Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The commons connection

The wide canyons of Hasankeyf or the lush hillsides of İkizdere couldn’t seem further removed from the crowded streets of central Istanbul, but they are linked by common issues.

“The resistance movement in Anatolia is not just about dams; it’s about the commodification of water, which is also happening in Istanbul, in Ankara, in İzmir,” says Umut Kocagöz, picking up a plastic bottle of water from the café table to demonstrate his point.

A scene from 'Akıntıya Karşı'
The young filmmaker and three student colleagues, Özlem Işıl, Volkan Işıl, and Ezgi Akyol, are co-directors of “Akıntıya Karşı” (Against the Current), a documentary about the growing anti-dam movement in Turkey’s Black Sea region that recently screened at the !f Istanbul Independent Film Festival.

In an interview, Kocagöz and Özlem Işıl drew links between the dams endangering people’s homes and livelihoods in Black Sea villages and the “urban transformation” projects in Istanbul that are creating controversy over their effects on the Tarlabaşı neighborhood and nearby Taksim Square and Gezi Park.

Like urban public space, rivers are a commons, the filmmakers said, noting that the cultural, historical, and economic significance of these waterways is bringing people together in a way not seen in years.

“We wanted viewers of our film to see that there is a resistance – like in the Loç Valley, where they kicked the [construction] machines out,” Kocagöz said. “The people are not as powerful as the government but in some places we can be the victors.”

“Akıntıya Karşı” screens at !f Ankara (AFM CEPA) on 2 March at 1 p.m. and !f İzmir (Cinebonus Kipa Extra Balçova) on 4 March at 1 p.m.


Friday, February 24, 2012

Covering the past?

Take a look at the Hasankeyf Great Mosque, before and after restoration. 

Hasankeyf Great Mosque, 2010 (before)
The new masonry work is a reminder of the controversial restoration of the Theodosian Walls in Istanbul.  The difference now is that there is no mechanism for independent scholarly evaluation of the Hasankeyf restoration plan.

Pursuing historical authenticity with scholarly exactitude, archeologists tend to prefer conservation over reconstruction.
Their ideal is anastylosis (p. 43) – using only dismembered parts of the original structure.

Hasankeyf Great Mosque, 2012 (after)
Indeed, the international conservation standards organization ICOMOS has rejected reconstruction as a means of historical preservation since 1964.

Others argue, however, that reconstructions give visitors a more vivid impression of the building’s original impact, attract larger crowds and, hence, support a better funding model.  The Artukid Great Mosque at Dunaysir is an example of how reconstructed buildings can be put back to work with new stones, as seen in this Kızıltepe Müftülüğü slide show.  More photos, some depicting the restoration process, at ArchNet.

Old and new stonework, Hasankeyf Great Mosque, 2012
Hasankeyf Great Mosque, 2010 (before)
Word has it that the next project for the restoration team working at Hasankeyf Castle is the main palace, of which very little remains.  How will they settle on a plan? Might the restoration somehow shed light on the design of the main palace at different historical periods – Byzantine, Artukid, and Ayyubid?  


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The unknown nature of Hasankeyf

While at work in Hasankeyf last summer, one fisherman found quite a surprise in his net: one of the rarest fish species in the world.

The leopard barbel caught in Hasankeyf
Until that July discovery, scientists suspected the little-seen leopard barbel (Barbus subquincunciatus) was long gone from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. And if the Ilısu Dam is built, its presence may indeed be short-lived; like some 20 other river fish species in the area, the barbel can only survive in a flowing current, not the still waters of a reservoir.

What the find really highlights, however, is how little is known about the natural environment around Hasankeyf -- a problem common throughout Turkey, according to the recent report “Turkey's globally important biodiversity in crisis(pdf), which detailed the massive gaps in scientific study of the country’s ecosystems and flora and fauna.

The Tigris River flows through Hasankeyf
Known wildlife in the Hasankeyf area includes the Euphrates softshell turtle, the striped hyena, and numerous vulnerable species of birds and bats, according to Doğa Derneği, which has criticized the Environmental Impact Assessment Report (pdf) submitted for the Ilısu Dam as severely insufficient.

Like the archaeological sites scattered around Hasankeyf, only a small percentage of the area’s ecosystems have been explored, making it difficult, if not impossible, to assess what the dam’s true impact would be -- or how it could be remediated. Many local fish, for example, could probably thrive in a river whose flow was utilized, but not halted, by smaller-scale hydroelectric development. But so far any alternative proposals (pdf) seem to be dead in the water.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Hasankeyf matters globally

Former Today’s Zaman columnist and long-term Turkey resident Andrew Finkel focused on Hasankeyf in his post this week on his Latitude blog at The New York Times.

As well as providing a general assessment of the issues involved in the Ilısu/Hasankeyf debate, Finkel also links to an excellent EurasiaNet.org photo essay by Constanze and Jonathan of Tarlabaşı Istanbul.

If it raises the profile of Hasankeyf, we at Hasankeyf Matters support it! We’d love to see your thoughts on Finkel’s column in the comments section below.

-- HK Matters team

Friday, February 10, 2012

Where is the business case for saving Hasankeyf?

Economic development and cultural-historical preservation should not be mutually exclusive. This was the sentiment expressed by Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during a speech delivered near Ilısu, in Mardin province, in October 2010.

Who can argue with that?

Of course, when push comes to shove, economic considerations usually carry more weight than archeological ones. On its Web page summarizing the benefits of the Ilısu Dam, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs notes that, in some cases, “the interests of archeology have to be subordinated to those of economic development,” if people are to “enjoy a modern lifestyle.”

Indeed, while many Hasankeyf residents are angry about plans to flood their homes and their ancestors’ graves, some insist that the biggest problem they face is a lack of jobs. But the dam currently under construction exacts a high social and psychological toll for the promise of a better future. And the loss of Hasankeyf would not only deepen the trauma that local residents have suffered from the day the idea of the Ilısu dam was first muted 50 years ago, but it would be a tragic loss for all of Turkey and the whole world.

The painful circumstances of Hasankeyf raise the thorny question of how to balance the right to socio-economic mobility with the right to cultural heritage.

Let’s put the ball squarely in the court of those who oppose the Ilısu Dam project: If Hasankeyf really is as significant as its supporters say, then where is the business case for saving Hasankeyf?

It’s not enough to say Hasankeyf meets 9 of 10 World Heritage List criteria (pdf). Someone has to show that the potential economic impact of Hasankeyf as a center of archeological and environmental conservation can exceed that of the Ilısu Dam. Money is only one facet of the Hasankeyf-Ilısu controversy, but it is both a key factor and an aspect that can be debated in cold economic terms and therefore provides the chance for opposing parties to set aside, for the moment, political differences and examine the matter jointly.

Any takers?


Friday, February 3, 2012

In pursuit of Allianoi…

Hasankeyf is not the first -- and sadly will not be the last -- historical monument in Turkey to be threatened with inundation by dam projects. Past victims include Zeugma (Commagene), many mosaics from which have been relocated to a museum in nearby Gaziantep, and Allianoi.

statue from the baths at Allianoi
In a talk sponsored by the Cultural Awareness Foundation, Assoc. Prof. Ahmet Yaraş of Trakya University addressed a packed auditorium in Istanbul to share details of the archaeological finds at this ancient spa settlement -- and the subsequent battle to protect the significant site from flooding by a nearby irrigation dam.

Exhibitions, a documentary (which the national TV station ultimately declined to screen), protests, court cases… No avenue was left unexplored, but ultimately efforts proved futile and excavations at the site, no more than 20 percent of which had been explored, were sealed with cement, backfilled with construction sand and covered by the dam’s waters. Over a year later, the dam has filled but infrastructure for the related irrigation system (to be privatized upon completion) will not be in place for a further two years, according to Yaraş.

While the outlook for threatened sites like Hasankeyf seems still bleaker in the face of Allianoi’s fate, one lesson to be learned from endeavors to save the ancient spa is the need for coordinated efforts to document, publicize and record threatened pieces of cultural heritage. Not just in an attempt to preserve or save them, but also in order that -- whatever their fate -- they not be forgotten.