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).


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