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).


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A glimpse of Hasankeyf’s future?

The storied Euphrates, called simply “the great river” in the Bible and the birthplace in Greek legend of the goddess Aphrodite, flows strong, if muddy, outside of Gaziantep in southeastern Turkey.

Boating through the Euphrates River valley
From the tiny town of Halfeti, about 200 miles west of Hasankeyf, visitors can charter a small, open-air motorboat to whisk them through the Euphrates valley to the ruins of Rumkale (Greek Castle), a cliff-top fortress towering above the river on a rocky promontory.

The view along the way is beautiful, but melancholy too. Along the river’s edge, mud-colored houses and mosques sit perilously close to the water, reminders of the change to the landscape wrought by the building of the Birecik Dam upstream. Around one particularly lonely bend, a sole minaret pokes eerily through the surface, the mosque attached to it lost beneath the dam’s waters.

Partially submerged settlements by the shore
Construction of the Birecik Dam, which began in 1996, affected 44 villages in the region, flooding nine completely and three partially, destroying pistachio fields and orchards, and forcing the resettlement of some 6,500 residents. An 11th-hour salvage operation saved some artifacts from the previously unexcavated ancient Roman city of Zeugma, including the stunning floor mosaics and wall frescoes displayed at the Zeugma Mosaic Museum in Gaziantep.

What else lies below the dam’s 358-square-mile reservoir, we may never know.