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.