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.