilısu Dam will flood Hasankeyf within a number of years, the Artukid Bridge is currently undergoing restoration. The Turkish Highways Directorate is responsible for the project, which was approved by the Diyarbakır Cultural Properties Preservation Directorate. We hope that these extraordinary Seljuk relief carvings and the entire remains of the bridge will be conserved properly under the supervision of Turkey’s ICOMOS committee.

No contractor listed at the construction site

In their present location, the Hasankeyf relief carvings not only belie common assumptions about visual culture in medieval Islam, but also form part of the comprehensive collection of Seljuk art, architecture, and technology to be viewed in their original context in Hasankeyf. Now is the time for archaeologists, conservationists, and all those interested in medieval Islamic civilization to emphasize the importance of protecting the Artukid Bridge and the entire city of Hasankeyf and its hinterlands.

--HK Matters team

  • Baer, Eva. The Human Figure in Islamic Art: Inheritances and Islamic Transformations. Costa Mesa, Calif.: Mazda Publishers, 2004.
  • Öney, Gönül. Anadolu Selçuklu Mimari Süslemesi ve El Sanatları (Architectural Decoration and Minor Arts in Seljuk Anatolia). Türkiye İş Bankası Kültür Yayınları, 1992.
  • Whelan, Estelle, “Representations of the Khassakiyah and the Origins of Mamluk Emblems,” in Content and Context of Visual Arts in the Islamic World, P. P. Soucek, ed. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State UP, 1988. pp. 219-253.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Earliest temple found in Hasankeyf; yet another reason for @UNESCO to list #Hasankeyf

Archaeologists digging at the Neolithic mound in Hasankeyf have uncovered remains of a temple thought to be older than Göbeklitepe, according to an announcement this week by Batman University Chancellor Abdüsselam Uluçam, who is responsible for archaeological excavations at Hasankeyf.

Coming just as the UNESCO World Heritage Committee begins its annual meeting in Bonn, Germany, this news is a timely reminder to the international community of conservationists that Hasankeyf needs your support, now more than ever. Please join the Save the Tigris Campaign in urging Turkey, Iraq, and UNESCO to take the necessary steps to ensure that Hasankeyf and the Arab Marshlands of Iraq are preserved for the enjoyment and education of future generations.

Hasankeyf holds the remains of the earliest organized human settlement ever found. Digging at Hasankeyf under the supervision of Professor Yutuka Miyake of the University of Tsukuba, Japanese archaeologists have unearthed tantalizing clues about the diet, burial practices, and physical habitat of the people who lived here 11,500 years ago.

Recent excavations also shed light on the economic activity and standards of living in Hasankeyf during the Seljuk era. The discovery in 2012 of a water purification system dating to the 12th century attests to the sophistication of water management in Seljuk lands. An extensive network of natural streams and artificial canals, sections of which still function today, carried water to every part of Hasankeyf, including the citadel mount.
Remains of a 12th century water purification system,
excavated in Hasankeyf in 2012

Local gardeners, who rely both on wells and water diverted from surface streams, claim that a large underground network of cisterns and channels form the bigger part of the medieval water system, suggesting the need for continued archaeological work.

In addition, the remains of a ceramics factory on the edge of Hasankeyf’s Sâlihiyya garden district represent a rare example of medieval manufacturing, according to Oluş Arık, former head of excavations at Hasankeyf. Consisting of kilns, cooling pools, and areas for painting and storage, this complex constitutes the most important kiln remains in Anatolia and suggests that ceramics production in Hasankeyf was comparable to that of İznik. (See Arık, 201; Çeken, 22)
Hasankeyf ceramic kilns are thought to have
rivaled İznik in production capacity

The ongoing archaeological work at Hasankeyf demonstrates clearly and emphatically that Hasankeyf provides an unparalleled field in which to study the evolution of human habitat and deserves UNESCO listing as World Heritage to ensure that this research continues.

--HK Matters team

Arık, M. Oluş. Hasankeyf: Üç Dünyanın Buluştuğu Kent [Hasankeyf: The City Where Three Worlds Meet]. Ankara: Türkiye İş Bankası Kültür Yayınlar, 2003.

Çeken, Muharrem. “Materials, Techniques and Kilns used in the Production of Seljuk and Beylik Period Glazed Tiles.” In Tiles Treasures of Anatolian Soil: Tiles of the Seljuk and Beylik Periods. Ed. Rüçhan Arık and Oluş Arık. Istanbul: Kale Group Cultural Productions, 2008. pp. 13-23

Saturday, June 6, 2015

A legal challenge to Hasankeyf resettlement guidelines

Last month the Turkish Government issued a declaration (published 5 May 2015 in the Resmi Gazete) defining eligibility requirements for housing in the future settlement area of Hasankeyf. (An English translation is available here.)

Rather than ensuring “the equal enjoyment of the right to adequate housing by all” as required by international law, this declaration appears to exclude certain segments of the Hasankeyf population and prevent many residents from taking advantage of measures intended to ease the transfer to the new settlement area.

Specifically, only households that enjoy the status of “family” as defined by Article 17 of Housing Law 5543 are eligible to purchase residential units with state-supported financing. In addition, business owners who do not have adequate documentation of business operations, including commercial tax payments, will not be eligible to purchase commercial space in the new Market Center. One Hasankeyf business owner estimated that these criteria would disqualify 60 percent of Hasankeyf business owners.

The Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive (HYG) argues that the declaration is inconsistent with constitutional guarantees of equal rights and has filed a lawsuit in Batman to have the declaration annulled. Local and regional activists speaking at an HYG press meeting in Hasankeyf last Sunday described the Ilısu Dam project, which is expected to flood Hasankeyf and require residents to relocate, as the continuation of government policies that have forced Kurdish villagers from their homes and driven them into poverty. 

The Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive announced a lawsuit
against the recently published guidelines for
property purchases in the new settlement area.

While construction of residential units in the new settlement area has resumed after a pause of nearly two years, there is no clear timeline for the purchase and occupation of the new housing. Once qualifying families take possession of their new homes, they will be required to vacate their present homes within 30 days.

Construction of residential units in the new settlement area
has recently resumed.
The declaration also states that the cost of new units in multi-story buildings will range from 54,000 to 116,000 TL (not including taxes and the value of land). As one Hasankeyf resident noted, the typical Hasankeyf family accepted 70,000 TL from the government for a 2-bedroom home with garden and must go into debt to buy a home in an apartment building. “Where is the land, where are the gardens?” he asked.

It’s a valid question. The United Nations’ “Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-Based Evictions and Displacement” categorically reject the use of cash compensation to “replace real compensation in the form of land and common property resources.” Paragraph 60 of the UN Guidelines also state, “Where land has been taken, the evicted should be compensated with land commensurate in quality, size and value, or better.”

The topography, soil and town plan of the new settlement area
(foreground) cannot match the verdant gardens of Hasankeyf's
current residential neighborhood (visible in the distance). 

-- HK Matters team

Monday, November 24, 2014

In the Hasankeyf market: Arif Ayhan, kilims and kahkabu

Arif Ayhan helps his uncle, Fares Ayhan, straighten the loom
Like many in Hasankeyf, Mehmet Arif Ayhan could easily choose to live elsewhere. For several years he made his living designing and selling jewelry in Marmaris, a resort town on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. “But I always felt something was missing,” he says. “Marmaris is culturally very different from Hasankeyf, and being so far from home took its toll.”

“I felt that Hasankeyf had potential,” says Arif, a Hasankeyf native who returned to the town several years ago to build a business and start a family. “Every type of person comes to Hasankeyf, and I can meet people from all over the world, people from different cultures.”

Arif, a former weaver, in his shop
Today he sells textiles from Western Iran and Eastern Turkey. “Each region – Hakkari, Tabriz, Kirmanshah – has its own history,” says Arif, “and each kilim has a story. I love sharing these stories with people.” He is also eager to help visitors, be they journalists, photographers, film-makers or casual tourists, make the most of their time in Hasankeyf. The only thing he asks in return is for people to tell their friends about his hometown.

“There is no place like Hasankeyf, with its special setting on the banks of the Tigris River. We played in the caves when we were young,” says Arif. He recalls a game called kahkabu, a distinctly Hasankeyf version of “hide and seek,” explaining: “When we were children, one of our favorite games was kahkabu. There are two teams, five people on a team. We would cast lots to decide which team would hide first. We usually played in the evening and hid in the caves toward the Citadel.”

Anyone fancy a game of kahkabu?
Do you ever play kahkabu with guests visiting Hasankeyf? “We’ve not tried it so far,” he says, “but it would be a good way for tourists to learn about Hasankeyf, especially because this game is part of our heritage.”

The tomb of Aslan Baba, on the far side of the Citadel, is
one of several mausolea and cemeteries that encircle the town
Another way to discover the special culture of Hasankeyf is to visit the tombs and cemeteries that encircle the town, such as the tombs of Şeyh Sevinç, Wuqanna and Imam Abdullah. “Each year in the spring (late May or early June) there is a special festival in honor of Imam Abdullah,” Arif says. Hundreds of people come from surrounding towns to remember Imam Abdullah, who as the grandson of Ja’far al-Tayyar and nephew of the Caliph Ali, provides an important link to the first decades of Islam. As Arif says, “It’s not just that Hasankeyf is home for me, but this place has a pull on everyone. You can’t describe it, but when people come, they feel it immediately and they don’t want to leave.”

What is Arif’s favorite pastime in Hasankeyf? “Each day I walk across the bridge at least four times to look at the river and see look at the castle, but the thing I enjoy most is spending time with my son.”

-- John

This is the first in a short series of posts profiling local Hasankeyf business owners.

The view of Hasankeyf from the left bank of the Tigris

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Work slows at the Ilısu Dam site, but Hasankeyf residents have agreed to go

The news from Hasankeyf is as ambiguous as ever. The appropriation (istimlak) process took a big leap forward in September, with most residents agreeing to sell their property to the State. Despite this development, the timeline for evacuating and flooding the town appears to be as elastic as ever. Indeed, construction work at the Ilısu Dam stopped in August and has yet to resume, suggesting that there is still time to advocate for the preservation of archaeological and environmental treasure in a way that is both scientifically sound and economically beneficial.

Here is the current situation of Hasankeyf in a nutshell:

  • In September, most Hasankeyf residents agreed to sell their property to the State and many subsequently applied for housing in the new settlement area
  • Middle school students now attend classes at a new school in the new settlement area. Elementary and high school students still attend classes in Hasankeyf
  • Construction continues on the new bridge and educational and cultural facilities in the new settlement area
  • Hundreds of residential units must be built in the new
    settlement area before residents can vacate their present homes
  • Construction work at the Ilısu Dam stopped in August and has yet to resume

In August the government increased property valuations in Hasankeyf by 35 percent and lowered prices of new homes in the new settlement area by the same amount. Initially residents expressed hope that they would remain unified in rejecting the new offer, but there were soon rumors that some of the town’s larger property owners were one by one cutting private deals with the government.

A list of objections and demands,
published on the Hasankeyfliler
Facebook page (Sept 11, 2014)
A group of Hasankeyf residents staged rallies in the plaza next to the municipal building to raise objections about the liquidation offer. They published a list of demands, headed by a call to preserve Hasankeyf cultural heritage in its present location. Other objections included the lack of adequate emergency health care facilities in Hasankeyf and the need for a committee of independent experts to evaluate buildings constructed by TOKİ (the state-owned construction agency) in the new settlement area.

By the end of September local sources reported that most Hasankeyf residents had agreed to sell their property to the State. The cases of those who refused to accept the revised offer will be referred to the court.

In addition, middle school students are now bused to class in the new settlement area and remain there for the noon meal. (The elementary and high school students continue to attend class in Hasankeyf and go home for the noon meal.) Parents have expressed numerous concerns about the new arrangements, including the potentially negative impact on student morale and performance and reduced safety and security in a construction zone (e.g., street traffic in the new settlement area, which apart from a number of public offices remains unoccupied, is dominated by large trucks and heavy equipment).

While the situation in Hasankeyf is discouraging, questions remain about what will become of the town once the Ilısu Dam project is completed. Local sources have offered different explanations for the work stoppage at the dam, ranging from disagreements between labor and management to threats from the P.K.K. Earlier this summer there were unofficial reports of road blockages and explosions near Dar Geçit along the highway to Ilısu. Sources close to the project have said that since the dam is 90 percent complete, the pause in construction activity is intended to give related construction projects in other locales (e.g., the new bridge at Hasankeyf) time to reach the same level of completion. For now, the ostensible target for completing the Ilısu Dam and new bridge at Hasankeyf is mid-2015.
Ilısu Dam, June 2014 (photo: Toon Bijnens, ICSSI)

When will people have to relinquish their homes and move to the new settlement area? No one can say for sure. One Hasankeyf resident told us, “The situation in the country is very complicated at present and it’s not at all clear when people will have to move. We should know in two to three months.” Another resident speculated, “Everyone will stay in Hasankeyf another two to three years.”

-- HK Matters team

Friday, October 17, 2014

Cancellation/Change of Venue of 6th Hasankeyf Ingathering (VI. Hasankeyf Buluşmasının İptali/Mekanın Değiştirilmesi)

[Türkçe aşağıda]

Hasankeyf Matters regrets to announce the cancellation of the 6th Hasankeyf Ingathering (planned for 24-27 October in Hasankeyf) due to the rapidly changing international situation.

We thank everyone for their interest in and dedication to all that Hasankeyf stands for and invite all of our supporters to conduct local Hasankeyf Ingatherings in their own hometowns. Spread the word about the importance of Hasankeyf, discuss and write about your previous experiences there, and find neighbors who are Hasankeyf natives, and ask them to tell their stories, take photographs, and save these oral histories and images for future generations.

Stay tuned for updates on efforts to archive the intangible culture of this magnificent town.

-- HK Matters team

Hızlı değişen ulusalarası durumlar nedeniyle Hasankeyf Matters VI. Hasankeyf buluşama etkinliğinin (24-27 Ekim 2014) iptalini ilan ediyoruz.

Hasankeyf dostluğuna ve çabalara devam ettiğiniz için herkese teşekkür ediyoruz. Şimdiden hepinizi farklı farklı memletlerinizde Hasankeyf Buluşma etkinlikleri gerçekleştirmeye davet ediyoruz. Hasankeyf'i yaşayayıp tanıtalım. Komşularınızın arasındaki Hasankeyflileri arayınız ve hikayelerini söylemelerini rica ediniz. Hasankeyf'te ve diğer şehirlerde eş zamanda Hasankeyf hakkında sözlü tarihleri kaydedebiliriz, fotoğraf çekeriz ve gelecek kuşaklar için bu görüntüleri ve sözleri muhafız ederiz.

Bu muhteşem şehrin kültürel mirasın belgelennmesi hakkında haberleri almak için bu siteyi takıp ediniz.

-- HK Matters takımı

Thursday, October 2, 2014

6th Hasankeyf Ingathering, 24-27 October 2014

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Cancellation/change of venue of 6th Hasankeyf Ingathering (click link for details)

[Türkçe için önceki yazıya bakınız]

Explore and document Hasankeyf’s past and present, October 24-27, 2014. We invite artists, photographers, journalists, film-makers, craftspeople, musicians, archivists, folklorists, botanists, oral historians and other interested parties to help us build an archive – paintings, sketches, films, photographs, sound recordings, stories, and images reflecting Hasankeyf’s archaeological remains, nature, and intangible culture, giving all stakeholders the opportunity to see the town’s living heritage as a vital component of sustainable economic development in the region.

Please register by sending us an email at (include name, telephone, email, profession, creative interests and expertise with digital media).

Daily activities: October 24-47, 2014
  • Record stories and oral histories: Record your encounters and conversations with shepherds, weavers, tailors, fishermen, gardeners, and others to capture examples of the community’s unique culture and history
  • Contribute to the visual archive: Ample time will be set aside at different times each day, allowing for variety in lighting, to sketch, paint, photograph, record, and pursue other creative activities in a favorite spot
  • Share your expertise: In daily photography workshops, participants will help young photographers with essential techniques, such as lighting, composition, storage and backup
  • Use the Hasankeyf Walking Guide: As you explore, ponder the puzzle of urban technology and town design – gardens, water canals cut into the rock, homes and palaces, public works, urban technology linking a medieval city with its natural environment
  • Bıttım (Pistacia terebinthus), Rasçem orchards, Hasankeyf
  • Relax and reflect: Evenings are for sharing ideas and work, playing music, watching documentaries, and brainstorming

Is there still hope for Hasankeyf?
The schedule for completing the Ilısu Dam has been extended into 2015. However, it remains unclear when – or how high – the waters of the new Ilısu Reservoir will be allowed to rise. In effect, no one knows how much time Hasankeyf has left, because there is no transparent plan for evacuating residents and salvaging select archaeological monuments. We firmly believe that as long as there is life in Hasankeyf, there is hope that a win-win solution can be found that’s good for both Hasankeyf and the Turkish economy.

Is Hasankeyf worth the struggle?
Absolutely, now more than ever.

Hasankeyf, with its magnificent fragments of Seljuk-era monuments, offers an unparalleled venue for Turks, Arabs, Kurds, and others to recall past glories, compare their narratives of the past, and explore the mosaic of cultures, dynasties, and religions. Hasankeyf, one of the first places ever chosen for organized human settlement 12,000 years ago, is still a city where civilizations meet for peace and reconciliation – not to mention tranquility, reflection, and dreams.

Practical information:
Pegasus Airlines and Turkish Airlines fly to Diyarbakır, Mardin, and Batman. Public transportation to Hasankeyf takes 90 minutes (from Batman) and 2-3 hours (from Diyarbakır and Mardin).

Lodging is available at Hasankeyf Hasbahçe. Accommodations include en suite rooms (double, triple or dorm) at the special rate of 60 TL per person (including breakfast) and space in the garden for campers (35 TL per person, including showers and breakfast). Contact Firat Argun, owner, directly at +90.530.929.1527 to make your reservation.

Dress according to local climate and tastes – both men and women should avoid shorts and sleeveless shirts/tank tops, opting instead for comfortable and loose-fitting trousers and shirt tops. Weather conditions can change quickly in late-October. Bring a sweater, jacket (for cold nights), and a raincoat to be on the safe side. Good walking/trekking shoes are an absolute must!

For more information, please contact:
Hasankeyf Matters
English, French, Turkish & Arabic

Hasankeyf Hasbahçe
Turkish & Arabic
Firat Argun, owner