Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Trapped in limbo, Hasankeyf warms to a new season of tourism

Puzzled at how much the town changes from one visit to the next, a traveler returning to Hasankeyf asks, “How can there be so much work going on if Hasankeyf is about to be flooded?”

In recent months, for example, work has begun on a new municipal park; a field was prepared for a cirit tournament; and a network of surveillance cameras has been installed around town. There are newly paved streets, new walking paths, a new parking lot, and so on.
A new parking lot will leave more room for people to enjoy
the view (we hope for years to come)

Cirit clubs from Sivas and Erzincan competed in
Hasankeyf in December on a newly prepared field
Cameras have been installed in and around town

The local reaction to these projects varies from, “They will never flood Hasankeyf!” to “Hasankeyf is finished; there’s noting left here.”

The mood swings back and forth between hope and despair.

Fenced in, with an uncertain fate (12th c. Artukid Bridge)
Just three months ago there was a proud sense of solidarity and common resolve among local residents. It was the end of the tourist season, a four-man delegation from Hasankeyf had met with officials in Ankara, and many were optimistic that a bargain could be struck with the government.

Then followed a long, harsh winter. Sub-freezing temps kept a meter of snow on the ground for a month, with long interruptions in water and electricity. Short days, cold nights, no tourists and no income. Negotiations with the government in Ankara stalled.

“We’ve had enough,” says a grocer. Another merchant mentions that he’s thinking of heading west to find work, noting, “We’re not leaving Hasankeyf; Hasankeyf has already left us. This town cannot feed us.”

As the weather warms, there are signs the mood may be shifting yet again. The number of weekend tourists is rising gradually, and everyone is anxious to see the outcome of the March 30 local elections. Talking about his plans for the new season, a restaurant owner declares, “We want to try new things to attract customers. We can’t do everything this year. This is just a start, and we’ll do more next year.”
A new concrete footpath to the Zeynel Bey Tomb was built last year

Construction of the Ilısu Dam is scheduled to be completed within months, but it is not clear when the waters of the new Ilısu Reservoir will be allowed to rise, or how high they will rise. And without a transparent plan for evacuating residents and salvaging select archaeological monuments, it is impossible to know how many more seasons Hasankeyf has left.

In the meantime, the people of Hasankeyf eagerly await both day-trippers and those who can linger a while.
Weaver Fares Ayhan and textiles vendor Arif Ayhan
reset the loom for the new season 


  1. It seems as though Hasankeyf residents share the same roller-coaster ride all of Turkey is on these days, one day up, the other down. We're glad they're on an upper and let's hope it keeps going. Good post, John.

  2. Perhaps the key is to learn how to make the roller coaster work for Hasankeyf. Thank you, Senior Dogs!