Monday, November 24, 2014

In the Hasankeyf market: Arif Ayhan, kilims and kahkabu

Arif Ayhan helps his uncle, Fares Ayhan, straighten the loom
Like many in Hasankeyf, Mehmet Arif Ayhan could easily choose to live elsewhere. For several years he made his living designing and selling jewelry in Marmaris, a resort town on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. “But I always felt something was missing,” he says. “Marmaris is culturally very different from Hasankeyf, and being so far from home took its toll.”

“I felt that Hasankeyf had potential,” says Arif, a Hasankeyf native who returned to the town several years ago to build a business and start a family. “Every type of person comes to Hasankeyf, and I can meet people from all over the world, people from different cultures.”

Arif, a former weaver, in his shop
Today he sells textiles from Western Iran and Eastern Turkey. “Each region – Hakkari, Tabriz, Kirmanshah – has its own history,” says Arif, “and each kilim has a story. I love sharing these stories with people.” He is also eager to help visitors, be they journalists, photographers, film-makers or casual tourists, make the most of their time in Hasankeyf. The only thing he asks in return is for people to tell their friends about his hometown.

“There is no place like Hasankeyf, with its special setting on the banks of the Tigris River. We played in the caves when we were young,” says Arif. He recalls a game called kahkabu, a distinctly Hasankeyf version of “hide and seek,” explaining: “When we were children, one of our favorite games was kahkabu. There are two teams, five people on a team. We would cast lots to decide which team would hide first. We usually played in the evening and hid in the caves toward the Citadel.”

Anyone fancy a game of kahkabu?
Do you ever play kahkabu with guests visiting Hasankeyf? “We’ve not tried it so far,” he says, “but it would be a good way for tourists to learn about Hasankeyf, especially because this game is part of our heritage.”

The tomb of Aslan Baba, on the far side of the Citadel, is
one of several mausolea and cemeteries that encircle the town
Another way to discover the special culture of Hasankeyf is to visit the tombs and cemeteries that encircle the town, such as the tombs of Şeyh Sevinç, Wuqanna and Imam Abdullah. “Each year in the spring (late May or early June) there is a special festival in honor of Imam Abdullah,” Arif says. Hundreds of people come from surrounding towns to remember Imam Abdullah, who as the grandson of Ja’far al-Tayyar and nephew of the Caliph Ali, provides an important link to the first decades of Islam. As Arif says, “It’s not just that Hasankeyf is home for me, but this place has a pull on everyone. You can’t describe it, but when people come, they feel it immediately and they don’t want to leave.”

What is Arif’s favorite pastime in Hasankeyf? “Each day I walk across the bridge at least four times to look at the river and see look at the castle, but the thing I enjoy most is spending time with my son.”

-- John

This is the first in a short series of posts profiling local Hasankeyf business owners.

The view of Hasankeyf from the left bank of the Tigris

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Work slows at the Ilısu Dam site, but Hasankeyf residents have agreed to go

The news from Hasankeyf is as ambiguous as ever. The appropriation (istimlak) process took a big leap forward in September, with most residents agreeing to sell their property to the State. Despite this development, the timeline for evacuating and flooding the town appears to be as elastic as ever. Indeed, construction work at the Ilısu Dam stopped in August and has yet to resume, suggesting that there is still time to advocate for the preservation of archaeological and environmental treasure in a way that is both scientifically sound and economically beneficial.

Here is the current situation of Hasankeyf in a nutshell:

  • In September, most Hasankeyf residents agreed to sell their property to the State and many subsequently applied for housing in the new settlement area
  • Middle school students now attend classes at a new school in the new settlement area. Elementary and high school students still attend classes in Hasankeyf
  • Construction continues on the new bridge and educational and cultural facilities in the new settlement area
  • Hundreds of residential units must be built in the new
    settlement area before residents can vacate their present homes
  • Construction work at the Ilısu Dam stopped in August and has yet to resume

In August the government increased property valuations in Hasankeyf by 35 percent and lowered prices of new homes in the new settlement area by the same amount. Initially residents expressed hope that they would remain unified in rejecting the new offer, but there were soon rumors that some of the town’s larger property owners were one by one cutting private deals with the government.

A list of objections and demands,
published on the Hasankeyfliler
Facebook page (Sept 11, 2014)
A group of Hasankeyf residents staged rallies in the plaza next to the municipal building to raise objections about the liquidation offer. They published a list of demands, headed by a call to preserve Hasankeyf cultural heritage in its present location. Other objections included the lack of adequate emergency health care facilities in Hasankeyf and the need for a committee of independent experts to evaluate buildings constructed by TOKİ (the state-owned construction agency) in the new settlement area.

By the end of September local sources reported that most Hasankeyf residents had agreed to sell their property to the State. The cases of those who refused to accept the revised offer will be referred to the court.

In addition, middle school students are now bused to class in the new settlement area and remain there for the noon meal. (The elementary and high school students continue to attend class in Hasankeyf and go home for the noon meal.) Parents have expressed numerous concerns about the new arrangements, including the potentially negative impact on student morale and performance and reduced safety and security in a construction zone (e.g., street traffic in the new settlement area, which apart from a number of public offices remains unoccupied, is dominated by large trucks and heavy equipment).

While the situation in Hasankeyf is discouraging, questions remain about what will become of the town once the Ilısu Dam project is completed. Local sources have offered different explanations for the work stoppage at the dam, ranging from disagreements between labor and management to threats from the P.K.K. Earlier this summer there were unofficial reports of road blockages and explosions near Dar Geçit along the highway to Ilısu. Sources close to the project have said that since the dam is 90 percent complete, the pause in construction activity is intended to give related construction projects in other locales (e.g., the new bridge at Hasankeyf) time to reach the same level of completion. For now, the ostensible target for completing the Ilısu Dam and new bridge at Hasankeyf is mid-2015.
Ilısu Dam, June 2014 (photo: Toon Bijnens, ICSSI)

When will people have to relinquish their homes and move to the new settlement area? No one can say for sure. One Hasankeyf resident told us, “The situation in the country is very complicated at present and it’s not at all clear when people will have to move. We should know in two to three months.” Another resident speculated, “Everyone will stay in Hasankeyf another two to three years.”

-- HK Matters team