Friday, September 14, 2012

Less haste

The Ilısu construction site (source: DSİ)
While the Ingathering last weekend at Hasankeyf was a fantastic experience for all involved, there was also some sobering news: A worker at the Ilısu Dam site lost his life in an industrial accident on Sept. 5. We of course offer our condolences to his family; while we are unquestionably against the Ilısu project, any loss of life is a tragedy.

However, we are also concerned that this could be a first sign that the government is overreaching in the accelerated program for Ilısu (and in general for expropriation to faciltate HEP and other infrastructure projects) and perhaps also in its new incentive package for the Southeast.

Ilısu construction workers (source: DSİ)
Experts and friends of Hasankeyf alike have long protested that there remains no real plan (nor sufficient time) for protection or relocation of the town's cultural assets. Hearing of a site death in a landslide less than a week after diversion of the Tigris began, we are again reminded of this.

Whatever lies ahead for Hasankeyf and its residents, we would like to hope that the authorities are acting with all due consideration, and fully weighing up the options before acting...

If the opposite is the case, it will not be for the first time, but it will be a further tragedy.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A city to inspire young leaders and innovators

Necdet Talayhan and friends in the Salahiyye Gardens
This weekend the people of Hasankeyf and their out-of-town guests demonstrated in miniature what Hasankeyf could become – a peaceful and visually inspiring retreat for spiritual reflection, cross-cultural understanding, and innovative thinking.

The second Hasankeyf Ingathering, held September 6-9, was organized jointly by Doğa Derneği, Hasankeyf Matters, and Nature Iraq with the help of various other voluntary organizations, local businesses, and individuals working across political and linguistic boundaries. 

The people who participated in the Ingathering, both adults and children, are as important as the events themselves. 

In the canyon on the way to Karaköy
Daytime hikes, coordinated by Hasankeyf Matters, included tours of the Lower City led by local archeologist Necdet Talayhan and a seven-hour trek to Karaköy Village and back, led by Abdul Kadir Faresoğlu Ayhan. Thanks also go to local merchant Arif Ayhan and Abdul Kadir Can, a local mountain climber and amateur fisherman, for help in arranging a special kelek tour on Sunday. 

Sulyon artists on the move in Hasankeyf
Nature Iraq coordinated the participation of 15 artists and environmentalists from Iraq (both Iraqi nationals and expatriates from Canada, Germany, Lebanon, and the Netherlands). Members of Sulyon – a Kurdish arts organization from Northern Iraq – performed an interpretive dance revisiting Mesopotamian legends of survival in the face of global flooding and environmental destruction. We are grateful to Hasankeyf Has Bahçe for the space provided for performances and to Batman Gazetesi for their help with the children’s art workshops conducted by Sulyon during their stay in Hasankeyf. 

Doğa Derneği sponsored the participation of Muğla University Professor Dr. Adnan Çevik, who spoke about the important insights into Islamic architecture and science provided by Hasankeyf’s Artukid and Ayyubid archeological treasures. For example, in Çevik’s view, to fully comprehend the genius of the Artukid inventor ibn al-Razzaz al-Jazari (el-Cezeri) you have to visit Hasankeyf and trace the canals that deliver water to the Citadel. 

What do you see in Hasankeyf? 
How many young Turkish inventors might be inspired over the coming years by exposure to the innovations and practices on display throughout this open-air museum of medieval Islamic arts and technology?

Professor Çevik’s excellent monograph, Hasankeyf Medeniyetlerin Buluştuğu Başkent, has been published by Doğa Derneği and Atlas magazine.

Special thanks go to Zeki Binici Hoca, of Hasankeyf Elementary School, and Hasankeyf Mayor Abdulvahap Kusen for arranging the meeting space for Professor Cevik’s seminar.

Stayed tuned to this site and our Facebook page for more photos and comments about last weekend’s activities in Hasankeyf. If you would like to be part of the next Hasankeyf Ingathering or if you have a group interested in spending a long weekend here, please contact us at hasankeyfmattersATgmailDOTcom.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

2nd Hasankeyf Ingathering, 6-9 September 2012

Water – Gardens – City

Let’s meet in Hasankeyf, an ingathering of civilizations.

This is an open invitation to anyone, children and adults, interested in Turkish culture and history, to join us, 6-9 September (Thursday-Sunday), as we walk, talk, and laugh, thinking of ways to preserve and sustain the city’s living heritage.

There’s hardly a better place to step back, unwind, and observe up close the vital connection between human society and the natural environment that feeds our towns and cities.

Why Hasankeyf? Cosmopolitan in some ways, Hasankeyf is also a small village. Most residents speak three languages – Arabic, Kurdish, and Turkish. The ancient city’s archeological treasures capture the ebb and flow of different civilizations in the region. The valleys surrounding the village are unspoilt and offer stunning vistas as well as hosting a wealth of flora and fauna. The village itself is home to a warm and welcoming population and traditional ways of life.

Morning activities focus on life and work in Hasankeyf. For example, visitors can:
  • Pick fruit and discover hidden palaces in the Salahiyye Bahçeleri
  • Accompany a shepherd into the fields 
  • Apprentice with a textile weaver 
  • Tour the river on a traditional Hasankeyf kelek
  • Explore the old mosques, churches, schools, and markets inside the medieval town and the surrounding canyons and caves 
The afternoons are for visitors to explore the town and surroundings and talk with residents on their own. Evenings are for storytelling, performance, sharing the day’s discoveries, and pondering the road ahead. Everyone is invited to bring family photos, songs, and musical instruments.

The Ilısu Dam Project threatens the natural and cultural inheritance entrusted to the citizens of Hasankeyf. Seeking ways to increase economic opportunity while preserving world heritage, Hasankeyf residents and their out-of-town friends are coming together to share their hopes and fears for the future and relish memories from bygone times.

Logistics: Hasankeyf is easily accessible by bus from Batman, Mardin, and Diyarbakır (the nearest airports). For information about hotel accommodations and camping facilities, please contact us (hisnkayfaATgmailDOTcom). Late summer, the peak of the fig and grape harvest, is one of the best times to visit Hasankeyf. Count on hot, dry afternoons and cool evenings, and bring good hiking shoes, long pants and lightweight long-sleeve shirts.

Photos of Hasankeyf available here.

Come, join us!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hasankeyf Castle closed (again); spotlight shifts to lower city and townsfolk

The castle is out of the picture for now
The castle at Hasankeyf has once again been closed for an indefinite period. It had previously been closed for several months in 2010 after the side of a cliff fell. When it reopened in mid-2011, visitors were restricted to a small area around the Great Mosque, and most of the 2,350-square-meter fortified city was off-limits.

Rumors preceding yesterday’s closing (announced quietly in Hasankeyf at the close of business on Friday) have raised anxiety among local workers and merchants about the economic impact on tourism.

“No one will come to Hasankeyf if the castle has been closed,” observed Hasan, a local shop worker, reflecting a pervasive sense of pessimism. “Hasankeyf is slowly being squeezed to death,” commented a store owner.

A two-hour walk through town and gardens
To counter the negative effect of the closing, a group of local archaeologists and teachers is developing new itineraries for Hasankeyf's Lower City. Necdet, the group's leader, says one can cover the full expanse of the medieval city in two hours, or spend days exploring the caves and archaeological sites more thoroughly.

Another effort is using photography, storytelling and singing to bring people together to reminisce and think about ways to sustain the living heritage of Hasankeyf. Amateur photographers from Hasankeyf are organizing a photo-sharing event as part of the 2nd Hasankeyf Ingathering/Hasankeyf Buluşması, September 6-9. Everyone is welcome. It’s the perfect time to enjoy Hasankeyf’s renowned figs and grapes.

Figs and grapes picked fresh each morning!

Friday, August 24, 2012

'This was Hasankeyf'

Set a reminder now: next week on Monday, August 27, there will be a live interview with Tommaso Vitali, director of the documentary "This was Hasankeyf". The film is now in post-production, and Tommaso will be speaking about the documentary and its goals with Ekrem Eddy Güzeldere on the radio show Inside/Outside.

The interview will go out live on Açık Radyo between 10:30 and 11:00 Istanbul time. We'll add a link to the MP3 later once it's up.

Stay tuned.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Building dams, and nations

Archival photo from 'Modern Essays 5: Graft'
The building of dams has been seen as essential to Turkey’s modernization and development since the early days of the Turkish Republic, when the nation’s capital was established in arid Ankara rather than waterfront Istanbul.

The job of the country’s early leaders was to save Anatolia from “the grip of poverty and darkness” – rampant illiteracy, scant electricity, and primitive homes and farming methods – former president Süleyman Demirel told researcher/architect Aslıhan Demirtaş in a 2012 interview, adding that dams were a way to “break these chains.”

Dam-based infrastructure to bring irrigation and drinking water to Ankara in the 1930s was quickly replicated around the country, a process documented in “Modern Essays 5: Graft,” an archival exhibit currently on display at SALT Galata in Istanbul.

Archival photo from 'Modern Essays 5: Graft'
Curator Demirtaş has compiled black-and-white photographs of families posing proudly in front of dams in the 1940s and 1950s; old newspapers with full pages of photos showing people enjoying recreational opportunities in the country’s new reservoirs; scale models of the 42 dam lakes on the Tigris and Euphrates, including the yet-to-be-filled Ilısu; and her video interview with Demirel, who presided over Turkey’s dam building agency before becoming president.

In the video, Demirel concedes a few qualms about relocating people and other negative impacts of dams, saying “some projects may take away more than they bring,” but remains firm in his conviction that Turkey’s hydro projects have been key to its drive for modernity and civilization. The entire exhibit – which also includes a touchscreen display on which visitors can access a database of the country’s dam lakes – indeed explores how deeply entwined such projects are with national identity and pride, and not just for Turkey. To successfully propose alternatives, it seems a new, and equally convincing, national narrative about development and what it means may have to be created.

The exhibit “Modern Essays 5: Graft” ends this Sunday, August 26, but the dam database (in both Turkish and English) will remain available online.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Ramazan in Hasankeyf

The tea houses and restaurants are closed throughout the day. Tourists take their meals in the seclusion of Has Bahçe or buy snacks from a grocer. There is brief excitement in the downtown market each morning as local gardeners arrive with their produce – eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and melons, and more recently, figs, grapes and apples. Around the same time, a herd of sheep, goats and cows moves slowly along the far bank of the river for mid-morning watering by the pylons of the old Artukid bridge.

By mid-day, the heat is enervating, but friends tell me their thirst and exhaustion are reminders to offer thanks. Men of all ages pass the hottest hours of the day in the mosque, dividing their time between rest, prayer and Qur’an recitation. Conversations treat familiar theological topics: respect among different religions, the completion of the Semitic prophetic tradition with the Qur’an, the status of Jesus in Islam and Christianity, etc.

Ramazan is a physical and emotional challenge, and Hasankeyf is a good place to test one's endurance. Iftar – the evening meal that marks the end of the day’s fast – might be taken on the edge of the river or in a shaded garden populated with noisy ducks and mischievous sheep.

But the best place for iftar in Hasankeyf is a rooftop terrace just above the Rizk Mosque. The broad panoramic sweep of Anatolian history unfolds in soft orange light – the Byzantine castle, Artukid bridge, Ayyubid mosque, Akkoyunlu tomb, Ottoman hamam. The call to prayer, echoing here since 639 CE, signals the end of another leg of this month-long journey.

In the evening, it’s back to the market for tea, water, fresh fruit. On the terrace overlooking the river, the conversation is generally in Arabic, and the songs, alternating between spiritual devotion and melancholic longing, are Turkish and Kurdish.

There will be no singing on the terrace this evening. It's the Night of Destiny, and most Hasankeyf residents will congregate in the mosques to listen to the reading of the Life of the Prophet.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Birdwatchers' paradise in peril

Hasankeyf's hole-studded rock
walls have 'irreplaceable
importance' as nesting and
sheltering places for birds
With its steep rocky walls and rich riparian habitat, Hasankeyf welcomes many types of birds. The distinctive call of the garishly colored hüthüt (known as a hoopoe in English) echoes through the canyons above town, while white storks can be seen nesting atop the minaret of the Rızk Camii.

But like so much else in the area, Hasankeyf’s bird diversity and “irreplaceable habitats for wildlife” are threatened by the building of Ilısu and other large dams, according to a report by Professor Murat Biricik and Assistant Professor Recep Karakaş, both of Dicle University in Diyarbakır.

Published earlier this year in Natural Areas Journal, their paper, “Birds of Hasankeyf (South-Eastern Anatolia, Turkey) Under the Threat of a Big Dam Project,” details sightings of 133 bird species in the Hasankeyf area, including five globally and 25 regionally threatened species – as well as 21 different diurnal (daytime) raptors, more than half of all those found anywhere in Turkey.

The pied kingfisher's riparian
habitat is at risk.
Photo: Mehmet Karatay
One of the birds the researchers identified in Hasankeyf, the Bonelli’s eagle, has already been forced to abandon its nesting area near Halfeti on the banks of the Euphrates River due to rising waters behind the Birecik Dam. If the Tigris River Valley is likewise flooded, the lesser kestrel may be able to continue breeding high up in the rock walls beneath Hasankeyf’s castle, but the pied kingfisher, one of the most endangered riparian bird species in Turkey, will not be so lucky: “Nest places on the steep soil slopes adjacent to the rivers will be destroyed by the construction of dams or by the following alteration of river banks,” Biricik and Karakaş write.

If you want to encounter Hasankeyf’s avian life while you still can, bird-watching is at its best in May and April, when the researchers found species richness to be at its highest level. Great numbers of individual birds (though fewer types) can also be seen in November.


Friday, June 22, 2012

The first of several Hasankeyf ingatherings

The first Hasankeyf ingathering took place May 26-29, drawing participants from Batman, Istanbul, Muğla, and Düzce, in addition to local residents. It was a diverse group of teachers, students, journalists, merchants, and social entrepreneurs of varied cultural backgrounds – Arab, Kurdish, Turkish, Iranian, American, Spanish, etc.
The many plants and flowers are a main attraction in spring

Our long walks through the canyons and along the river started early, between 5 and 7am, depending on how eager we were to catch the soft light of morning or catch up on sleep. Local organizers Fırat Argun, Ömer Güzel, and Emin Bulut led us through the canyons, along the river and to surrounding villages. Along the way, they described the culinary and medicinal uses of plants, noted the special prayers and petitions made at the various tombs and mausoleums scattered across the landscape, and shared their favorite “secret gardens” and caves.

Tea and long conversations in Karaköy/Reşiye Village
In the afternoons, participants explored the town in small groups and took breaks to sit and talk at Has Bahçe, the Doğa Derneği office, or one of the local tea houses. These conversations generated a number of excellent ideas for future gatherings – from thematically focused tours and meetings (archaeology, geology, photography, film, etc.); to art and photography exhibits in local shops, cafes, and restaurants; to more active use of social media to collect and share information/ideas during the next ingathering (to be held September 6-9).
Early morning interview with shepherd

This recent ingathering was fortunate to count among its participants a number of journalists who have since published articles about the town’s struggle to survive:

Fares, a senior member of the local artisan and merchant

Early morning interview with goats
We would like to express our appreciation and gratitude to Hasankeyf Has Bahçe, Batman Turizm Derneği, Batman Gazetesi, and the residents of Hasankeyf-Batman for their help and support.

The next Hasankeyf ingathering will be September 6-9. Stay tuned for details. If you happen to be in the area, come hang out at Has Bahçe any time. Hasankeyf offers a unique atmosphere for both observers and non-observers, particularly during Ramadan.

Visit to Karaköy Elementary School


Monday, May 28, 2012

More on Allianoi

As regular readers will notice, we are big fans of the Allianoi Initiative and the man behind it, Prof. Ahmet Yaraş. As we reported earlier in the year, pan-European cultural preservation NGO Europa Nostra singled out the initiative for special recognition in March of this year.

Now Prof. Yaraş and Allianoi spokesman Üstün Reinart are travelling to Lisbon to speak at this year's European Heritage Congress. We again congratulate Prof. Yaraş and the Allianoi Initiative on their success and continued inspiration to all those struggling, like us, to preserve and promote threatened heritage.

-- Helen

Friday, May 25, 2012

Agenda for Hasankeyf Ingathering, May 26-29

If you are in Hasankeyf this weekend, please join us for the Hasankeyf Ingathering: long walks and conversations with local friends. Detailed agenda and contact information below.
On a walk beyond the Salihiyye Gardens

Fırat Argun (Has Bahçe) +90 (530) 929 15 27
Web site:
Location: 100 meters eastern of bridge, across from the archeological office 

Saturday, 26 May
05:30-09:00 Canyon walk, to Şeyh Sevinç Tomb (Starting point: Has Bahçe; bring water and snack)
09:00-10:00 Breakfast (in market street and/or Has Bahçe)
10:00-12:00 Salihiyye Gardens and cave church (starting point: Has Bahçe)
12:30-16:00 Free time (lunch in the market, tea, getting to know local residents, up to the castle, etc.)
16:00-17:00 Let’s share what we’ve seen (tea house)
17:00-19:00 İmam Abdallah Tomb ve Zeynel Bey Tomb (sunlight fades by 19:00)
19:30-22:00 Evening meal and music (Has Bahçe)
Fuel for conversation

Sunday, 27 May
05:30-08:00 Walk along the Tigris (starting point: Has Bahçe; bring water and snack)
08:00-09:00 Zeynel Bey Tomb
09:30-10:30 Breakfast (Has Bahçe)
11:00-15:00 Canyon walk to back of castle and down to Tigris (starting point: Has Bahçe; bring water and snack)
15:00-16:00 Monuments of Lower City (Koç Mosque, Süleyman Mosque, Rızk Mosque, church, walls)
16:00-17:00 Let’s share what we’ve seen (tea house or Has Bahçe)
17:00-19:00 Free time
19:00-22:00 Evening meal and music (Has Bahçe)

Monday, 28 May
07:00-17:00 Walk to villages of Karaköy ve Uzundere (starting point: Has Bahçe; bring water and snack)

Early evening along the Tigris
Tuesday, 29 May
05:30-12:00 Through the canyons along the Tigris (starting point: Has Bahçe; bring water and snack) 

General information:
John Crofoot +90 (539) 304 49 44
Ömer Güzel +90 (533) 397 36 57

Stay true to the living heritage of Hasankeyf.  In every season.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

North and south meet in Hasankeyf

Arabic is the mother tongue for many in Hasankeyf, and this week it became the town's lingua franca, as residents and their guests from Iraq, Syria and Egypt quizzed one another about their local dialects.

Marsh Arab homeland near confluence of
the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers (photo: Agatha Showronek)
The Iraqi visitors, Marsh Arabs, were in town with representatives from Nature Iraq, Doğa Derneği and ECA Watch to raise awareness about the severe impact the Ilısu Dam project will have on their homeland – the wetlands of southern Iraq – where they make their living by fishing, hunting and raising water buffalo. If the construction of Ilısu is completed as planned, it will disrupt the spring floods, required to sustain life in the plains near Basra.

Hasankeyf, 22 May 2012 (photo: N. Keskin)
Sheik Sayed Abbas, one of the Marsh Arabs attending a press conference in Hasankeyf, suggested a compromise solution, saying, “If we reduced the height of the dam from 130 meters to 65 meters, this would not flood Hasankeyf and our marshes would not dry out.” Is 65 meters too much to ask for the cradle of civilization?

In addition to meeting with the mayor of Hasankeyf, the Iraqi delegation also joined the town's residents in signing the Ilısu-UNESCO petition calling for the protection of natural and historical world heritage in Hasankeyf and the Marshlands of Lower Mesopotamia.

Petition drive in Hasankeyf (photo: N. Keskin)
On related note, Jan van Herwijnen (from the Suleymaniyah office of Nature Iraq) and Cengiz Yargic (now based in Hasankeyf on behalf of Pedallıyorum) brainstormed ideas for bringing different cultures together along the banks of the Tigris. In addition to cultural “in-gatherings” (such as this weekend’s Hasankeyf’te Buluşalım activities) and the efforts of Pedallıyorum to promote inter-city biking in Southeastern Anatolia, they agreed to organize a bicycle tour between Hasankeyf and Suleymaniya.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

All together, May 26-29, in Hasankeyf

This is a special invitation to all our readers to spend a few days with the people of Hasankeyf from May 26-29.
Hasankeyf breakfast

Each year approximately 1 million tourists visit Hasankeyf, but the vast majority spend at most two or three hours here. They climb to the top of the castle, admire the view and stop for tea and a snack in a cafe overlooking the Tigris. And then it's on to Midyat for the afternoon and Mardin by nightfall.

This is a shame.

Hasankeyf friends
The people of Hasankeyf will soon be forced to leave their homes, possibly within 12-24 months, as the government prepares to flood the area as part of Turkey's fourth largest hydro-electric project. They shouldn't have to face this trauma alone.

Along the Tigris
Come to Hasankeyf and bring your friends.  On Saturday and Sunday, May 26-27, we'll explore the archeological monuments, gardens, canyon trails, and cave churches and mosques in and around town. If you can stay through Monday and Tuesday, May 28-29, please join us for longer hikes in the canyons along the Tigris and visits to nearby villages like Karaköy and Uzundere.

Botany lesson
You will also have the chance to drink ample glasses of tea and talk with the local tradesmen and merchants who gather in the tea shops along the main market street. Once the conversation warms up, you'll hear things about life in Hasankeyf that, unfortunately, are barely noted in written sources.

Please spread the word and contact us with any questions.

Subsequent get-togethers in support of the people of Hasankeyf include a bicycle festival, June 10-11, and a documentary film series, September 6-9.

In addition, on May 21 and 23, a group of Marsh Arabs from Iraq will be visiting Hasankeyf to protest the Ilısu Dam. That event is being organized by ECA Watch, Doğa Derneği, and Nature Iraq.

--HK Matters team

Friday, May 11, 2012

Hasankeyf, city of gardens

Here are some shots from a 20-minute morning walk in the Lower City of Hasankeyf. It looks to be a typical suburban neighborhood of villas with walled gardens, but you'll see more cows than people strolling these streets....

Roof-top terraces provide the perfect spot to relax and admire the Tigris Valley and Raman Mountains.

On the edge of the 14th-century intellectual and
commercial center
There's not much traffic in the mornings -- just a few people, like Uncle Emin, taking care of their gardens and livestock.

Uncle Emin on his way to plant peppers
Uncle Emin directed me up a rock-lined path to the Baba Haydar Tomb, the central monument of the Salahiyye Gardens. The descendants of Sheikh Haydar, a Seyyit (descendent of the Prophet) who lived in the 14th-15th centuries, still live near the tomb.

(Several families have owned plots in the Salahiyye Gardens for centuries, but the government has recently purchased these lands in preparation for the upcoming evacuation.)

A little farther beyond the Salahiyye Gardens, you enter a pasture enclosed by small hills full of caves, thought to have once served as a monastery.

Çoban (Shepherd) Davut brings his sheep, goats and cows to this pasture at the east end of the Lower City for morning grazing. Toward mid-day he heads into the canyon for water.

Çoban Davut
Davut says he's happy to have a job and likes working independently. He considers himself fortunate to have a job that allows him to stay in Hasankeyf and meet his needs. Most people, he adds, have to leave Hasankeyf to find work.

This is probably the biggest complaint in Hasankeyf: no work.  

Is it possible that with better job opportunities and an alternative plan for generating the 3,800 GWh promised by the Ilısu Dam, Hasankeyf could be a model for community planning? The basic plan of this ancient city consists of governmental offices (castle and palace), a commercial center, residential neighborhoods, and a garden district. Hasankeyf, with its rock fences and tree-lined streets, has natural charm and livability.

Garden plots and orchards are abundant in Hasankeyf, allowing people to eat well at low cost. Most residents can walk from home to the town center in 10-15 minutes, and regular public transportation links the town with Batman, Midyat, and Mardin. In addition, the town has abundant open space for recreational activities and extraordinary natural and historical resources to support educational and research for ages and levels.

Might the gardens of Hasankeyf inspire a new sense of sustainability in urban design?


Monday, May 7, 2012

How long can these traditions last?

The road from Has Bahçe to the bridge
A special part of spring in Hasankeyf is watching hundreds of sheep and goats bring traffic to a halt as they pass through narrow streets and cross the bridge. It's a tradition that goes back as long as nomads have inhabited the upper reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. 

This is the seasonal migration from summer to winter grazing pastures. Shepherds lead their flocks toward the highland pastures around Lake Van in May and back toward Nusaybin in early fall. Three or four times a day, traffic comes to a halt as shepherds lead their flocks across the bridge.
Crossing the Tigris at Hasankeyf

This annual migration is just one of several ancient patterns of life that will end with the completion of the Ilısu Dam and its 400-square-kilometer lake. Another tradition threatened by the Ilısu project is the harvesting of wild herbs. Local residents like to point out that you don’t have to be rich to eat well in Hasankeyf, you just have to know which plants are edible and how to prepare them.

Herbs like hardal (mustard), doluk (Malva vulgaris or Malva) and istirzek* are prepared like spinach and served either as a side dish or mixed with eggs. 

Istirzek is harvested until the spiky flower appears
Others, like kerbesh (in Arabic; Kurdish, kivar; Turkish, deve dikeni; a thistle from the Asteraceae family), are eaten fresh after peeling the leaves and skin away.
The stem of some thistle species is eaten raw

Peel the leaves and skin
Doluk is thought to be good for blood circulation. The bitter herb gezgesk (Urtica diocia/urens or nettles; Turkish, ısırgan otu or “biting weed,” for the stinging effect of the hairy leaves on the skin) is used locally against cancer.

Ismail, a local merchant and civic leader, says the tastiest mustard greens are to be found on top of the pylons of the Artukid Bridge, where the goats cannot reach them. The greens are past their prime once the yellow blossoms open, but the eyes keep feasting.
Mustard blossoms by the Imam Abdallah Tomb

One of the disadvantages of New Hasankeyf is that it is being built on the rocky slopes of the left bank. Although the design has been altered to provide more space for gardening, the quality of the soil is not suitable for the vast variety of wild herbs and medicinal plants that thrive in the low-lying areas set to be flooded. Not only will these plants be lost to the local population, but local botanical expertise and culinary traditions will also be lost unless people here find new ways to record their knowledge.

*Istirzek is Kurdish or Arabic. If you know the Turkish or English word for this plant, please fill us in!)
Mature istirzek

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The perfect time to visit Hasankeyf

Spring in Hasankeyf
It's spring in Hasankeyf. The rocky hills are covered in yellow and green. Calves, donkey colts, lambs and young goats roam the fields and gardens. Children, refreshingly unaccompanied by adults, are up and out by 7:30 for a leisurely stroll to school. And people generally look hearty and hale, enjoying seasonal greens like "istrizelk" and wild garlic.

My friend Ömer agrees that people in Hasankeyf are physically rather healthy. When his mother, 85, sits next to his grandmother (nearly 100 years old), they look like sisters in their 60s. Ömer attributes their health to hard work. When the family lived in caves on the castle mount, his mother would tend to the family plot in the Salihiyye Gardens and carry water home from the Falls.

On the way to school
Psychologically, however, conditions in Hasankeyf are anything but healthy, according to Ömer. For decades people have lived under the threat of the imminent loss of their homes, and the uncertainty about timing makes it more difficult to cope. Even with construction of the Ilısu Dam and apartment complexes of the New Hasankeyf now well under way, there is no definite idea of when the residents of Hasankeyf will have to move or how they will pay for their new homes.

Some local residents ask why the community can not act on their own initiative to make things better. "We are not good at uniting and organizing," answers one of the men in the tea house. Confusion about the future has created a sense of lethargy and despair, which some describe as a collective form of depression.

Poverty is another factor. There's plenty of surplus time in Hasankeyf, but it's difficult to get things rolling in a community where half the population makes less than 750 TL (400 USD) a month (figures from Doğa Derneği report). On top of this, townsfolk are isolated from the outside world in important ways. While 90 percent of households in Hasankeyf have a TV, a washing machine and a mobile telephone, access to computers and use of the Internet is limited. And although 70 percent of residents know three languages -- Kurdish, Turkish and Arabic -- only a handful of people can express themselves in English.

The people of Hasankeyf have limited means for reaching out to the world, so now is the time for the world to embrace Hasankeyf. We invite you, dear readers, to visit Hasankeyf, explore the sites, play backgammon and listen to stories.

May is the perfect time to come, and team members from Doğa Derneği, Pedalliyorum and Hasankeyf Matters are here to welcome you and make introductions.

Stay tuned for details about special events on May 26-28 (walks and talks) and June 9-10 (biking).