Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Guest post: Ways of seeing Hasankeyf

"The way we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe”
--John Berger, Ways of Seeing

When I was a small child, there were some abstract paintings dotted around my parents’ bedroom; brightly coloured acrylics on old bits of scrap board. My father was working long shifts in the shipyards at that time and had to concentrate on providing for our family so never developed his painting beyond this amateur level. However, his attempts to express himself influenced my own creativity and helped to develop a love of visual imagery that still permeates my everyday life.

Encouraging children to develop art and their "creative eye" is a gift that lasts a lifetime. To get pleasure from the simple things in life, such as a pattern made by peeling paint on a door or a sun-kissed leaf, is indeed a gift.

In May this year I was part of a group of artists at the Hasankeyf Ingathering. One main element of this event was to provide art workshops for the local children. Our art studio was a very simple space: a circular discussion area in the garden of the Belediye, which was kindly provided by the mayor.

We decided to make art "stations" so that the children could try a range of different activities. We came armed with rolls of paper, crayons, sequins, scraps of fabric and toilet-roll holders. The children were waiting impatiently as we arrived to set up, running to help us unpack our bags and prepare for the workshops. At first our young artists were so excited that they ran around trying to decide what to do first. Eventually, they settled down to begin work on their mini-projects.

The children were a mixture of ages and abilities so we had tried to keep our ideas simple and accessible for all. Some children made puppets, others produced a colourful Hasankeyf sign.

A small group of children were involved in basic stamping activities and others collaboratively painted a view of their hometown. We adults mingled and helped where needed to ensure that all the children were occupied although most worked independently and were happily engaged in their activity.

The children helped us to attached string to the poles enclosing the "studio" which became our hanging space. Once they realised the string’s use the children were keen to display their artworks as soon as they finished them. At the end of the workshops the children were walking around looking at what they had produced and pointing their work out to friends. Their artwork remained hanging outside throughout the weekend and the children added more pieces to their gallery the following day.

It could be argued that these kinds of community projects do not produce long-term effects and that it is unlikely that any of these children will get the chance to fully develop any artistic bents they may have. I beg to differ on both these points as I believe the world is starting to look different to these children and the world needs more people with vision.

-- Suzanne

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Weekends in the art garden

Over the past two years, Hasankeyf children and volunteers from Hasankeyf Matters have met intermittently for art workshops. These open-air sessions began in the fall of 2012, when Sulyon, an environmentalist performing-arts group from Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, incorporated them into their performance during the 2nd Hasankeyf Ingathering. Thanks to the children’s enthusiasm, the workshops have continued, taking on a life of their own.

Each young artist (or team of artists) starts with a piece of paper, a brush and some color – if pencils or crayons are at hand they may sketch an idea before putting color to paper.

Recurring themes have been houses (with or without parents), the river and bridge in Hasankeyf, mountains, mosques, Zeynel Bey Tomb, helicopters, and even the initials “GS” for Galatasaray. The children mix colors and try new tools – sponges, paper towels, cloth rags, pine cones.

Sometimes the painting evolves and advances with an impressive degree of experimentation, only then to gradually disappear as the paper becomes saturated and begins to dissolve into pulp. What harm can there be in using color with a sense of abandon?

Participation usually varies from 10 to 40 eager young artists, and it can take a few minutes of coaxing to get everyone to spread out where each “team” has room to paint (or make puppets, or prints or whatever new activities the visiting art “coaches” introduce).

There are often so many participants that artists work in teams, sharing brushes, pencils and palettes. When the organizers are too slow to refill palettes, Hasankeyf’s emerging leaders step in to help, which works very well until everyone decides to become a helper.

The workshops take place on weekend afternoons in the garden behind the Hasankeyf Mayor’s office, where they are free of the fixed time and space constraints of a typical classroom. Children understand immediately that future workshops depend on the availability of supplies and an invitation to return to the garden, so they are careful to clean brushes, palettes and paint spills before leaving. Water, soap suds, scrub brushes and towels provide a whole new source of excitement and experimentation.

Time and energy permitting, some of the artists share the story that goes along with their painting. At a recent workshop, an adult commented, “There’s a nice structure in this painting.” Without a moment’s hesitation, the 8-year-old artist explained, “This is a picture of the world. It has this long road. And this is Hasankeyf; it’s hard to see but it’s right here.”

"And this is Hasankeyf; it's hard to see but it's right here."
-- John

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The trails we leave

One of the points commonly thrown about in discussions on the significance of Hasankeyf is that of its continuous habitation, thought to date back many thousands of years. But aside from an impressive role call of past inhabitants and their stone-and-mortar vestiges, why does it matter that these ghostly antecedents were there, in Hasankeyf, and that people are still there now, today?

A little background

Hasankeyf's name may be related to "Kipani," mentioned in texts dating back to the rule of Assyrian king Assurnasipal II in the 9th century BCE. In the first century CE the East Roman historian Procopius refers to it as Ciphas (look here for a general history of Hasankeyf). Evidence of human settlement at Hasankeyf is most easily found in the monuments and artefacts that dot the town, marking the traces left there by Byzantines, Artukids, Ayyubids and so on. Indeed, the diversity of Hasankeyf's archaeological heritage is frequently cited as the chief reason it should be given UNESCO recognition.

Hasaankeyf's 12th century Artukid bridge
On continuity

...But, walking in the hills and canyons surrounding the city last month, another way in which use, habitation, human presence really matters was brought home to me. As literal as it is simple: the trails we leave.

The sides of the canyons are stippled with rock-cut steps, even handholds. As you negotiate them, mapless, the way reveals itself in stone rubbed clear of moss and lichen by the passage of predecessors. Yesterday, last week, last year, last century.

The existence of this anonymous inheritance is entirely dependent on uninterrupted habitation. Take away man and in five years the trails will be blurred by vegetation; in less than 20, almost invisible.

The passage of time
Of course, some of these paths may in any case be erased by a lake and obscured by silt and mud before they have a chance to grow bosky with disuse. But even those remaining high and dry will be left literally so; orphaned, cut off from the flow of people that created and perpetuated them.

In the grand scheme of things, alongside all that stands to be lost if the Ilısu Dam is impounded, this may seem a minor figure in a greater tragedy, but it is one the visitor feels keenly, as she explores Hasankeyf in the footsteps of the millennia.

-- Helen

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Sketching a vision for the future of Hasankeyf

Last month’s four-day Hasankeyf Ingathering marked the launch of an archival project to record images, sounds and other aspects of Hasankeyf’s tangible and intangible heritage, with a special emphasis on drawing and painting. Participants sat one morning at Zeydan’s Artuklu Café, some sketching the Rizk Mosque minaret, others focused on the Royal Pavilion or “smaller palace” at the corner of the Citadel. One afternoon we sat next to the minaret of the Süleyman Mosque and Tomb, with the great Koç Mosque in front of us. As we drew, children would gather around and adults would linger to observe: a picture in the making holds such fascination.
Drawing workshop, Artuklu Cafe, Hasankeyf
(Photo: Hasankeyf Matters)

This was the 5th Hasankeyf Ingathering, convened twice yearly since 2012 and drawing participants representing diverse professions: education, visual arts, journalism, advocacy, technology and more. There was ample time to explore Hasankeyf’s historical sites and natural beauty through a combination of hiking and sketching.
Hasankeyf, by Katy Muench

On Saturday, our path circled around “Ra’s Tibbah” (the small mountain that forms the southern wall of the lower city of Hasankeyf), led us to a Shi’i cave mosque, water canals and mills carved into the cliffs, and then continued on to Derike Church, in the shadow of the Citadel. On Sunday morning, we walked upstream to Dera Vadisi, a secluded valley accessible from the bank of the Tigris River through a passageway cut through the rock. Monday’s hike led downstream past the remains of the Syriac Christian village of Atafiye and then uphill to the long-abandoned Mor Aho Monastery, where we enjoyed a spectacular view of the Tigris Valley bounded by the Raman Mountains to the north and the steep slopes of the Tur Abdin Plateau to the south.
Mor Aho, known as "Der Mahar" in Kurdish, sits at the top of
a ravine - "mahar" - which leads down to the Tigris
(Photo: Hasankeyf Matters)
12 Imams Cave Mosque, Zih Canyon
(Photo: Charlotte Roxborough)

At mid-day on Friday, our first day together, we sat quietly in the Salihiyye Gardens, observing an hour of silence in honor of the victims of the Soma mining disaster. Later, we walked behind the Citadel and stopped by the grotto tomb of Şeyh Sevinç, where there is a spring of therapeutic water.

Throughout the long weekend, we shared ideas for attracting more people to Hasankeyf and generating additional contributions to the archival project (e.g., through week-long drawing workshops; developing an “inventory” of sites and activities to capture in different media; geocaching; incorporating yoga and/or other forms of meditation into the program).
Ra's Tibbah, the hill directly behind Hasankeyf, offers
spectacular views of the Citadel.
(Photo: Hasankeyf Matters)

Other suggestions aimed at facilitating interaction between visitors and local residents, both within the scope of the archival effort and beyond, such as:
  • Home-stays and local immersion opportunities focused on cooking, gardening, herding, etc.
  • Community involvement programs through which school groups from other towns and cities are invited to become active in Hasankeyf
  • Extended stays to teach a foreign language or facilitate workshops/coaching sessions on capturing different aspects of life in Hasankeyf (drawing, photography, voice recording, etc.)

A new alternative for introducing Hasankeyf
to global nomads www.geocaching.com 

Our hope is that some of the images and ideas generated by this and subsequent Hasankeyf Ingatherings will serve not only as a record of contemporary life here, but will become:
  • An open-source process through which the people and friends of Hasankeyf can record memories and sketch a vision for the future.
  • An occasion for decision-makers to look again at Hasankeyf and consider anew realistic, substantive and scientifically rigorous approaches to conserving the natural, archaeological and ethnographical heritage of Hasankeyf in balance with the demands of local, regional and national economic development.
It all starts with people taking the time for a closer look at what hangs in the balance.

-- HK Matters team

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

How to help, and other news

Whether it's writing an email from the privacy of your living room, organizing an event in your own community, or spending an extended period of time in Hasankeyf researching, teaching, or just exploring, there are myriad ways you can help us in our mission of showing the world that Hasankeyf matters.

At the top of this website, you'll now find a link for "How to Help," containing just a starter list of ways to contribute to the cause, a list we hope will spark your own creative ideas as well.

We've also added a new link for mentions of Hasankeyf and Hasankeyf Matters "In the News," a list of selected articles, videos, and blog posts in English, Italian, Dutch, Turkish, Spanish, German, French, Arabic, and other languages.

Finally, we encourage you to sign up for our "Friends of Hasankeyf" mailing list to get updates on the latest news and upcoming Ingatherings and other events.

Thank you for your continued support!

-- HK Matters team

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Calling Visual Artists: A Path to the Preservation of Hasankeyf, May 16-19

The 5th Hasankeyf Ingathering will take place May 16-19, 2014.

Calling all visual artists, amateur and professional
We invite visual artists, photojournalists, radio journalists, and other interested parties to help us build an archive – paintings, sketches, films, photographs, and sound recordings – of Hasankeyf. Our goal is to create a collection of compelling images and narratives 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.

Over the course of four days (May 16-19), participants in the 5th Hasankeyf Ingathering will have time to become familiar with the town and its people, work with children doing art, explore the area along the river and in the surrounding canyons, and create visual images, videos, and sound recordings – of landscapes, archaeological fragments, street scenes, flora and fauna, local craftsmen and musicians at work, the people of Hasankeyf or simply whatever catches their eyes, ears or hearts.

Daily activities: May 16-19, 2014

"See those sheep on the cliff?  Those our are sheep!"
  • Use the Hasankeyf Walking Guide: As you explore, ponder the puzzle of urban technology and town design – cliffs, canyons, caves, gardens, water canals cut into the rock, homes and palaces, public works, urban technology linking a medieval city with its natural environment
  • Meet the people who keep Hasankeyf alive: Encounters and conversations with shepherds, weavers, tailors, fishermen, gardeners, and others paint a rich picture of the community
  • Create: 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
  • Inspire children: In daily art workshops with Hasankeyf kids, participants will help them use paper, pencil, brush, and paint to explore ideas with color and line on a blank surface
  • Relax and reflect: Evenings are for sharing ideas and work, playing music, watching documentaries, offering critiques, and brainstorming

Is there still hope for Hasankeyf?
Relax with friends
The Ilısu Dam is due to be completed this year and threatens to destroy 80 percent of Hasankeyf. 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.
Because the world needs more places like Hasankeyf
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:

How to get there
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).

Sunrise, Ra's Tıbbah Hill, Hasankeyf
Where to stay
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, at +90.530.929.1527 to make your reservation.

What to wear
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. Mid-May weather brings warm days and cool nights. Bring a sweater, jacket (for cold nights), and a raincoat to be on the safe side. Good walking/trekking shoes are an absolute must!

Join us!
Let us know if you're coming by RSVPing to the Facebook event V. Hasankeyf'te Buluşalım, 16-19 Mayıs / 5th Hasankeyf Ingathering, 16-19 May 2014 or by sending us an email at hasankeyfmattersATgmailDOTcom.

In addition to your name and contact information (telephone and email preferred), sharing a bit more about yourself and your interest in the Ingathering -- your profession, your interests/expertise in visual media, your main motivation for participating, and any special requests/suggestions -- will help us plan the best event possible.

To keep up with all the latest Hasankeyf happenings, why not "like" our Hasankeyf Matters Facebook page too?

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

Hasankeyf Hasbahçe
Turkish & Arabic
Firat Argun, owner

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Trapped in limbo, Hasankeyf warms to a new season of tourism

Puzzled at how much the town changes from one visit to the next, a traveler returning to Hasankeyf asks, “How can there be so much work going on if Hasankeyf is about to be flooded?”

In recent months, for example, work has begun on a new municipal park; a field was prepared for a cirit tournament; and a network of surveillance cameras has been installed around town. There are newly paved streets, new walking paths, a new parking lot, and so on.
A new parking lot will leave more room for people to enjoy
the view (we hope for years to come)

Cirit clubs from Sivas and Erzincan competed in
Hasankeyf in December on a newly prepared field
Cameras have been installed in and around town

The local reaction to these projects varies from, “They will never flood Hasankeyf!” to “Hasankeyf is finished; there’s noting left here.”

The mood swings back and forth between hope and despair.

Fenced in, with an uncertain fate (12th c. Artukid Bridge)
Just three months ago there was a proud sense of solidarity and common resolve among local residents. It was the end of the tourist season, a four-man delegation from Hasankeyf had met with officials in Ankara, and many were optimistic that a bargain could be struck with the government.

Then followed a long, harsh winter. Sub-freezing temps kept a meter of snow on the ground for a month, with long interruptions in water and electricity. Short days, cold nights, no tourists and no income. Negotiations with the government in Ankara stalled.

“We’ve had enough,” says a grocer. Another merchant mentions that he’s thinking of heading west to find work, noting, “We’re not leaving Hasankeyf; Hasankeyf has already left us. This town cannot feed us.”

As the weather warms, there are signs the mood may be shifting yet again. The number of weekend tourists is rising gradually, and everyone is anxious to see the outcome of the March 30 local elections. Talking about his plans for the new season, a restaurant owner declares, “We want to try new things to attract customers. We can’t do everything this year. This is just a start, and we’ll do more next year.”
A new concrete footpath to the Zeynel Bey Tomb was built last year

Construction of the Ilısu Dam is scheduled to be completed within months, but it is not clear when the waters of the new Ilısu Reservoir will be allowed to rise, or how high they will rise. And without a transparent plan for evacuating residents and salvaging select archaeological monuments, it is impossible to know how many more seasons Hasankeyf has left.

In the meantime, the people of Hasankeyf eagerly await both day-trippers and those who can linger a while.
Weaver Fares Ayhan and textiles vendor Arif Ayhan
reset the loom for the new season