Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Weekends in the art garden

Over the past two years, Hasankeyf children and volunteers from Hasankeyf Matters have met intermittently for art workshops. These open-air sessions began in the fall of 2012, when Sulyon, an environmentalist performing-arts group from Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, incorporated them into their performance during the 2nd Hasankeyf Ingathering. Thanks to the children’s enthusiasm, the workshops have continued, taking on a life of their own.

Each young artist (or team of artists) starts with a piece of paper, a brush and some color – if pencils or crayons are at hand they may sketch an idea before putting color to paper.

Recurring themes have been houses (with or without parents), the river and bridge in Hasankeyf, mountains, mosques, Zeynel Bey Tomb, helicopters, and even the initials “GS” for Galatasaray. The children mix colors and try new tools – sponges, paper towels, cloth rags, pine cones.

Sometimes the painting evolves and advances with an impressive degree of experimentation, only then to gradually disappear as the paper becomes saturated and begins to dissolve into pulp. What harm can there be in using color with a sense of abandon?

Participation usually varies from 10 to 40 eager young artists, and it can take a few minutes of coaxing to get everyone to spread out where each “team” has room to paint (or make puppets, or prints or whatever new activities the visiting art “coaches” introduce).

There are often so many participants that artists work in teams, sharing brushes, pencils and palettes. When the organizers are too slow to refill palettes, Hasankeyf’s emerging leaders step in to help, which works very well until everyone decides to become a helper.

The workshops take place on weekend afternoons in the garden behind the Hasankeyf Mayor’s office, where they are free of the fixed time and space constraints of a typical classroom. Children understand immediately that future workshops depend on the availability of supplies and an invitation to return to the garden, so they are careful to clean brushes, palettes and paint spills before leaving. Water, soap suds, scrub brushes and towels provide a whole new source of excitement and experimentation.

Time and energy permitting, some of the artists share the story that goes along with their painting. At a recent workshop, an adult commented, “There’s a nice structure in this painting.” Without a moment’s hesitation, the 8-year-old artist explained, “This is a picture of the world. It has this long road. And this is Hasankeyf; it’s hard to see but it’s right here.”

"And this is Hasankeyf; it's hard to see but it's right here."
-- John

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The trails we leave

One of the points commonly thrown about in discussions on the significance of Hasankeyf is that of its continuous habitation, thought to date back many thousands of years. But aside from an impressive role call of past inhabitants and their stone-and-mortar vestiges, why does it matter that these ghostly antecedents were there, in Hasankeyf, and that people are still there now, today?

A little background

Hasankeyf's name may be related to "Kipani," mentioned in texts dating back to the rule of Assyrian king Assurnasipal II in the 9th century BCE. In the first century CE the East Roman historian Procopius refers to it as Ciphas (look here for a general history of Hasankeyf). Evidence of human settlement at Hasankeyf is most easily found in the monuments and artefacts that dot the town, marking the traces left there by Byzantines, Artukids, Ayyubids and so on. Indeed, the diversity of Hasankeyf's archaeological heritage is frequently cited as the chief reason it should be given UNESCO recognition.

Hasaankeyf's 12th century Artukid bridge
On continuity

...But, walking in the hills and canyons surrounding the city last month, another way in which use, habitation, human presence really matters was brought home to me. As literal as it is simple: the trails we leave.

The sides of the canyons are stippled with rock-cut steps, even handholds. As you negotiate them, mapless, the way reveals itself in stone rubbed clear of moss and lichen by the passage of predecessors. Yesterday, last week, last year, last century.

The existence of this anonymous inheritance is entirely dependent on uninterrupted habitation. Take away man and in five years the trails will be blurred by vegetation; in less than 20, almost invisible.

The passage of time
Of course, some of these paths may in any case be erased by a lake and obscured by silt and mud before they have a chance to grow bosky with disuse. But even those remaining high and dry will be left literally so; orphaned, cut off from the flow of people that created and perpetuated them.

In the grand scheme of things, alongside all that stands to be lost if the Ilısu Dam is impounded, this may seem a minor figure in a greater tragedy, but it is one the visitor feels keenly, as she explores Hasankeyf in the footsteps of the millennia.

-- Helen

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Sketching a vision for the future of Hasankeyf

Last month’s four-day Hasankeyf Ingathering marked the launch of an archival project to record images, sounds and other aspects of Hasankeyf’s tangible and intangible heritage, with a special emphasis on drawing and painting. Participants sat one morning at Zeydan’s Artuklu Café, some sketching the Rizk Mosque minaret, others focused on the Royal Pavilion or “smaller palace” at the corner of the Citadel. One afternoon we sat next to the minaret of the Süleyman Mosque and Tomb, with the great Koç Mosque in front of us. As we drew, children would gather around and adults would linger to observe: a picture in the making holds such fascination.
Drawing workshop, Artuklu Cafe, Hasankeyf
(Photo: Hasankeyf Matters)

This was the 5th Hasankeyf Ingathering, convened twice yearly since 2012 and drawing participants representing diverse professions: education, visual arts, journalism, advocacy, technology and more. There was ample time to explore Hasankeyf’s historical sites and natural beauty through a combination of hiking and sketching.
Hasankeyf, by Katy Muench

On Saturday, our path circled around “Ra’s Tibbah” (the small mountain that forms the southern wall of the lower city of Hasankeyf), led us to a Shi’i cave mosque, water canals and mills carved into the cliffs, and then continued on to Derike Church, in the shadow of the Citadel. On Sunday morning, we walked upstream to Dera Vadisi, a secluded valley accessible from the bank of the Tigris River through a passageway cut through the rock. Monday’s hike led downstream past the remains of the Syriac Christian village of Atafiye and then uphill to the long-abandoned Mor Aho Monastery, where we enjoyed a spectacular view of the Tigris Valley bounded by the Raman Mountains to the north and the steep slopes of the Tur Abdin Plateau to the south.
Mor Aho, known as "Der Mahar" in Kurdish, sits at the top of
a ravine - "mahar" - which leads down to the Tigris
(Photo: Hasankeyf Matters)
12 Imams Cave Mosque, Zih Canyon
(Photo: Charlotte Roxborough)

At mid-day on Friday, our first day together, we sat quietly in the Salihiyye Gardens, observing an hour of silence in honor of the victims of the Soma mining disaster. Later, we walked behind the Citadel and stopped by the grotto tomb of Şeyh Sevinç, where there is a spring of therapeutic water.

Throughout the long weekend, we shared ideas for attracting more people to Hasankeyf and generating additional contributions to the archival project (e.g., through week-long drawing workshops; developing an “inventory” of sites and activities to capture in different media; geocaching; incorporating yoga and/or other forms of meditation into the program).
Ra's Tibbah, the hill directly behind Hasankeyf, offers
spectacular views of the Citadel.
(Photo: Hasankeyf Matters)

Other suggestions aimed at facilitating interaction between visitors and local residents, both within the scope of the archival effort and beyond, such as:
  • Home-stays and local immersion opportunities focused on cooking, gardening, herding, etc.
  • Community involvement programs through which school groups from other towns and cities are invited to become active in Hasankeyf
  • Extended stays to teach a foreign language or facilitate workshops/coaching sessions on capturing different aspects of life in Hasankeyf (drawing, photography, voice recording, etc.)

A new alternative for introducing Hasankeyf
to global nomads 

Our hope is that some of the images and ideas generated by this and subsequent Hasankeyf Ingatherings will serve not only as a record of contemporary life here, but will become:
  • An open-source process through which the people and friends of Hasankeyf can record memories and sketch a vision for the future.
  • An occasion for decision-makers to look again at Hasankeyf and consider anew realistic, substantive and scientifically rigorous approaches to conserving the natural, archaeological and ethnographical heritage of Hasankeyf in balance with the demands of local, regional and national economic development.
It all starts with people taking the time for a closer look at what hangs in the balance.

-- HK Matters team

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

How to help, and other news

Whether it's writing an email from the privacy of your living room, organizing an event in your own community, or spending an extended period of time in Hasankeyf researching, teaching, or just exploring, there are myriad ways you can help us in our mission of showing the world that Hasankeyf matters.

At the top of this website, you'll now find a link for "How to Help," containing just a starter list of ways to contribute to the cause, a list we hope will spark your own creative ideas as well.

We've also added a new link for mentions of Hasankeyf and Hasankeyf Matters "In the News," a list of selected articles, videos, and blog posts in English, Italian, Dutch, Turkish, Spanish, German, French, Arabic, and other languages.

Finally, we encourage you to sign up for our "Friends of Hasankeyf" mailing list to get updates on the latest news and upcoming Ingatherings and other events.

Thank you for your continued support!

-- HK Matters team