Monday, November 23, 2015

How to help: Appeal for the permanent protection of Hasankeyf

We urge our supporters to write letters explaining what Hasankeyf means to you and the entire world. Whether you live in Turkey or not, please adapt our letter template (click for English, Turkish and French versions) and contact your political leaders and policy-makers about the need to protect Hasankeyf, in the name of peace and sustainability.

Want to do more to contribute towards our goal of raising the profile of Hasankeyf both nationally and internationally? We've got some other ways to help too!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

An open letter to G-20 delegates

As the G-20 Leaders Summit prepares to meet this weekend in Antalya, Turkey, we urge summit delegates to support the robust conservation and permanent protection of Hasankeyf, a 12,000-year-old settlement in south-eastern Turkey. With its unparalleled combination of universally valuable natural and cultural heritage, Hasankeyf provides an excellent opportunity to emphasize two messages central to the mission of the G-20 and the United Nations: peace and sustainability.

The town’s long history, strategic location within a region known as the cradle of civilizations, and unique collection of medieval architecture make Hasankeyf an invaluable nexus for different peoples to explore shared histories.

Surrounded by vast, unspoiled hinterlands, Hasankeyf also offers an extraordinary chance to demonstrate that rigorous heritage preservation is key to sustainable economic growth over the long term.

Arguably the best-preserved city from the Seljuk era, Hasankeyf displays even today extensive examples of that period’s urban infrastructure, including roads, water distribution networks and manufacturing facilities. Its skyline, dominated by the pylons of a 12th-century bridge and the minarets of two 15th-century mosques, serve as a reminder that Hasankeyf is also the product of numerous cultures and civilizations, most recently the Turkmen Artukids and the Kurdish Ayyubids.

The site’s biodiversity is remarkable as well, including rare and endangered species such as the leopard barbel fish, the pied kingfisher, and a wild variety of chickpea.

According to an independent report by the Turkish NGO Doğa Derneği, Hasankeyf meets nine out of ten UNESCO criteria. But it has not been designated as a World Heritage Site. And time is running out.

The immeasurable cultural heritage of Hasankeyf and the surrounding Tigris Valley are under serious threat by a controversial mega-dam now nearing completion at Ilısu, a village 60 kilometres downstream from Hasankeyf.

We respectfully urge you to do all that you can to open a dialogue with leading conservationists, government decision-makers, and other stake-holders in Turkey about the best way to ensure the permanent protection and sustainable conservation of Hasankeyf’s universal cultural and natural heritage.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

For peace and sustainability

Voting is underway in today’s historic parliamentary elections, with high hopes for peace and reconciliation for all citizens of Turkey.

No matter the outcome, Hasankeyf will remain under threat of flooding until a compromise solution is agreed by all parties concerned – national and regional policy makers, local residents, etc.

Construction of the Ilısu Dam has halted temporarily, opening a window of hope for a brighter future for Hasankeyf. However, in the event that the Ilısu reservoir does not flood Hasankeyf, uncontrolled property development and commercial activity could severely and irreparably damage the cultural and natural heritage of the site.

It is crucial, therefore, that friends of Hasankeyf and leading heritage advocates work together on three strategic efforts:
  1. Write letters and network with politicians, activists, social entrepreneurs and business executives to keep Hasankeyf top of mind during the countdown to the 40th meeting of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee in Istanbul in July 2016.
  2. Build a “dialogue around heritage” where stakeholders from across the political spectrum can share ideas for strengthening peace through environmental sustainability.
  3. Put forward detailed models for managing Hasankeyf‘s cultural and natural heritage in an environmentally, culturally and economically sustainable manner.
The seeds of dialogue are already in the ground, and a variety of organizations (governmental and non-governmental) are working to encourage all to take a second look at Hasankeyf.

In 2011, state-owned Turkish Airlines (THY) mounted a publicity campaign to increase awareness about Hasankeyf as an international tourist destination.

Daily THY flights to Batman, gateway to Hasankeyf  
Since 2013, the District Governor of Hasankeyf has sponsored a number of improvements, including the construction of a telegenic open-air amphitheater (with Hasankeyf’s legendary skyline in the background). Working in cooperation with DİKA (The Tigris Development Agency), the District Governor has also begun to develop a network of ecological villages emphasizing local garden produce, culinary traditions and handicrafts as the basis for tourism.

The new amphitheater offers one of the best views of Hasankeyf

Architectural lighting in Hasankeyf was upgraded in 2014

At the regional level, volunteers in southeast Turkey, particularly Batman and Diyarbakir, are taking new approaches to promoting the cause of Hasankeyf. Working in cooperation with the Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive and a network of local ecological councils, the Hasankeyf Solidarity Group has organized numerous activities this fall, featuring panel discussions, bicycling and kite-flying as well as press-conferences calling for “peace for humanity and nature.”

The Hasankeyf Solidarity Group offers new ways of seeing Hasankeyf

By continuing to build a truly open dialogue around heritage, people of varying perspectives and philosophies can come together to share different visions of past, present and future in Hasankeyf.

--HK Matters team

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