Friday, March 10, 2017

Halt Removal of the Zeynel Bey Tomb - Second Open Letter to Bresser Eurasia and Er-Bu İnşaat

9 March 2017

Open letter to:

Mr. Taco Bresser
Bresser Eurasia BV.
Viltweg 1p, P.O. Box 5231
3295 ZJ ’s-Gravendeel
The Netherlands

Mr. Ercan Tunç
Mr. Burhan Çetin
Er-Bu İnşaat
Yıldızevler Mah. 730. Sok. No:10/6
Çankaya, Ankara
Fax: +90 312 441 82 06

Second Request to Withdraw From the Relocation of the Zeynel Bey Tomb
in Hasankeyf, Turkey

Dear Mr. Taco Bresser
Dear Mr. Ercan Tunç
Dear Mr. Burhan Çetin

We, the undersigned, representatives of organisations that collectively have been striving for nearly two decades to save the ancient city of Hasankeyf and the natural ecosystem of the Upper Tigris Basin, are writing to reiterate our previous requests, one of which was addressed to Er-Bu İnşaat and dated 31 October 2016, and another to Bresser Eurasia, dated 5 December 2016. We urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to:
  1. Cease immediately all work related to the removal of the Zeynel Bey Tomb until the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issues a decision in the related case (Application number 6080/06), which disputes the viability of Turkey’s plan for the removal of select monuments, including the Zeynel Bey Tomb.

  2. Provide to the public examples of previous work demonstrating the feasibility of the project to relocate the Zeynel Bey Tomb. Ideally, these examples should be similar to the current project in terms of historical significance, structural complexity and operational risk. Local people have raised questions about the criteria used in awarding the contracts for this project, particularly as Turkey’s State Hydraulic Works (DSİ) failed to attract proposals during three publicly announced bidding cycles in 2014 and 2015.

  3. Provide to the public a detailed explanation of the operational risks you have identified for the relocation of the Zeynel Bey Tomb and the measures you are taking to mitigate these risks. There is a broadly held assumption among the public that this move poses significant risk of damage to or destruction of the monument. These concerns are reasonable, considering the monument’s extraordinary significance, its composite structure and fragile condition and the exceptionally long distance and incline of this relocation effort.
The failure of the DSİ to inform and consult the public in the planning and execution process for this project violates the right of the local population to participate in the cultural life of the community, as guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Furthermore, your firms are carrying out this highly controversial and legally disputed project while Turkey is under a State of Emergency and the district of Hasankeyf has been declared a security zone, both of which severely restrict the freedom of the press and the right of citizens to protest.

Local sensitivities to this dynamic are informed by current hostilities between Turkey and Kurdish separatists, which are part of an armed conflict that has continued for more than three decades. Local memory is long in Upper Mesopotamia, and local people trace these patterns of central authority abuse of local autonomy as far back as the Ottoman conquest of Upper Mesopotamia in the early 16th century.

The tomb, an elegant synthesis of Turkic and Aryan elements, is of incomparable historic and artistic importance. Not only does it reflect today the pride and dignity that local people associate with their region’s unique identity, but it also stands as an example of and call to peaceful cross-cultural cooperation.

In its original location, the visual appeal of the Zeynel Bey Tomb depends largely on its careful placement so that it reflects the shapes and colours of the surrounding mountains. Furthermore, its spatial relationship with other monuments – in particular the bridge, the minarets of the lower city and the Citadel mount – lend depth and perspective to the medieval cityscape. What is more, the geometric lines linking these monuments, which represent Roman, Byzantine, Kurdish, Arab, Turkmen, Persian, Muslim, Christian and other traditions, create an engaging physical environment for exploring the urban history of Upper Mesopotamia.

The removal of the Zeynel Bey Tomb to a site where it will be dwarfed by modern buildings will destroy its majesty and diminish its significance. This will be a tragic loss and an unforgivable act of wanton cultural heritage destruction. Your work in Hasankeyf marks the beginning of the destruction of this 12.000-year-old city and the rich biological ecosystem of the entire Tigris River Basin. (Please note that the adverse impacts of the Ilısu Project threaten the viability of the Iraqi Marshlands, recently inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.) Unfortunately, these acts of destruction targeting evidence of cultural difference have become all too common a feature of the hostile conflicts plaguing the world today, particularly in Western Asia and North Africa. Your firms’ involvement in this trend clearly contravenes international standards for corporate responsibility in the context of sustainable development.

Specifically, by supplying the technology and skills required to complete this critical first step in the removal of select examples of Hasankeyf’s cultural heritage, Bresser Eurasia and Er-Bu are contributing substantially to the adverse human rights impacts of the larger Ilısu Dam and Hydroelectric Power Plant (HEPP) Project, including but not limited to:
  • Denying people the right to participate in the cultural life of the community
  • Population displacement likely to result in increased poverty and emigration, both internal and external
  • The loss of largely undocumented intangible heritage, e.g., oral histories, local knowledge of flora and fauna, etc.
  • Loss of biodiversity
OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises urge companies to take steps to prevent adverse human rights impacts arising from projects within the context of their supply chains. Your firms’ contributions to the Ilısu Project also fall short of the standards of corporate responsibility set forth by the Sustainability Unit of The Netherlands Commission for Environmental Assessment.

If left in its original location, the Zeynel Bey Tomb could help to make Hasankeyf and its surroundings one of the most compelling destinations for culture and adventure tourism in Anatolia. As demonstrated in Cultural Heritage Counts for Europe, a meta-study published by a consortium led by Europa Nostra, proper management of cultural heritage sites is a cost-effective way to achieve significant economic gains, including jobs for local people and tax revenue. If spared flooding, Hasankeyf could help Turkey broaden and diversify its tourism sector, which in recent years has accounted directly for 4 per cent of GDP and 20 per cent of the country’s exports.

We understand that your schedule is very busy and that this is short notice. However, given the urgency and gravity of this matter, we respectfully request an opportunity to discuss these demands with you within the next weeks, no later than 22 March.


Ercan Ayboğa, The Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive
Öner Öztürk, Batman Ecological Council
John Crofoot, Hasankeyf Matters
Toon Bijnens, Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative
Ali Al-Kharki, President, Humat Dijlah/Tigris Keepers Association
Ismaeel Dawood, Un Ponte Per . . .
Ulrich Eichelmann, RiverWatch
Nicholas Hildyard, The Corner House
Jonas Holmqvist, FIVAS - Association of International Water Studies
Annelies Broekman, Catalan Network for a New Water Culture
Heike Drillisch, GegenStroemung - CounterCurrent
Estella Schmid, Peace in Kurdistan Campaign
Wiert Wiertsema, Both ENDS

+++ Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive (Turkey) +++ Mesopotamian Ecology Movement (Turkey) +++ Hasankeyf Matters (Turkey) +++ Save the Tigris and Iraqi Marshes Campaign (Iraq) +++ Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (Iraq) +++ Humat Dijlah/Tigris Keepers Association +++ Movement for the Protection of Aracthos River (Greece) +++ Ecological Collective of Irakleio (Greece) +++ Friends of the Earth (Greece) +++ Cultural Center of Kurdistan (Athens, Greece) +++ Network for Social Ecology (Greece) +++ FIVAS - Association of International Water Studies (Norway) +++ Both ENDS (Netherlands) +++ The Corner House (UK) +++ Peace in Kurdistan Campaign (UK) +++ Counter Current (Germany) +++ Ekologistak Martxan (Basque Country) +++ BBVAren aurkako Plataforma (Basque Country) +++ Xarxa per una Nova Culutra del’Aigua (Catalonia) +++ Ecologistas en Acción Spain +++ Un Ponte Per . . . (Italy) +++ River Watch (Austria) +++ International Rivers (USA) +++

Friday, February 24, 2017

The imminent displacement of the Zeynel Bey Tomb

Bresser Eurasia (a subsidiary of the Dutch firm Bresser) and Er-Bu Inşaat (a Turkish firm) are rapidly preparing to relocate the Zeynel Bey Tomb from its centuries-old location along the banks of the Tigris River in Hasankeyf. The partnership between the two companies was signed during a Dutch trade mission to Turkey in December 2015, "Turkey and the Netherlands: Partners in Sustainable Development."

The concrete platform holding the tomb will be lifted onto a trailer

Most work at the site of the tomb has now been finished, including the insertion of beams through the base of the structure and the pouring of a concrete foundation around the base of the tomb. This new foundation holds vertical pipes, which form part of the hydraulic system for lifting the structure. The tomb will lifted onto a trailer and moved two kilometers in eight hours. Work on the foundation at the new location is nearing completion.

The special road being built for the removal operation is also fast approaching completion, and the transfer may be completed within a matter of weeks.

Modern buildings near the new site for the Zeynel Bey Tomb

Locals concerned about project risks

Local people in Hasankeyf have expressed concern about the tomb’s condition and the risk of the relocation operation. Earlier this month, the Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive issued a statement emphasizing its concern about the risks of the project and criticizing the failure to consult the public about the relocation plans.

Last year, Hasankeyf mayor Abdulvahap Kusen from Turkey's ruling AK Party told reporters, "If we break it [the Zeynel Bey Tomb], the symbol of our historic town, we will be disgraced before the world."

High-level government officials have also noted the extremely fragile condition of the tomb. In a 2012 press release on the DSİ (
General Directorate of State Hydraulic Works) website, Minister of Forestry and Water Veysel Eroğlu referred to the delicate condition of the tomb, saying, "If we throw a stone at the Zeynel Bey Tomb, it will collapse."

As the only example of Timurid-style architecture in Anatolia, the Zeynel Bey Tomb is a visually compelling monument to long centuries of cross-cultural interaction between Turkic and Aryan civilizations in Upper Mesopotamia.

The Zeynel Bey Tomb in its original landscape

Its removal to a site where it will be dwarfed by modern buildings, including an oversized adaptation of Anatolian Seljuk tombs (typical of the Anatolian Plateau but quite rare in Upper Mesopotamia) will severely diminish its majesty and significance. 

This adapted reconstruction of a traditional Rum Seljuk tomb
will overshadow the Zeynel Bey Tomb at its new location

In a 2006 comment criticizing the government's plans for the open-air museum where pieces of eight historic buildings from Hasankeyf (including the Zeynel Bey Tomb) are to be displayed, Professor Zeynep Ahunbay, the lead plaintiff in a case currently before the European Court of Human Rights, said, "This destructive transfer operation can not be accepted as an act of preservation or salvage; it will create a sad caricature (!) of the real thing."

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Open Letter: Stop the Relocation of the Zeynel Bey Tomb

Representatives of more than 20 Turkish and international organizations have signed an open letter to Bresser Eurasia (a subsidiary of the Dutch engineering firm Bresser) and Korres Engineering (in Greece) requesting that they withdraw from the project to relocate the Zeynel Bey Tomb in Hasankeyf, saying in part: "To remove this monument from the alluvial plain to a slope where it will stand close to modern structures and a selection of architectural reconstructions is to rob the region of one of its most distinctive and beloved historic buildings."

The full text of the letter follows below.

+++ Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive, Turkey +++ Mesopotamian Ecology Movement, Turkey +++ Hasankeyf Matters, Turkey +++ Save the Tigris and Iraqi Marshes Campaign, Iraq +++ Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative, Iraq +++ Movement for the Protection of Aracthos River, Greece +++ Ecological collective of Irakleio, Greece +++ Friends of the Earth, Greece +++ Cultural Center of Kurdistan, Athens/Greece +++ Network for Social Ecology, Greece +++ Both Ends, Netherlands +++ The Corner House, UK +++ Peace in Kurdistan Campaign, UK +++ Counter Current, Germany +++ Ekologistak Martxan, Basque Country +++ BBVAren aurkako Plataforma, Basque Country +++ Xarxa per una Nova Culutra del’Aigua, Catalonia +++ Ecologistas en Acción Spain +++ Un Ponte Per, Italy +++ Rivers Watch, Austria +++ International Rivers, USA +++

Open letter to:
1) Bresser Eurasia BV.
Viltweg 1p, P.O. Box 5231, 3295 ZJ’s-Gravendeel, The Netherlands

2) Korres Engineering
9 Varnali Str., Melissia 151 27, Athens, Greece

Request to withdraw from the relocation of the Zeynel Bey Tomb in Hasankeyf/Turkey


Dear Mr. Taco Bresser, Bresser Eurasia,
Dear Mr. Dimitri Korres, Korres Engineering,

As representatives of civil society organisations working to save Hasankeyf, an ancient city in the predominantly Kurdish southeast of Turkey, we write to urge you to withdraw from the project to relocate the Tomb of Zeynel Bey.

From recent communication with Korres Engineering we understand that your companies are jointly providing the technical expertise and capability required to the Turkish company “Er-Bu” for the relocation of the Zeynel Bey Tomb, with Korres Engineering contributing to the planning and Bresser Eurasia in charge of the physical lifting and transporting of the monument. We invite you to meet with us to discuss further the concerns outlined below.

The Zeynel Bey Tomb, built nearly 600 years ago in the late-15th century, is a cultural heritage property of the utmost importance. Removal from its original location would be a tragic loss for all humanity. It would also be the first step in the destruction of Hasankeyf and of the ecosystem of the Tigris Valley, both threatened by the Ilısu Dam and Hydroelectric Power Plant (HEPP) Project.

Your firms’ assistance in the relocation of the Zeynel Bey Tomb provides critical support to the Ilısu Project, one of the most controversial dam projects in the world and the subject of extensive domestic and international criticism. In June 2009 the Export Credit Agencies (ECAs) of Germany, Switzerland and Austria pulled out of the Ilısu Project – followed by European Banks and most of the companies – due to the extreme impact on cultural heritage, environment and local population. This decision of the ECAs was taken after 2 years of intensive research and discussions. The historical significance of Hasankeyf, especially the city’s extraordinary collection of medieval Islamic monuments, played a crucial role in this decision.

If implemented as planned, the Ilisu HEPP Project would flood a 136 km stretch of the Tigris Valley, severely affecting approximately 55,000 people and compromising the habitat of thousands of species, including numerous threatened endemic bird, fish and amphibian species. The area to be flooded includes at least 289 archaeological sites, 199 villages and the ancient city of Hasankeyf. In March 2016, Europa Nostra included Hasankeyf in its 7 Most Endangered programme, describing it as “one of the most important architectural and archaeological sites in Europe”.

The Zeynel Bey Tomb is particularly important, not least because it is the most widely recognized symbol for the entire region. Reflecting strong Persian and Central Asian influences, the tomb is a poignant memorial to the rivalry between the Ottomans and the Akkoyunlu, a Turkmen Tribal Confederation that preceded the Safavids in ruling Iran. As the only Timurid-style monument in Anatolia, it expresses the overlap between Anatolian and Iranian civilization in Upper Mesopotamia.

We recognize that your firms’ shared values in historical preservation and your expertise in structure relocation may bring you to this project in an attempt to salvage the monument for posterity. However, we are concerned that the project may very likely result in grave and irreparable damage. The beauty of the tomb depends largely on the visual interplay of its shape and colour with the cliffs and peaks of the surrounding landscape. To remove this monument from the alluvial plain to a slope where it will stand close to modern structures and a selection of architectural reconstructions is to rob the region of one of its most distinctive and beloved historic buildings. As the value of Hasankeyf’s immovable cultural heritage is inseparable from the well-preserved medieval urban landscape, a small collection of salvaged elements would have little significance outside their original context.

There are also legal questions about the bidding process by which the lead contractor, Er-Bu Insaat, was selected. In addition, the project has failed to obtain the approval of the regional chambers of architects and engineers (TMMOB), which is a legal precondition of the project. We also believe that this failure to consult the public on the decision to move the tomb, the selection of its new location and the vetting and validation of the technical plan for moving the structure contravenes Turkish and European laws and conventions.

We note as well that, in the event that Hasankeyf is spared flooding, this invaluable cultural landscape has the potential to become a regional centre of cultural and adventure tourism. This alternative would create thousands of jobs over the long-term, whereas the Ilısu Project promises only 150 jobs over the long-term. This is why there is such overwhelming opposition in the affected region to pursuing such a destructive project.

The case of the Zeynel Bey Tomb is different from that of Abu Simbel. Indeed, removal of the Zeynel Bey Tomb would be comparable to the destruction of the Bamiyan statues, Palmyra and the Mostar Bridge. To continue your involvement in this project, would, in our view, leave Bresser Eurasia and Korres Engineering open to the charge of being party to the destruction of a monument with outstanding cultural value, with consequent reputational risks. We therefore very much hope that you will withdraw.

As stated above, we would very much welcome a meeting to discuss our concerns further.


Ercan Ayboğa, Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive and Mesopotamian Ecology Movement
John Crofoot, Hasankeyf Matters
Ali Al-Kharki, Iraqi Coordinator of the Save the Tigris and Iraqi Marshes Campaign
Toon Bijnens, Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative
Nicholas Hildyard, Co-Director, The Corner House
Estella Schmid, Peace in Kurdistan Campaign
Heike Drillisch, Counter Current
Peter Bosshard, International Rivers
Ulrich Eichelmann, Riverwatch
Annelies Broekman, Xarxa per una Nova Cultura de l’Aigua
Ismaeel Dawood, Un Ponte Per
Wiert Wiertsema, Senior Policy Adviser, Both ENDS

Further information: (regional initiative against the Ilısu Project) (group working on the cultural heritage in Hasankeyf) (Save the Tigris and Iraqi Marshes Campaign) (former campaign against the European involvement)

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Sâlihiyya Gardens of Hasankeyf

The Sâlihiyya Gardens are located to the east of the medieval ceramic kilns and the walls of Hasankeyf’s lower city. Here you will find fragments of villas, mosques and madrasahs among small garden plots where local Hasankeyf residents still cultivate fruits and vegetables.

Peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, grapes,
pomegranates, and figs are just some of the 
products of Hasankeyf's several gardens.

In its location and distinctly “suburban” atmosphere, the Sâlihiyya district of Hasankeyf recalls the City of the Dead in Cairo (where the wealthy retreated to family mausoleums for holidays and in summer), the Salahiyya district of tombs and dervish lodges on the edge of Damascus, and the cemeteries and gardens on either side of the defense walls of Istanbul. Whereas modern urban sprawl has engulfed and dwarfed the old fields and gardens in most cities of the region, in Hasankeyf the proportions of the Sâlihiyya district, lower city and citadel are much closer to what they would have been 900 years ago, when the Sokmen branch of the Artukids made its capital here.

The Haydar Baba funeral complex is one of the
better-preserved sites in the Sâlihiyya Gardens.

The gardens of Hasankeyf hold traces of residential architecture, including the eyvan and pool of the “Artukid villa.” The eyvan is a distinctive architectural form, typically described as vaulted porch or veranda with “walls on three sides and completely open on the fourth.”

Eyvan and pool of the "Artuklu villa" in the Sâlihiyya Gardens

Ibn al-Munshi’, who wrote a historical chronicle of Hasankeyf in the early 15th century, writes that Sultan al-Malik al-Adil spent the summer of 1348 at the “Sâlihiyya Pavilion,” where he “enjoyed the pleasures of youth,” sitting most mornings “at the eyvan with his deputies and commanders attending to the affairs of the people and the business of government” and “summoning court entertainers” and his princely guests in the afternoons.

The remains of an eyvan and pool in the Kasimiyye
district of Hasankeyf (east of the Sâlihiya Gardens)

The sultan’s guests would likely have gathered in various chambers of the pavilion or in the courtyard, those of the highest status taking in the scene from the shade of eyvan. Following Artukid tradition, the innermost wall of the eyvan would have been ornamented with a fountain from which water emptied into a shallow channel in the floor of the eyvan, cooling the air as it flowed to the pool in the courtyard.

The Kasimiyya Madrasah in Mardin offers a fine intact
example of the eyvan and pool combination.

Garden districts were an integral part of medieval cities in Seljuk lands and across the Islamic world. The gardens of Merum, which stood outside the city walls of Konya, were “famed in Seljuk and Ottoman times for their lushness and beauty.”* Unfortunately, most of these gardens have disappeared, and scholars must rely on textual sources – poetry, epic, travel narrative and scientific treatises – to understand garden complexes as an alternative space for conducting business and entertaining guests. Further archaeological excavation at the Sâlihiyya Gardens has the potential to strengthen significantly scholarship on the history of medieval landscape design and the social uses of gardens. #HasankeyftoUNESCO.

Emin, who works in his garden each morning,
is always generous in sharing his expertise.

* Scott Redford, Landscape and the State in Medieval Anatolia: Seljuk Gardens and Pavilions of Alanya, Turkey. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2000, p. 62.

Monday, July 11, 2016

What will you do for Hasankeyf?

With a history reaching back 11,500 years, the cultural heritage of Hasankeyf is a vital resource for building peace. Unfortunately, the site is under threat of flooding by the controversial and massive Ilısu Dam and Hydroelectric Power Plant (HEPP) project. Inscription of Hasankeyf and its environs as a UNESCO World Heritage site, along with other conservation measures, can ensure that Hasankeyf lives. We ask for your support in advocating for these protections.

Hasankeyf: Ayyubid Mosques and Artukid Bridge

Cultural heritage and dialogue

Little is known about the history of Hasankeyf between the time of its first settlement in 9,500 BCE and the Romans’ use of “Kifas” – or “Rock”, as it was known in Eastern Aramaic – as a defense outpost. In the 4th century CE, Constantinius II built a palace and chapel on the solid rock mount. The naturally fortified city grew and prospered, became the seat of a Syriac Christian (Nestorian) bishop in the 5th century and participated in the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451. Following the Islamic conquest in the 7th century, a succession of Arab, Kurdish and Turkmen dynasties ruled the city. Christians, however, remained a significant proportion of the population until recently. Today, most Hasankeyf residents speak three languages: Kurdish, Arabic and Turkish.

Europa Nostra has selected Hasankeyf as one of Europe’s 7 Most Endangered sites for 2016.

A synthesis of Arab, Persian and Central Asian influences

Hasankeyf displays an extraordinary collection of diverse architectural styles from the 12th to 15th centuries. Viewed from the far bank of the Tigris, the pylons of the 12th century Artukid Bridge and the minarets of two Ayyubid mosques (built between 1378 and 1409) still dominate the skyline, a reminder that Hasankeyf is the product of numerous cultures and civilizations, most recently the Turkmen Artukids and the Kurdish Ayyubids.

The Koç Mosque (date of construction uncertain) originally consisted of an eyvan (a grand arched entryway) combined with a domed space above the mihrab, with barrel-vaulted prayer halls on either side. While the Seljuks of Anatolia used the eyvan widely in madrasahs and villas, they generally did not use it in mosques, making the Koç Mosque a fascinating and unusual application of Great Seljuk design in Upper Mesopotamia.

Koç Mosque: eyvan and Persian-style dome
flanked by prayer halls

The Zeynel Bey Tomb is the only example of Timurid architecture in Anatolia. Its huge calligrams, as seen in Iran and Central Asia, display the names Allah, Muhammad and Ali.

Zeynel Bey Tomb: calligrams in Kufic script

Cultural heritage and economic development

Hasankeyf is extremely important to the people of the region, not only because the site serves to strengthen their bonds with the past, but also because it helps to sustain their ways of living and their livelihoods. In times of peace, hundreds of thousands of visitors come to Hasankeyf each year.

A historically rich open space for leisure and creativity

Taking a broad view of the historic city and its hinterlands, it is possible to craft a locally grounded management strategy that balances conservation and tourism, with the potential to accommodate millions of tourists while also preserving the site for future generations. The tourism-related revenue of Hasankeyf and its hinterlands could gradually reach €500 million annually, a figure already surpassed by Göreme, in Cappadocia, and is slightly greater than the anticipated direct revenue from the Ilısu Dam.

The threat to Hasankeyf

The Ilısu Project is expected to flood 80 per cent of the town of Hasankeyf, irrevocably changing the natural ecosystem and destroying the historical landscape. While there are dams in the world that have lasted much longer, research shows that most dams built today have a life expectancy of less than 100 years.

Is flooding a 12,000-year-old city with a 100-year dam the optimal use of economic resources? Are there better alternatives for building peace and prosperity in the Tigris Valley? Your voice can help us build a robust dialogue around cultural heritage conservation and sustainable development.

Zeynel Bey Tomb (late 15th century)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

May 7-8 Symposium: "Hasankeyf and the Tigris Valley"

Please join us this weekend at the "Hasankeyf and Tigris Valley Symposium," May 7-8 in Batman and Hasankeyf. Organized by the Batman Urban Council (Batman Kent Konseyi) in partnership with The Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive and the Mesopotamia Ecological Council, the symposium promises a lively and productive program.

Speakers include Ertuğrul Günay (former Minister of Culture and Tourism), Nevin Soyukaya (Head of Culture and Tourism for the Greater Diyarbakir Municipality and responsible for management of UNESCO-listed Sur District and Hevsel Gardens), Zeynep Ahunbay (Prof. of Architecture, former ICOMOS-Turkey President and, co-founder of Europa Nostra-Turkey), and several other well know scholars, environmentalists, and politicians (representing both the ruling AKP and the pro-Kurdish HDP).

The program is free and open to all. Batman is served by multiple flights daily from Istanbul and Ankara.


10:15-10:30 – Opening Remarks
  • Gülistan AKEL (Batman Co-Mayor)
  • Abdulvahap KUSEN (Hasankeyf Mayor)

10:30-12:30 – 1st Session: Hasankeyf History and Cultural Heritage

Moderator: Nevin SOYUKAYA (Director, Cultural Heritage and Tourism, Greater Diyarbakır Municipality): “Results of Diyarbakır’s Listing as UNESCO World Heritage”

  • Ertuğrul GÜNAY (Former Minister of Culture and Tourism, 2007-11): “The Government’s Approach to Hasankeyf”
  • Prof. Dr. Gülriz KOZBE (Batman University): “The Geomorphology of the Tigris Valley and the First Settlements at Hasankeyf”
  • Prof. Dr. Zeynep AHUNBAY (Istanbul Technical University): “The History of and the UNESCO Process”
  • Assoc. Prof. Dr. Serhat HARMAN (Batman University): “Hasankeyf and Cultural Tourism”
  • Assoc. Prof. Dr. Düzgün ÇAKIRCA (Batman University): “What do We Lose with the Ilısu Dam?”

12:30-13:30 – Lunch

13:30-15:30 – 2nd Session: The Social, Ecological and Economic Impacts of the Ilısu Dam

Moderator: Prof. Ayla AKAT ATA (KJA Association Chair): “Hasankeyf and Women”

  • Prof. Dr. Murat BİRİCİK (Dicle University): “Biodiversity and the Ilısu Dam”
  • Ayten ERASLAN (Batman Ecological Council, Co-Spokesperson): “The Ilısu Dam Project from a Socio-ecological Perspective”
  • Selahattin GÜVENÇ (Mediterranean Migration Association, Former Co-Chair): “Migration and Social Impacts”
  • Murat TEKİN (Hasankeyf merchant): “Migration and its Social Impacts from the Local Hasankeyf Perspective”

15:15-15.30 – Coffee break

15:30-17:30 – 3rd Session: Efforts Against the Ilısu Dam Project

Moderator: Gülistan AKEL (Head of the Batman Kent Konseyi)

  • Kemal VURAL DOĞAN (Lawyer): “Hasankeyf and Legal Struggle”
  • Dr. Veysi AYHAN (Hasankeyf’i Yaşatma Girişimi): “The Struggle Against the Ilısu Dam and for the conservation of Hasankeyf”
  • Dicle Tuba KILIÇ (Head of Doğa Derneği): “Actions of Doğa Derneği against the Ilısu Dam Project”
  • Özkan SUN (Hasankeyf Matters): “To Understand Hasankeyf, Let’s Live Hasankeyf”



10:00-12:00 – Hasankeyf Meeting and Discussion

Moderator: Recep KAVUŞ (Head of the Batman Environmental Volunteers Association)

  • Abdulvahap KUSEN (Hasankeyf Mayor)
  • Mustafa BAYRAM (Co-Mayor of Halfeti/Urfa, which has been partially flooded by the Birecik Dam)
  • People from Hasankeyf
  • Dam-affected people from Halfeti
  • Dam-affected people from Dersim

12:00-13:00 – Hasankeyf Nature Walk

13:00-14:00 – Lunch

Organized by Batman Urban Council, The Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive, Mesopotamia Ecological Network

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Hasankeyf selected by Europa Nostra for 7 Most Endangered program

The historic town of Hasankeyf, located on the Upper Tigris River in southeastern Turkey, has been selected as one of Europe’s “7 Most Endangered” heritage sites for 2016.

The announcement, which noted that Hasankeyf is one of Europe’s most important archaeological sites, was made today in Venice by Europa Nostra, Europe’s leading heritage organization, and the European Investment Bank Institute. The nomination was submitted by the Cultural Awareness Foundation and supported by Hasankeyf Matters and the Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive as a step toward preserving the town and supporting an ongoing dialogue about heritage conservation and sustainability.

Hasankeyf is under direct threat by the Ilısu Dam and Hydroelectric Power Plant Project. If implemented as planned, this project will flood the town and destroy most of its archaeological treasures.

Hasankeyf in historical context

With a history extending 12,000 years, Hasankeyf holds some of the earliest evidence of organized settlement discovered anywhere. Known as “Kifas” in Aramaic, the city was a center for Syriac Christians and became the seat of a Nestorian bishop in the 5th century CE. From the earliest years of the Islamic expansion, “Hisn Kayfa,” as it is called in Arabic, served as an administrative capital for the region.

At the height of its prosperity in the 12th-15th centuries, Hasankeyf was famous for its architectural and technological innovations and displays even today extensive examples of Seljuk-era urban infrastructure, including roads, water distribution networks and manufacturing facilities. Its skyline, dominated by the pylons of a 12th-century bridge (the largest of its day) and the minarets of two 15th-century mosques, serve as a reminder that Hasankeyf is also the product of numerous cultures and civilizations, including the Turkmen Artukids and the Kurdish Ayyubids. Several monuments reflect both Sunni and Shi’i influences, and in addition to the town’s numerous mosques and churches, Ottoman population records show that Hasankeyf continued to be inhabited by both Muslims and Christians for centuries.

Hasankeyf and the surrounding Tigris Valley are of extraordinary value to all humanity. The area was declared a First Degree Archaeological Site by Turkey’s Supreme Board of Monuments in 1978 and has been under the protection of the Culture Ministry’s General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums since 1981. However, Turkey has not nominated the site for World Heritage status, despite the fact that it likely fulfills 9 of 10 UNESCO criteria, according to a Stanford University/Doğa Derneği study authored by Zeynep Ahunbay and Özge Balkız.

Exploring alternative approaches to heritage conservation and sustainability

Within the framework of the 7 Most Endangered program, a team of heritage and financial experts from Europa Nostra and the European Investment Bank Institute will assess the site and help formulate a feasible action plan for conserving Hasankeyf and its invaluable universal heritage. This study will be conducted in close cooperation with public and private stakeholders in Turkey and will take into consideration the investments that have already been made in the area’s development.

The Government of Turkey has its own vision for salvaging select monuments and developing the site for tourism. However, no detailed salvage plan has been disclosed to the public, and there has been little consultation with representatives of the local and regional population to address their aspirations for economic advancement and safeguarding cultural heritage. The lack of a viable scheme for protecting Hasankeyf’s monuments contributed to the decision taken by Germany, Austria and Switzerland in 2009 to withdraw export credit support for the Ilısu Project.

It is hoped that a locally grounded management strategy can be developed to balance heritage conservation and economic growth within the broad urban ecosystem of Hasankeyf and surrounding villages. Already the first steps to spur sustainable growth are visible in the ecological villages project launched by the Hasankeyf District Governor in the nearby village of Üç Yol with the support of the Tigris Development Agency (DiKA). Given its historical significance and appealing setting, Hasankeyf and its hinterlands, which in recent years have attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors, could accommodate 2 million tourists and generate tourism-related revenues of €500 million annually.

Europa Nostra’s 7 Most Endangered program presents an opportunity for the Turkish Government to share best practices in heritage conservation and sustainable economic growth, for example by publishing a detailed action plan to realize its vision for Hasankeyf. Ideally, in order to allow time for consensus-building among all stakeholders, construction of the Ilısu Dam and related projects should be suspended to allow for a fully participative discussion at all levels of society. Hasankeyf could become a model for implementing the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, which call for cities to be “inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” by emphasizing the need to “protect and safeguard the world’s natural and cultural heritage.”

Europa Nostra
Europa Nostra is a citizens’ movement for safeguarding Europe’s cultural and natural heritage. Through its pan-European network of 250 member heritage organizations, 150 associated governmental and corporate organizations and 1500 individual members, Europa Nostra works with policy makers at local, national and European levels to protect cultural heritage and promote economic growth and job creation. ‘The 7 Most Endangered’ has the support of the Creative Europe program of the European Union, as part of Europa Nostra’s network project “Mainstreaming Heritage.”

Cultural Awareness Foundation
The membership of the Cultural Awareness Foundation (Kültür Bilincini Geliştirme Vakfı, KBGV) includes business people, artists, scholars and experts from the fields of art, architecture, archaeology, history, etc. Through a variety of programs ranging from seminars and conferences to documentation and conservation projects (especially focusing on the Byzantine, Seljuk and Ottoman periods), the KBGV works to raise awareness and increase appreciation of and contribute to the conservation of diverse sources of cultural heritage in Turkey.

Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive
Founded in 2006, this coalition of local and regional activists, local authorities, professional organizations and NGOs struggles against the Ilısu Project and promotes social-cultural-ecological development in Hasankeyf and the Upper Tigris Valley. The coalition’s work includes research and publication, seminars and consciousness-raising events in Hasankeyf, Batman and Dargecit. It maintains an information office in Hasankeyf.

Hasankeyf Matters
Hasankeyf Matters is a group of volunteers seeking to raise awareness about Hasankeyf nationally and internationally by forging links between the local population and visitors (including bringing together journalists, artists, walkers, photographers, etc. at twice-yearly “ingatherings” in Hasankeyf) and serving as an aggregator and distributor of information about Hasankeyf (news, history, environment, tourism, etc.).