Monday, November 25, 2013

Where there's life, there's hope

The window of opportunity is narrowing for Hasankeyf, but there is still time to find a way to keep this ancient city and its present-day community above water. Here’s an update on the situation.

The process for assessing the value of residents’ current property began in the spring of this year. Assessors entered homes, measuring each room and the garden outside. Every building – homes, cafes, mosques, and even cemeteries – was marked unceremoniously with a number spray-painted on the wall next to the entrance.
An assessor numbered each building in Hasankeyf,
 including Er-Rizk Mosque (shown here) and cemeteries

In May, prices for housing in New Hasankeyf were announced: the preferred 3-bedroom model in the new settlement was priced at 170,000 TL.

Then came the property valuations in September. People were stunned and angry. According to local sources, a typical home in Hasankeyf was assessed at 20,000 TL, a commercial store or cafe was valued at 5,000 - 10,000 TL, a block of mixed residential and commercial property at 150,000 – 200,000 TL.

As one shop-owner put it, “I have a business. I go home at night with no debt hanging over my head. We own our home. And you want to give me a loan of 100,000 TL for something I don’t even want?”

In a rare moment of town solidarity, the people of Hasankeyf met in early October and agreed to occupy the bridge into town. Even children faced off with the police in the October 10 demonstration.

Hundreds of Hasankeyf residents, including local elected officials
and children, blocked traffic (except ambulances) on October 10, 2013

Hasankeyf Mayor Abdulvahap Kusen and District Governor Temel Ayça convinced protestors to clear the bridge by encouraging them to detail their grievances in a petition. Representatives of each family met again to define their demands and elected four delegates to present a dossier to officials in Ankara. According to sources close to those who prepared the dossier, the petition outlined three demands: higher assessments for their current property, lower prices for the new houses, and the assurance of employment in the new settlement. These sources also state that the petition was signed by a cross-section of Hasankeyf residents, including the local mayor and local heads of political parties AKP and BDP.

The Hasankeyf delegation (Şevket Altuğ, Mesut Argun, Abdullah İridil, and Ramazan Koçyiğit) met with officials in Ankara earlier this month, and residents now await new terms for resettlement from the government.

If Ankara satisfies their demands, Hasankeyf residents may decide to sign housing contracts promptly, enabling TOKİ to begin building residential units in New Hasankeyf. (The District Governorate and Hasankeyf Security Directorate moved to new offices in the new settlement last month, and construction is under way for a School of Tourism.)

If, however, local residents decide that the new terms proposed by Ankara, e.g., regarding employment, are not satisfactory, they may refuse to sign housing contracts. This would delay the process of resettlement further, with the potential of impacting the timeline for flooding the town beneath the waters of the Ilısu Reservoir (The dam is expected to be completed in 2014, making it feasible to fill the reservoir by 2016. National Geographic published rare video footage of the Ilısu Dam construction site earlier this year).

Ilısu Dam construction, Nov. 2013 (photo: Fırat Argun)

Asked about the prospect of moving to the new settlement, one Hasankeyf business owner replied, “We can’t see what’s ahead. You know for sure that if you jump in the river, you’ll get wet. But if we move over there, we don’t know if we’ll stay dry or get soaked.”

"We own our home. And you want to give me a loan
of 100,000 TL for something I don’t even want?”

In the meantime, Hasankeyf is open to the public, free of charge. So come with your friends and flood Hasankeyf with a wave of tourism. Your presence will make a huge difference to local merchants and send a message to Ankara that Hasankeyf is a valuable cultural and economic resource. Please refer to our Visiting Hasankeyf page for tips on exploring the city's archaeological treasures, canyon trails, and legendary river.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Hasankeyf’te buluşalım! / Meet me in Hasankeyf!

Time to celebrate Hasankeyf and the Tigris!
Hasankeyf Matters and Nature Iraq invite you to the fourth Hasankeyf Ingathering, to be held Friday September 13 to Tuesday September 17, 2013.

Join us as we celebrate the Tigris, the source of civilization and the basis of prosperity, and explore the special relationship between Hasankeyf and the river:

  • Follow the canyons to upland springs from the gardens and orchards next to the river
  • Admire the Seljuq-era technologies that made Hasankeyf the magnificent capital of the Artukids (in the 12th century) and Ayyubids (13th-15th centuries)
  • Fish from the banks of the river, walk with shepherds, find the best place for bird-watching
  • Try out the traditional boats of the Tigris, before they sail downstream as part of the Tigris River Flotilla 
Start the day walking with the herd!
Photo: Hasankeyf Matters

The Tigris River Flotilla Project will see representatives from Nature Iraq exhibit three types of traditional boats – the tarada from the marshlands of southern Iraq, the guffa from central Iraq, and the kelek from Hasankeyf. These boats have provided the basis for trade and commerce along the Tigris for millennia and today are a potential resource for ecotourism entrepreneurs.

The Tarada is used in the southern Iraqi marshlands
Photo: Nature Iraq
The official launch of the Tigris River Flotilla will take place on Sunday, September 15. Over the following two months, the Flotilla will continue downstream through Iraq, with media events in Fishkhaboor, Baghdad, and Chibaish.

Become a friend to the people of Hasankeyf
Recent reports indicate that construction of the Ilısu Dam will be completed in 2014, which means that most of Hasankeyf and virtually all tangible traces of those who have lived here could disappear beneath the reservoir as early as 2016.

A modern kelek (Hasankeyf raft)
Photo: Hasankeyf Matters
Hasankeyf and its residents still need the support of all those interested in the sustainable stewardship of cultural heritage and environmental riches. The Ingathering organizers invite everyone to celebrate the shared heritage of dialogue and prosperity for which Hasankeyf and the length of the entire Tigris have been known throughout history. This is the time to ask, “What is the best way to ensure that Hasankeyf and all communities along this legendary river continue to thrive?”

Hasankeyf Ingatherings occur twice yearly (late summer and spring) with three objectives:

  1. To explore the city of Hasankeyf and its environs
  2. To bring people from different cultures together for dialogue and mutual understanding
  3. To call attention to local traditions and practices that could provide the foundation for environmentally sustainable economic development over the coming decades.

Practical information:
Remains of Seljuq-era water filtration system
Photo: Hasankeyf Matters
Pegasus Airlines and Turkish Airlines fly to Diyarbakır, Mardin and Batman. Public transportation to Hasankeyf takes 90 minutes (from Batman) and 2-3 hours (from Diyarbakir and Mardin).

Lodging is available at Hasankeyf Hasbahçe. Room rates are 50 TL per person per night; 25 TL per person to camp (showers available). Contact Firat Argun, owner, at +90.530.929.1527.

Mid-September weather: hot days, cool nights. Guests should bear in mind that Hasankeyf residents share the traditional values of communities all over the region, including modest clothing (long pants and long sleeve shirts preferred for both male and female). Good walking/trekking shoes, sweater and coat (for cold nights), and a raincoat are recommended.
Hasankeyf: a cradle of civilization 
Photo: Hasankeyf Matters

For more information, please contact:
Hasankeyf Matters
English, French, Turkish & Arabic

Hasankeyf Hasbahçe
Turkish & Arabic
Firat Argun, owner

Nature Iraq
English, Dutch, Arabic, Kurdish

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Hasankeyf in the context of European cultural heritage

Europa Nostra Vice President Costa Carras and
actor Ioannis Simonides lead a literary tour of the
Athenian Agora
Hasankeyf Matters was honored to participate in the 50th Anniversary Congress of Europa Nostra in Athens, June 13-17, 2013. The program, which spared no opportunity to celebrate Athens as the birthplace of democracy, included case study presentations, business meetings, awards ceremony and offline networking sessions. A voluntary civil society organization formed in 1963 through the cooperation of national heritage groups, Europa Nostra has grown to become the pre-eminent “Voice of Cultural Heritage in Europe.”

Hasankeyf lies between the Raman Mountains (background)
and the Tur Abdin Plateau
Photo: Hasankeyf Matters
In her remarks to the congress, Androulla Vassiliou, EU Commissioner for Culture, Education, Multilingualism and Youth, stressed the importance of investing in heritage: “The rich tangible and intangible heritage we share in Europe is a vital part of our identity. It plays a central role in promoting local growth and fosters social inclusion." These words summarize perfectly the potential of Hasankeyf as a showcase of universal human heritage with special emphasis on Islamic civilization in the era of the Seljuk Turks.

Indeed, Europa Nostra has recognized the value of Hasankeyf to European history by naming it one of 14 sites shortlisted for the “7 Most Endangered” program launched this year. We hope that Europa Nostra and its members will continue to participate in the ongoing conversation around heritage preservation in Hasankeyf.

Saint George Armenian Church, Mardin
Photo: A. Alkan
Europa Nostra is helping to draw worldwide attention to other sites in Southeastern Turkey by including The Saint George Armenian Church in Mardin in the “7 Most Endangered” program. As noted by Europa Nostra - Turkey, this church, founded in the 4th c., represents an important aspect of Mardin’s cultural mosaic. We applaud Europa Nostra’s selection, as it increases the renown of Mardin (only 120 km from Hasankeyf) and opens opportunities for cooperation as the Government of Turkey promotes Mardin as candidate for UNESCO World Heritage status.

Fountain of the Lions, Alhambra, Granada, Spain, 
winner of a Europa Nostra conservation award, 2013 
Photo: José Enrique Marin Zarza
Given the importance of Islamic civilization in spurring the development of art, philosophy and scientific enquiry in Europe, we feel strongly that there is an opportunity and a need to seek out the areas where Christianity, Islam and Judaism overlap and to promote dialogue around these shared elements of heritage.

Hasankeyf is perfectly suited for this kind of dialogue – with its extraordinary display of diverse forms of human habitat extending from the 10th mm. BCE to the 21st c. CE. As one of the most compelling sites in Turkey, Hasankeyf represents Islamic civilization side by side with Syriac Christianity and brings people together – Turkish and Greek, Kurdish and Arab, Assyrian and Persian – in a dialogue that is at once historically aware and forward-looking.
The minarets of the Rizk Mosque and Sultan Suleyman
Mosque keep modern Hasankeyf anchored in a
medieval urban plan.  Photo: Hasankeyf Matters

We hope to see more organizations both in Turkey and abroad support the conservation of the universal heritage of Hasankeyf with its extraordinary insight into the urban archaeology in the middle period of Islamic civilization.

-- Hasankeyf Matters team

Sunday, May 12, 2013

On Mother's Day, remembering our first homes

In honor of mothers everywhere, we offer this glimpse of home life in the earliest days of sedentary living.

According to an article by Yutaka Miyake in the current issue of Arkeo Atlas,* recent archaeological finds suggest that Hasankeyf is one of the first places where people are known to have lived together in organized settlements.

The people who settled here 11,500 years ago were hunter-gatherers, but the size, weight and abundance of stone tools discovered at the Hasankeyf Mound indicate that this community had already given up their nomadic ways in favor of a sedentary home – 1000 years before the start of agriculture and 5000 years before the invention of writing.

They built homes in the round and buried their dead beneath the floor – usually with the knees folded up toward the chest and occasionally stretched out, taking measures to preserve the anatomical system. Within the 2nd half of the 10th millennium alone, the accumulation of human remains (as well as the rubbish of everyday life) pushed the ground upward by 6.5 meters.

Today the Hasankeyf Mound, which is located across the Tigris River from Hasankeyf Beşir Tutuş High School, covers an area of 200 x 160 meters and rises 8 meters in height.

The findings at the Hasankeyf Mound suggest strong cultural similarities with other Neolithic sites in Upper Mesopotamia, such as Hallan Çemi and Demirköy Höyük (both near Silvan), Körtik Tepe (Batman) and Gusir Höyük (Siirt).

Wild sheep and boar appear to have been the most common source of protein; fish was also part of the diet, as were wild goat, deer, rabbit, fox and gazelle. Traces of plant foodstuffs include peanuts, almonds and hackberry (nettle tree or Lote tree.)

This archaeological record of Late Stone Age home life is yet another eye-popping treasure in Hasankeyf’s extraordinary open-air display. Where else in the world might one gaze upon the foundations of a Byzantine palace, picnic among the remains of Artukid villas and sleep in ancient cave dwellings, all within sight of our oldest houses?

*Miyake, Yutaka. “Hasankeyf Höyük / Batman: Dicle’nin ilk köyü.” Arkeo Atlas 8 (2013): 40-47.


Friday, April 26, 2013

Hasankeyf shortlisted by Europa Nostra

Turkey’s Cultural Awareness Foundation (Kültür Bilincini Geliştirme Vakfı - KBGV) announced on April 26 that “Hasankeyf and its Surroundings” has been shortlisted by Europa Nostra for its “7 Most Endangered” program. KBGV prepared the nomination of Hasankeyf in cooperation with the volunteer organization Hasankeyf Matters.

Hasankeyf is the only site among the 14 Europa Nostra finalists to include important examples of Islamic architecture, and its planned destruction by the Ilısu Dam project is only a few years away.

An international advisory panel composed of eminent experts selected the shortlist of threatened landmarks from among 40 nominations submitted by civil society organizations and public bodies from 21 countries. The final seven will be announced at Europa Nostra’s 50th Anniversary Congress in Athens on June 16.

The threat to Hasankeyf
Cradled between the Tigris River and the steep cliffs of the Tur Abdin Plateau in Southeastern Turkey, Hasankeyf provides an extraordinary example of continuous urban history. Indeed, recent excavations indicate that the town’s history began as early as 9500 BCE, making it one of the oldest organized human settlements to be found anywhere.
Hasankeyf cradled between high cliffs and the Tigris River

Hasankeyf reached the height of prosperity in the 12th-15th century, when the city served as capital of the Artukid Turks and the Kurdish Ayyubids. Today, the town contains several exceptional examples of Islamic architecture, including the 200-meter Artukid bridge, the Koç Mosque, with its rare combination of central dome and arched entryway (eyvan), and the onion-domed Zeynel Bey Tomb, the only example of Timurid tomb architecture in Anatolia and a poignant memorial to the long, difficult struggle between the Ottoman Empire and the Akkoyunlu Tribal Confederation. It is also set in a pristine, biologically diverse natural surrounding.
The arched entryway (eyvan) of Hasankeyf's Koç Mosque

If the construction of the Ilısu hydroelectric dam continues as foreseen, 80 percent of Hasankeyf’s historic monuments will be flooded within the next decade and the local environment will be irreversibly altered.

At present there is no internationally recognized plan for the conservation, preservation or relocation of the city’s monuments. If spared inundation, Hasankeyf has the potential to provide a sustainable anchor for local and regional economic development, providing visitors and scholars with a contextualized record of shared human history, spanning the continents of Europe and Asia.
Zeynel Bey Tomb with Citadel and Lower City in background

What happens next?
Following selection of the final seven sites in June, they will be visited in the second half of 2013 by teams composed of heritage experts from Europa Nostra and its member organizations, as well as of technical and financial specialists from the European Investment Bank Group or the Council of Europe Development Bank. In close consultation with local stakeholders, they will assess existing problems and sketch viable and sustainable action plans for each one. Results are due to be presented at the European Heritage Policy Conference organized by Europa Nostra in Brussels on Dec. 5, 2013.

“With this new advocacy program, Europa Nostra aims not only to identify the most endangered monuments and sites in Europe but also to launch a true call for action. By sending multidisciplinary teams of experts to visit the selected sites, together with our partners, we will seek to contribute to finding sustainable and viable solutions for the future. In this way, we hope to inspire and encourage action by various public and private organizations also in other places in Europe and beyond,” stated Denis de Kergorlay, Europa Nostra’s executive president.

Other sites on the shortlist
Two other Turkish cultural sites, one in Mardin and the other in Nicosia, Cyprus, figure among the finalists:

St. George Armenian Church in Mardin, with foundations going back to the 5th century, served a large Armenian population until the beginning of the 20th century and today provides an example of the role Mardin has played as a melting pot of cultures and religions.

The Buffer Zone of the Historic Centre of Nicosia, Cyprus, is the focus of an award-winning master plan, developed by conservationists from the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities, to revitalize this lifeless 1.5 km corridor, which crosses the historic city of Nicosia.

The full short-list is available online:

Kültür Bilincini Geliştirme Vakfı / Cultural Awareness Foundation: +90 212 347 24 25 / secilATkulturbilinciDOTorg

Hasankeyf Matters: +90 539 304 49 44 / hasankeyfmattersATgmailDOTcom

Monday, April 22, 2013

Guest post: Hasankeyf Mornings

One thing that occurred to us following the wonderful April 5-8 'Ingathering' of friends of Hasankeyf, is that when in Hasankeyf, being a 'morning person' is a definite advantage. (And not just because, as you can imagine, Hasankeyf is not known for its night-life!)
Evrim Tabur (Doğa Derneği/Birdlife Turkey) led bird-
watching tours at the 3rd Hasankeyf Ingathering

We were delighted to see that on the list of organized activities was daily early morning bird walks led by Evrim Tabur of Doğa Derneği, one of the sponsoring organizations of the Hasankeyf Ingathering. When we lived in the U.S., getting up at 4:30 to be at Mt. Auburn cemetery in Cambridge, Mass. at 5:00 to bird with the Brookline Bird Club was a spring occasion not to be missed. But now, living in a huge city without many green spaces has meant that we've sadly let birding drop from our agenda. Birding in Hasankeyf, particularly with an expert on the local birds, was thus a real opportunity for us.

We met with our group on Saturday and Sunday morning, once climbing high in the cliffs above Hasankeyf and once walking along the opposite bank of the Tigris. The absolutely gorgeous scenery that greeted us at every stage of our walks was astonishing. At every passing minute, the morning light would subtly change the aspect of reflections on the water and shadows on the cliffs.
Early morning light show

We discovered that it was impossible to focus just on the birds and found ourselves mesmerized instead by this awesome beauty. In spite of our constant stopping and gazing at the scenery, thanks to Evrim's help, we were still able to at least identify the goldfinch, common swift, red-rumped swallow, hoopoe and, best of all, the endangered lesser kestrel. Of course, this is just the very small list of the huge wealth of birds that travel through and/or make their home in Hasankeyf.

We were delighted to learn that on April 18, the International Day for Monuments and Sites, Hasankeyf was selected as one of the sites shortlisted for the "Seven Most Endangered" program of Europa Nostra, the final list to be announced on June 16. We can say that in addition to Hasankeyf's historical importance, its natural beauty and wealth is truly awe-inspiring. This latest endorsement of saving Hasankeyf from the Ilısu Dam project is a very important event and we hope that it results in public officials sitting up and taking notice.

--Jolee and Mark Zola

The cliffs around Hasankeyf are home to swifts, swallows,
choughs, owls and many more bird species
Hasankeyf Matters is grateful to Jolee and Mark for their tireless help and support.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A walker’s guide to Hasankeyf (version 1.0)

Here it is! Hasankeyf Matters is proud to share the new walking guide to Hasankeyf, and we invite our readers to download the map here and print it for their own use. We hope the map will give visitors a hint of the treasures that Hasankeyf holds, but the best discoveries, of course, will be found in the company of a friend with local knowledge.
A Walker's Guide to Hasankeyf

The idea for a new walking guide started with archeologist and Hasankeyf native Necdet Talayhan as a way to spotlight the treasures that lie beyond the Citadel (closed to visitors in 2012). Necdet’s detailed map of Hasankeyf’s archeological sites not only piqued the interest of the Batman Museum (which went on to publish a new map focusing on the Lower City), but it also inspired Istanbul-based Canadian artist Melanie Mehrer.

The result is version 1.0 of the Walker’s Guide to Hasankeyf. “Everything that’s on the map,” notes Melanie, “can be found in Hasankeyf – the stork, the hoopoe, the mountain goats, sheep, fish, poppies, thistle . . . ”

“It’s a kind of miniature,” says Melanie, referring to the Islamic tradition of textual illumination, “and like a miniature, it tells a story.” The story of Hasankeyf, situated between the Tigris River and the sheer cliffs at the northern edge of the Tur Abdin Plateau, is a very long one – stretching back 12,000 years.

Necdet describes a walk through Hasankeyf as “a kind of time travel – in a single day you look across history – past, present and future side by side.”

Many are struck by the “magic” of Hasankeyf. Marta Marszal, the Polish designer responsible for the graphic design and layout of the guide, recalls camping on the edge of Hasankeyf, “with an amazing starry sky above and surrounded by rocks, cows and goats . . . And in the morning,” Marta adds, “we woke to discover caves all around us.”

Despite this magic, too many visitors miss 80 percent of what Hasankeyf has to offer due to the lack of tourist information. “The lower city contains more than 100 archeological monuments and sites,” observes Necdet. “Mosques, madrasahs, khans, baths, churches, cave dwellings, mansions and palaces, public kitchens, ceramics kilns, old graveyards and zaviyes [tombs of spiritual leaders], as well as a Neolithic mound dating to the time when people first began living in organized settlements.”

The guide published here is schematic. It’s designed to provoke the imagination, to prompt questions and conversation. Anyone interested in learning more the town’s archeological monuments and nature trails should also consult Hasankeyf Matters’ photos and annotations (prepared by John Crofoot) on GoogleMaps My Places.

These maps are just the beginning of what we hope will be a long and fruitful effort to mark and chart walking trails in and around Hasankeyf. In the meantime, we encourage anyone who really wants to see Hasankeyf and understand its culture to explore the town and its surroundings with a local guide who has grown up exploring the town, its canyons and who knows the currents of the river.

And please note Necdet’s final advice to visitors: “Don’t cut your visit short.” Hasankeyf rewards those who take their time. May time, in turn, reward Hasankeyf.

Special thanks to Melanie Mehrer, Marta Marszal, Necdet Talayhan, Jonathan Lewis, Zeki Yemez, Helen Southcott, Jennifer Hattam, Egemen Demircioğlu, Dan Tucker and John Crofoot.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Meet me in Hasankeyf! 5-8 April/Nisan Hasankeyf'te buluşalım!

Hasankeyf Matters; Nature Iraq; and Birdlife International partners Doğa Derneği (Nature Association) extend an open invitation to the third Hasankeyf Ingathering, to be held Friday April 5 to Monday the 8th, 2013.

Hike in daytime, halay at night!
As with previous Ingathering events, the aim is three-fold:
  1. To explore the city of Hasankeyf and its environs
  2. To bring people from different cultures together for dialogue and mutual understanding
  3. To call attention to local traditions and practices that could provide the foundation for environmentally sustainable economic development over the coming decades.
Art workshop at 2nd Hasankeyf Ingathering
Activities will include art workshops, bird watching, tours of the river and canyons, talks and workshops on traditional weaving, and music. Hasankeyf Hasbahçe is hosting an exhibit, Hasankeyf through Four Seasons / Dört Mevsim’de Hasankeyf – photographs by Civan Değer. Local residents are at the ready to help visitors explore this extraordinary city, the Tigris River and the adjoining canyons. As North Iraq Waterkeeper Nwenar Fatih observed during a recent visit to the area, “Hasankeyf has it all: trails, rivers and streams, and civilization!”

In addition, attendees will reap the benefits of three major initiatives:

Doğa Derneği, in cooperation with ECA Watch-Austria, will screen “Climate Crimes,” a documentary which challenges claims that dams provide ‘green’ energy.

Rafting on the Tigris at Hasankeyf
As part of the Tigris River Flotilla Project, representatives from Nature Iraq will guide visitors through the construction and use of the kelek, a traditional raft, which historically was an important element of Hasankeyf trade and commerce and today is a potential resource for ecotourism entrepreneurs.

Hasankeyf Matters will release a new Hasankeyf Lower City walking itinerary, produced with the help of Istanbul-based artist Melanie Mehrer and Hasankeyf archeologist Necdet Talayhan. This guide aims to show visitors that there is more to Hasankeyf than the Citadel (closed to visitors in 2012).

Hasankeyf needs friends and supporters, now more than ever.
Recent legal developments are hardly a reprieve for Hasankeyf. The Council of State has de jure halted work on the Ilısu Dam project; however, de facto construction in and around Hasankeyf continues. The Tigris River has already been diverted through tunnels at the dam site and related infrastructure work at Hasankeyf is altering the landscape and damaging historic monuments.

Hasankeyf and its residents still need the support of all those interested in the sustainable stewardship of cultural heritage and environmental riches. Ingathering organizers pose the question, “Is there a ‘middle way’ to address the needs, interests and aspirations of all stakeholders in the region – upstream, downstream, left-bank and right-bank?”

Practical information:
Turkish Airlines flies to Diyarbakır, Mardin and Batman. Public transportation to Hasankeyf takes 90 minutes (from Batman) and 2-3 hours (from Diyarbakir and Mardin).

Fresh grilled trout at Hasbahçe
Lodging is available at Hasankeyf Hasbahçe. Room rates are 50 TL per person per night; 25 TL per person to camp (showers available). Contact Firat Argun, owner, at +90.530.929.1527.

Guests should bear in mind that Hasankeyf residents share the traditional values of communities all over the region, including modest clothing (long pants and long sleeve shirts preferred for both male and female). Good walking/trekking shoes, sweater and coat (for cold nights), and a rain coat are recommended.

Participants are also welcome to make a financial contribution to the Hasankeyf school fund (for supplemental supplies, art and sports equipment, etc.)

For more information, please contact:
Doğa Derneği / Birdlife International partners in Turkey (Nature Association)
Turkish, English & Italian
Hasankeyf'te buluşalım!  Meet me in Hasankeyf!

Hasankeyf Matters
English, French, Turkish & Arabic

Hasankeyf Hasbahçe
Turkish & Arabic
Firat Argun, owner

Nature Iraq
English, Dutch

Monday, February 18, 2013

Set in Stone

Much has been written here about the history of Hasankeyf and the glories of its natural surroundings, but what of the very fabric on which the city stands and from which it has been hewn?

Hasankeyf, city of stone
The geology of the site is in fact one of its most striking features. As one approaches Hasankeyf, before even the citadel or other monuments are distinguishable, the sheer face of creamy gold limestone rising up above the Tigris and capping the nearby hills is impossible to miss. 

Approaching Hasankeyf from Batman (pre-roadworks)
The so-called Midyat limestone dates from the Lutetian age in the Eocene epoch; that is, between 40 and 48 million years ago. The limestone itself, while not particularly fossiliferous, does contain nummulites (large lenticular fossils, perhaps best known for the role they played in ancient Egypt, where they were for a time used as a form of currency). These fossils indicate that the limestone was deposited during a period when the area was submerged below the waters of an ancient sea.

The geology is important, too for the way in which it was exploited by the earlier inhabitants of Hasankeyf, who enlarged and added to natural caves to create a veritable city, carving out tunnels, stairwells and cisterns; exploiting natural features to provide secure homes and access to water and/or the river from the city.

Upper Hasankeyf from afar
And of course the very monuments of Hasankeyf itself were carved from the limestone close to hand, creating a deep sense of harmony between the city and its surroundings. 

The irony of these marine sediments again being consigned to a watery fate is not lost on all who care about the future of Hasankeyf...

-- Helen

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

It's all here: Trails, water and civilization

Reaching the top of Ra's Tibbah, the largest of the three hills surrounding the Lower City of Hasankeyf, Nwenar Fatih exclaimed, "This place is perfect!"  Nwenar is the Upper Tigris Waterkeeper in Iraq and has been visiting Hasankeyf with colleagues as part of the groundwork for the Nature Iraq's Tigris River Flotilla Project.

The view of the Citadel from Ra's Tibbah Hill

Hasankeyf has everything you could possibly want for a strong and profitable ecotourism program.  In Nwenar's words, "It's all here -- trails, water and civilization."

The Lower City Center viewed from Ra's Tibbah

We had started hiking four hours earlier, passing through the medieval Hasankeyf suburb of "Kasimiye" on a rambling walk that took us to Gunfa Springs, a cave mosque in the Zih Valley and then a moderately steep climb to the top of Ra's Tibbah.

Ghaowur Valley connects Gunfa Spring with Zih Canyon,
all within a leisurely 30-minute walk from Hasankeyf
Ghaowur Valley is short, but we spent at least an hour there picking the edible pırpızek flower and sampling mustard (hardal in Turkish) and other bitter herbs (such as humayyif, in the local dialect of Arabic).

Note for our botanist friends: We would be deeply grateful for any help you can offer with the Latin names.  Kurdish and Turkish variations also welcome!

Tasting fresh mustard, sour grass and spring flowers picked
along the trail.

Fırat Argun, who runs Hasankeyf Hasbahçe Bed and Breakfast, explained that humayyif, used in soups and salads, is good for the blood.  By itself, fresh humayyif (or "sour grass") is very pungent, but it's lovely when eaten with mustard greens.  The small iris-like pırpızek flower has a sweet, oniony flavor.

As for the dandelion-like ıstrızelk, you have to wash and cook it.  It makes a delicious side dish or can be scrambled with eggs in place of spinach.

 Istrızelk, which has a long root similar to dandelion,
is a popular spring delicacy in Hasankeyf.
(There are 300 species of dandelion, all of which are edible. )

As we climbed toward the top of Ra's Tibbah, we crossed the canal that delivers water from the mountains to Hasankeyf's Salahiyye Gardens and found a healthy patch of tuzuk.  Necdet Talayhan, our tireless guide to the history, archeology and botany of Hasankeyf, noted that tuzuk (similar to watercress?) is good in salads.


We continued walking across Ra's Tibbah toward the "Time Tunnel" leading back into the center of Hasankeyf.  The view from Ra's Tibbah is always exhilarating, but also troubling.

View of New Hasankeyf from Ra's Tibbah

Once back at Hasbahçe, Fırat and Emre prepared a hearty lunch of trout and salad.  Ellerine sağlık!

So there you have it.  A typical sunny Saturday in Hasankeyf.  Before you come, be sure to call Firat (+90 530 929 1527) and reserve a room at Hasbahçe.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Facts on the ground in Hasankeyf

Anyone interested in ecological and cultural conservation in Hasankeyf has celebrated the Council of State decision halting work on the Ilısu Dam. Doğa Derneği has indicated, however, that work at the project site is ongoing, contrary to the court order. This is troubling.

Just as troubling, if for slightly different reasons, is the situation in Hasankeyf (60 km upstream from the Ilısu Dam site)

A last visit to the Citadel (20 August 2012)
Incremental developments are adding up to big changes:

  • The Citadel remains closed. This is important not only because it attracts busloads of tourists who spend money in the local market but also because it is the ancestral home to local residents. Since being forced to leave the Citadel 50 years ago, Hasankeyf residents have regularly returned there to be close to the memory of their parents and grandparents. But these visits came to an end after Ramadan last year. 

    New Hasankeyf (August 2012)
  • The New Town sits half-finished at the base of the Raman Mountains across the river from Hasankeyf. Its street lights shine uselessly each night. Meanwhile, the magnificent monuments of bygone centuries are invisible in the darkness. Another banal example of the politics of memory and forgetting. 

Earthen foundation for new bridge at Hasankeyf (Jan 2013)
  • Trucks work day and night piling up rock and dirt for the supports of the new bridge and four-lane divided highway. One can only speculate what damage this road will have on the visual landscape and natural environment. 

Imam Abdullah Tomb (November 2012)
  • The Imam Abdullah Tomb -- one of the monuments of greatest spiritual significance to the people of Hasankeyf (comparable to the meaning of Eyüp Sultan for Istanbul) -- has been enclosed within a rock "vault," ostensibly to protect the tomb from the coming flood. 

Western entrance to Hasankeyf (27 January 2013)
Western entrance to Hasankeyf (April 2011)
  • Construction crews have set up prefab housing at the western entrance to Hasankeyf, obscuring the sublime view of the Zeynel Bey Tomb rising majestically in front of the Citadel, Lower City and Artukid Bridge. 

The placement of the workers' dormitories is an unfortunate choice, and one resident explained its effect this way:

Zeynel Bey Tomb (27 January 2013)
"Whenever we spend time away, our love for Hasankeyf increases and we long to return. Now, unfortunately, we approach Hasankeyf with this sense of longing only to see our love afflicted by this horrible scene. It's not right."

A long-time observer of Hasankeyf affairs added: "The rapid rise of the new town last spring had already done enough damage to this beautiful landscape. Each new development takes its toll on the morale of people here."

Facts on the ground.

Where are the Rainbow Chasers?