Thursday, February 25, 2016

Hasankeyf in the headlines: A look behind the news

This year promises to be one of renewed focus on Hasankeyf. Already in 2016, Europa Nostra has recognized Hasankeyf as one of Europe’s 14 most endangered sites, and the 40th meeting of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, to be held in Istanbul this summer, will likely prompt even more interest in the town and its history.

In light of this heightened international attention, it hasn't been surprising to see recent declarations by the Turkish government regarding Hasankeyf making the news. In late December, the Hasankeyf District Governor announced that the town's new museum is open. Then, in January, the Turkish President insisted that the Ilısu Dam will be completed, the State Hydraulic Works (DSİ) requested that Hasankeyf residents be evacuated from their homes, and the Turkish Parliament approved the operation of the hydroelectric plant connected to Ilısu, and thus, the inundation of Hasankeyf. The press – including the BBC – has generally relayed the government’s discouraging messages without examining the actual situation or talking to people in Hasankeyf.

The view in the town diverges significantly from the headlines seen in mainstream media. Local sources have told us that neither the new legislation nor the DSİ orders have changed their circumstances or outlook. “This is very difficult,” said one businessman, referring to the government’s efforts to apply pressure on the people of Hasankeyf. “They keep squeezing us,” commented another. Politicians in both Hasankeyf and the larger province of Batman have raised objections to the government’s policy towards Hasankeyf, criticizing both the destruction of cultural heritage and the lack of protection for the unique demographic composition of this mixed Arab-Kurdish town.

What follows is a list of major statements and declarations made by government officials and other stakeholders in recent weeks, along with some notes about how these comments reflect the situation on the ground.

Dec. 27: Hasankeyf District Governor Bülent Baygüven announces the “opening” of the new Hasankeyf museum and summarizes the government’s vision for heritage conservation. The new museum, however, stands empty and there is no sign that the town's monuments can be moved soon.

Jan. 6: Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu proposes new municipal boundaries for Hasankeyf in Parliament.

Jan. 12: In a written petition, HDP Batman MP Ayşe Acar Başaran queries Culture Minister Mahir Ünal about Hasankeyf, the government’s justification for flooding the town, and the viability of its plans for preserving the town’s heritage.

Jan. 14: President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan insists that the Ilısu Dam will be completed and criticizes academics and “Greenpeace” for their opposition to dams.

Jan. 20: The DSİ asks the District Governor to evacuate Hasankeyf. This request contradicts a government declaration issued in May 2015 that states that residents will be required to vacate their current homes within 30 days of taking possession of their new homes. The state housing enterprise, TOKİ, has not yet built these houses, so the legal basis for the DSİ’s request appears feeble. In addition, some Hasankeyf residents still refuse to accept the terms of expropriation offered by the DSİ.

Jan. 20: Murat Cano, who has mounted legal challenges to the Ilısu project in Turkey and at the European Court for Human Rights, summarizes the legal campaign for Hasankeyf at the annual meeting of Europa Nostra-Turkey. Having served as a member of a court-appointed expert committee reviewing plans for the removal and protection of monuments in 2012, Cano said, “On this subject no project has been prepared, nor is there any approval by official agencies.” He also announced that the European Court of Human Rights would be reviewing the case of Hasankeyf in 2016.

Jan. 26: In a radio interview, Hasankeyf resident Murat Tekin (and HDP mayoral candidate in 2014) says that the DSİ request to evacuate the town is unrealistic and serves merely as a form of psychological pressure.

Jan. 29: Parliament passes a law changing Hasankeyf’s geographical coordinates to the new settlement area, but keeping the administrative center of the town in the existing settlement for the time being. The law also approves operation of the Ilısu Dam and the flooding of Hasankeyf, causing alarm among Hasankeyf friends across Turkey and all over the world. However, Hasankeyf residents have told us that “nothing has changed.” Work on the dam is progressing very slowly and residents remain in their old homes with no idea of when the new houses will be available and when they will be required to move.

Feb. 4: Speaking to Deutsche Welle, Mechtild Rössler, the Director of UNESCO’s Division for Heritage and World Heritage Center, says that Turkey has not officially applied to UNESCO to list Hasankeyf as a World Heritage Site.

Feb 5: HDP MP for Batman Mehmet Aslan reads a statement before Parliament stating that the Kurdish and Arab population of Hasankeyf will be adversely affected by resettlement and noting that several tombs in the town belong to sahabe or “Companions of the Prophet” martyred during the city’s conquest in the 7th century.

Feb. 7: In a lengthy interview with Batman Sonsöz newspaper, Hasankeyf Mayor Abdulvahap Kusen (AKP) states, "I'm not against dams, but I am against the destruction of Hasankeyf." He also says that the people of Hasankeyf should move to the new settlement area as a group so that their sense of community can be preserved and the historical treasure of Hasankeyf protected. He also insists on guarantees of employment for local people and a serious tourism plan going beyond broad references to water sports.

Feb 12: The Cihan news agency reports that the Minister of Forests and Water Affairs, Veysel Eroğlu, speaking before the Planning and Budgeting Commission of the Turkish Parliament, made the following comments:

“Hasankeyf is in total ruin [tamamen yok edilmiş]. The Artukid bridge has been completely destroyed. Its stones have been taken and used in buildings in various places. They have been used in stables and houses. Hasankeyf is completely under water. If we had not built the Ilısu Dam at Hasankeyf that historical city on the cliff was going to fall and it would have been destroyed on its own. By means of this dam we are reinforcing it. We are completely protecting especially the historical upper city. In addition some of the historical monuments will become a first example in the world; there is the Zeynel Bey Tomb. Now the bidding process has been completed and we will move it in a special way... We have completed the archaeological excavations in their entirety. It will even be considered an exemplary project worldwide...”
The pylons of the 12th c. Artukid Bridge at Hasankeyf

In summary, it is impossible to know how quickly the government may carry out its plans to flood Hasankeyf. Labor disputes, regional conflict and PKK threats have contributed to significant delays in construction of the dam, and there is still no clear timeline for building houses in the new settlement and requiring residents to move out of their present homes. It could be a long time before the campaign to save Hasankeyf completes its work.

--HK Matters team

Two mosques built by Ayyubid Sultan Suleyman dominate
the lower city of Hasankeyf

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