Thursday, May 11, 2017

Regarding the arrest of photographer and the imminent removal of the Zeynel Bey Tomb

+++ Hasankeyf Matters +++ Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive +++ 
Mesopotamian Ecology Movement +++

Statement on Arrest of National Geographic Photographer Mathias Depardon and the Imminent Move of the Zeynel Bey Tomb
The Zeynel Bey Tomb, Hasankeyf, May 2012

11 May 2017
Yesterday local sources reported that the Zeynel Bey Tomb in Hasankeyf, which has been encased in a concrete foundation, has now been lifted from its original foundation. According to local reports, the tomb will be moved tomorrow (Friday) without advance notification to the press. At the time of writing, the DSI (the State Hydraulic Works), which is responsible for the Ilisu Dam Project, has not announced the move on its web site.

While the government claims that it is transmitting Hasankeyf’s cultural heritage to the future and transforming the town into an important tourism center for the region, they have shrouded their work in secrecy. During the decades of planning and preparation for the Ilisu project, the government has denied the local people a say in shaping the future of their town. Now the government is raising new barriers to the journalistic documentation of the changes underway in Hasankeyf.

On Monday (May 8), Istanbul-based National Geographic photographer Mathias Depardon was detained while taking pictures in the new settlement area of Hasankeyf. According to news reports, after police reviewed Depardon’s social media accounts and discovered photographs shared three years ago, they arrested Depardon on suspicion of propaganda for a terrorist organization. Depardon now faces deportation, pending review of the matter by a court in Gaziantep. Depardon has visited Hasankeyf regularly for at least four years and has been working recently on a larger project for National Geographic.

This incident sends a chilling message to any journalists or citizen observers seeking to document the historic changes taking place in Hasankeyf, which is set for flooding by the waters of the Ilisu Dam within two years. Security personnel in Hasankeyf have intermittently interfered with photographers who visited the new settlement area in Hasankeyf, and more recently, access to the Zeynel Bey Tomb has been restricted.

The DSI has touted the relocation of the Zeynel Bey Tomb as the first time a whole building has been moved to a new location in Turkey and they predict that this will attract worldwide attention. Considering the claim to transform Hasankeyf into an important tourism center for the region, the interference with the work of professional journalists to document this work and the failure to publicize the date for the actual relocation of the tomb show that Turkish authorities know that the these projects cannot withstand careful scrutiny.

Indeed, the limited press coverage over the past four years shows that the project is fraught with problems. Experts considered different locations for the tomb – 1 km, 1.5 km and now 2 km from the original location – all without seeking the views of the town’s residents. For at least four years authorities have said the tomb would be moved along rails, but within recent months the plan suddenly changed and it was disclosed that the tomb would be moved on a trailer of some 150 wheels along a specially built road. Finally, authorities failed to disclose to the public the problems encountered when a test run using the new system was conducted two weeks ago.

The public deserves to know and we demand that the DSI disclose why the method of relocation was changed at such a late date. We also seek full disclosure of the details of the revised plan and evidence that the revised plan has been approved in the proper way.

The fact is that this project is fraught with problems – not just within the context of the controversial Ilisu Dam, which threatens the entire natural ecosystem of the Upper Tigris Basin with destruction, but also the project to relocate the Zeynel Bey Tomb. The sketchy and unstable plan threatens to destroy this invaluable manifestation of cultural heritage. The relocation of the Zeynel Bey Tomb to the new settlement area is an unforgivable and wanton act of cultural heritage destruction. This project and the whole Ilisu Project must be halted immediately. We need a new approach to building broad consensus around the socio-cultural development of Hasankeyf and the Tigris Valley.

We request also the immediate release of Mathias Depardon and the liberty for each journalist and human to move in and around Hasankeyf!

John Crofoot, Hasankeyf Matters
Ercan Ayboga, Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive

More information: – –

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Failed test run shows impossibility of relocation of Zeynel Bey Tomb

+++ Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive +++ Hasankeyf Matters +++ Mesopotamian Ecology Movement +++ Save the Tigris and Iraqi Marshes Campaign +++ Humat Dijla, Baghdad +++

Failed test run shows impossibility of relocation of Zeynel Bey Tomb in Hasankeyf!
Stop the relocation project!

4 May 2017

Open letter to:

Mr. Taco Bresser
Bresser Eurasia BV.
Viltweg 1p, P.O. Box 5231
3295 ZJ ’s-Gravendeel
The Netherlands

Mr. Ercan Tunç
Mr. Burhan Çetin
Er-Bu İnşaat
Yıldızevler Mah. 730. Sok. No:10/6
Çankaya, Ankara
Fax: +90 312 441 82 06

Dear Mr. Taco Bresser
Dear Mr. Ercan Tunç
Dear Mr. Burhan Çetin

The test conducted at the end of April 2017 for the planned relocation of the Zeynel Bey Tomb in Hasankeyf has failed. This failure demonstrates the severe threats with which the cultural heritage of Hasankeyf is faced due to the ongoing construction of the Ilısu Dam and Hydroelectric Power Plant Project.

We demand in the strongest possible terms that you cease work immediately and withdraw from the project to relocate the Zeynel Bey Tomb. We cite again the ongoing case in the European Court of Human Rights, where Turkey's plan for cultural heritage conservation in Hasankeyf is disputed.

It is unacceptable that adequate measures were not taken to ensure that the test would be successful in the first attempt. This situation is especially disturbing after repeated assertions (both public and private) that there is no risk in this project.

Numerous inconsistencies and contradictions point to the fact that the planning for this project is flawed and that the risks of damage are higher than you have acknowledged:
  • For years authorities have told the public that the tomb would be moved on rails, but within the last months the plan has changed and the tomb is to be moved by means of a trailer moving along a specially constructed road.

  • The timing of the move has been rushed, raising the likelihood of mistakes. The move was announced for 18 April, but asphalting did not begin until the following week.

  • The 2 km distance over which the tomb is to be moved is extraordinarily long, with a significant incline, and the goal to move the structure within a single day is highly risky.

  • Over the past two years, there have been conflicting statements about the new location of the tomb.

  • The encasement of the structure in concrete is a fundamentally destructive approach, as it changes the building significantly even while it stands on its original foundation.

  • The total weight moved during the test is 750 tons, but the weight of the tomb is estimated to be approximately 900 tons.

  • Rather than seeking to build trust with the public by sharing information and seeking the views and opinions of the local people, this project is shrouded in secrecy. There is not even a statement of work displayed at the site. The lack of transparency raises the risks of the project, as it precludes adequate vetting of the technical plans to ensure that all flaws and vulnerabilities have been addressed.

Individuals and civil society organizations all over the world express regularly their opposition to the planned flooding of Hasankeyf and the surrounding Tigris Valley. In order to raise the awareness about the risks of the planned relocation of the Zeynel Bey Tomb, Humat Dijla/Tigris Keepers Association in Baghdad has started a campaign in Iraq, which is also severely threatened by the Ilısu Project.

The relocation of the Zeynel Bey Tomb would be an unforgivable act of cultural heritage destruction and a violation of the human rights of the local people. We hold your firms accountable for your part in the violation of Turkish law and the common international standards governing historic preservation and sustainable development.

We demand the cancellation of the project to relocate the Zeynel Bey Tomb, the immediate stop of the Ilısu Project and a broad discussion among all stakeholders to establish a consensus for socio-cultural development in the region.

Ercan Ayboğa
Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive, Hasankeyf/Batman and Mesopotamian Ecology Movement, Diyarbakır

John Crofoot
Hasankeyf Matters, Istanbul/Hasankeyf

Ali Alkharki
Humat Dijla, Baghdad

Toon Bijnens
Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative, Sulaymaniyah

Ali Al-Kharki
Humat Dijla/Tigris Keepers Association, Baghdad

Ismaeel Dawood
Un Ponte Per . . ., Pisa


Friday, March 10, 2017

Halt Removal of the Zeynel Bey Tomb - Second Open Letter to Bresser Eurasia and Er-Bu İnşaat

9 March 2017

Open letter to:

Mr. Taco Bresser
Bresser Eurasia BV.
Viltweg 1p, P.O. Box 5231
3295 ZJ ’s-Gravendeel
The Netherlands

Mr. Ercan Tunç
Mr. Burhan Çetin
Er-Bu İnşaat
Yıldızevler Mah. 730. Sok. No:10/6
Çankaya, Ankara
Fax: +90 312 441 82 06

Second Request to Withdraw From the Relocation of the Zeynel Bey Tomb
in Hasankeyf, Turkey

Dear Mr. Taco Bresser
Dear Mr. Ercan Tunç
Dear Mr. Burhan Çetin

We, the undersigned, representatives of organisations that collectively have been striving for nearly two decades to save the ancient city of Hasankeyf and the natural ecosystem of the Upper Tigris Basin, are writing to reiterate our previous requests, one of which was addressed to Er-Bu İnşaat and dated 31 October 2016, and another to Bresser Eurasia, dated 5 December 2016. We urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to:
  1. Cease immediately all work related to the removal of the Zeynel Bey Tomb until the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issues a decision in the related case (Application number 6080/06), which disputes the viability of Turkey’s plan for the removal of select monuments, including the Zeynel Bey Tomb.

  2. Provide to the public examples of previous work demonstrating the feasibility of the project to relocate the Zeynel Bey Tomb. Ideally, these examples should be similar to the current project in terms of historical significance, structural complexity and operational risk. Local people have raised questions about the criteria used in awarding the contracts for this project, particularly as Turkey’s State Hydraulic Works (DSİ) failed to attract proposals during three publicly announced bidding cycles in 2014 and 2015.

  3. Provide to the public a detailed explanation of the operational risks you have identified for the relocation of the Zeynel Bey Tomb and the measures you are taking to mitigate these risks. There is a broadly held assumption among the public that this move poses significant risk of damage to or destruction of the monument. These concerns are reasonable, considering the monument’s extraordinary significance, its composite structure and fragile condition and the exceptionally long distance and incline of this relocation effort.
The failure of the DSİ to inform and consult the public in the planning and execution process for this project violates the right of the local population to participate in the cultural life of the community, as guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Furthermore, your firms are carrying out this highly controversial and legally disputed project while Turkey is under a State of Emergency and the district of Hasankeyf has been declared a security zone, both of which severely restrict the freedom of the press and the right of citizens to protest.

Local sensitivities to this dynamic are informed by current hostilities between Turkey and Kurdish separatists, which are part of an armed conflict that has continued for more than three decades. Local memory is long in Upper Mesopotamia, and local people trace these patterns of central authority abuse of local autonomy as far back as the Ottoman conquest of Upper Mesopotamia in the early 16th century.

The tomb, an elegant synthesis of Turkic and Aryan elements, is of incomparable historic and artistic importance. Not only does it reflect today the pride and dignity that local people associate with their region’s unique identity, but it also stands as an example of and call to peaceful cross-cultural cooperation.

In its original location, the visual appeal of the Zeynel Bey Tomb depends largely on its careful placement so that it reflects the shapes and colours of the surrounding mountains. Furthermore, its spatial relationship with other monuments – in particular the bridge, the minarets of the lower city and the Citadel mount – lend depth and perspective to the medieval cityscape. What is more, the geometric lines linking these monuments, which represent Roman, Byzantine, Kurdish, Arab, Turkmen, Persian, Muslim, Christian and other traditions, create an engaging physical environment for exploring the urban history of Upper Mesopotamia.

The removal of the Zeynel Bey Tomb to a site where it will be dwarfed by modern buildings will destroy its majesty and diminish its significance. This will be a tragic loss and an unforgivable act of wanton cultural heritage destruction. Your work in Hasankeyf marks the beginning of the destruction of this 12.000-year-old city and the rich biological ecosystem of the entire Tigris River Basin. (Please note that the adverse impacts of the Ilısu Project threaten the viability of the Iraqi Marshlands, recently inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.) Unfortunately, these acts of destruction targeting evidence of cultural difference have become all too common a feature of the hostile conflicts plaguing the world today, particularly in Western Asia and North Africa. Your firms’ involvement in this trend clearly contravenes international standards for corporate responsibility in the context of sustainable development.

Specifically, by supplying the technology and skills required to complete this critical first step in the removal of select examples of Hasankeyf’s cultural heritage, Bresser Eurasia and Er-Bu are contributing substantially to the adverse human rights impacts of the larger Ilısu Dam and Hydroelectric Power Plant (HEPP) Project, including but not limited to:
  • Denying people the right to participate in the cultural life of the community
  • Population displacement likely to result in increased poverty and emigration, both internal and external
  • The loss of largely undocumented intangible heritage, e.g., oral histories, local knowledge of flora and fauna, etc.
  • Loss of biodiversity
OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises urge companies to take steps to prevent adverse human rights impacts arising from projects within the context of their supply chains. Your firms’ contributions to the Ilısu Project also fall short of the standards of corporate responsibility set forth by the Sustainability Unit of The Netherlands Commission for Environmental Assessment.

If left in its original location, the Zeynel Bey Tomb could help to make Hasankeyf and its surroundings one of the most compelling destinations for culture and adventure tourism in Anatolia. As demonstrated in Cultural Heritage Counts for Europe, a meta-study published by a consortium led by Europa Nostra, proper management of cultural heritage sites is a cost-effective way to achieve significant economic gains, including jobs for local people and tax revenue. If spared flooding, Hasankeyf could help Turkey broaden and diversify its tourism sector, which in recent years has accounted directly for 4 per cent of GDP and 20 per cent of the country’s exports.

We understand that your schedule is very busy and that this is short notice. However, given the urgency and gravity of this matter, we respectfully request an opportunity to discuss these demands with you within the next weeks, no later than 22 March.


Ercan Ayboğa, The Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive
Öner Öztürk, Batman Ecological Council
John Crofoot, Hasankeyf Matters
Toon Bijnens, Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative
Ali Al-Kharki, President, Humat Dijlah/Tigris Keepers Association
Ismaeel Dawood, Un Ponte Per . . .
Ulrich Eichelmann, RiverWatch
Nicholas Hildyard, The Corner House
Jonas Holmqvist, FIVAS - Association of International Water Studies
Annelies Broekman, Catalan Network for a New Water Culture
Heike Drillisch, GegenStroemung - CounterCurrent
Estella Schmid, Peace in Kurdistan Campaign
Wiert Wiertsema, Both ENDS

+++ Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive (Turkey) +++ Mesopotamian Ecology Movement (Turkey) +++ Hasankeyf Matters (Turkey) +++ Save the Tigris and Iraqi Marshes Campaign (Iraq) +++ Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (Iraq) +++ Humat Dijlah/Tigris Keepers Association +++ Movement for the Protection of Aracthos River (Greece) +++ Ecological Collective of Irakleio (Greece) +++ Friends of the Earth (Greece) +++ Cultural Center of Kurdistan (Athens, Greece) +++ Network for Social Ecology (Greece) +++ FIVAS - Association of International Water Studies (Norway) +++ Both ENDS (Netherlands) +++ The Corner House (UK) +++ Peace in Kurdistan Campaign (UK) +++ Counter Current (Germany) +++ Ekologistak Martxan (Basque Country) +++ BBVAren aurkako Plataforma (Basque Country) +++ Xarxa per una Nova Culutra del’Aigua (Catalonia) +++ Ecologistas en Acción Spain +++ Un Ponte Per . . . (Italy) +++ River Watch (Austria) +++ International Rivers (USA) +++

Friday, February 24, 2017

The imminent displacement of the Zeynel Bey Tomb

Bresser Eurasia (a subsidiary of the Dutch firm Bresser) and Er-Bu Inşaat (a Turkish firm) are rapidly preparing to relocate the Zeynel Bey Tomb from its centuries-old location along the banks of the Tigris River in Hasankeyf. The partnership between the two companies was signed during a Dutch trade mission to Turkey in December 2015, "Turkey and the Netherlands: Partners in Sustainable Development."

The concrete platform holding the tomb will be lifted onto a trailer

Most work at the site of the tomb has now been finished, including the insertion of beams through the base of the structure and the pouring of a concrete foundation around the base of the tomb. This new foundation holds vertical pipes, which form part of the hydraulic system for lifting the structure. The tomb will lifted onto a trailer and moved two kilometers in eight hours. Work on the foundation at the new location is nearing completion.

The special road being built for the removal operation is also fast approaching completion, and the transfer may be completed within a matter of weeks.

Modern buildings near the new site for the Zeynel Bey Tomb

Locals concerned about project risks

Local people in Hasankeyf have expressed concern about the tomb’s condition and the risk of the relocation operation. Earlier this month, the Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive issued a statement emphasizing its concern about the risks of the project and criticizing the failure to consult the public about the relocation plans.

Last year, Hasankeyf mayor Abdulvahap Kusen from Turkey's ruling AK Party told reporters, "If we break it [the Zeynel Bey Tomb], the symbol of our historic town, we will be disgraced before the world."

High-level government officials have also noted the extremely fragile condition of the tomb. In a 2012 press release on the DSİ (
General Directorate of State Hydraulic Works) website, Minister of Forestry and Water Veysel Eroğlu referred to the delicate condition of the tomb, saying, "If we throw a stone at the Zeynel Bey Tomb, it will collapse."

As the only example of Timurid-style architecture in Anatolia, the Zeynel Bey Tomb is a visually compelling monument to long centuries of cross-cultural interaction between Turkic and Aryan civilizations in Upper Mesopotamia.

The Zeynel Bey Tomb in its original landscape

Its removal to a site where it will be dwarfed by modern buildings, including an oversized adaptation of Anatolian Seljuk tombs (typical of the Anatolian Plateau but quite rare in Upper Mesopotamia) will severely diminish its majesty and significance. 

This adapted reconstruction of a traditional Rum Seljuk tomb
will overshadow the Zeynel Bey Tomb at its new location

In a 2006 comment criticizing the government's plans for the open-air museum where pieces of eight historic buildings from Hasankeyf (including the Zeynel Bey Tomb) are to be displayed, Professor Zeynep Ahunbay, the lead plaintiff in a case currently before the European Court of Human Rights, said, "This destructive transfer operation can not be accepted as an act of preservation or salvage; it will create a sad caricature (!) of the real thing."