Monday, October 30, 2017

Destruction accelerates in Hasankeyf and the Tigris Basin

Environmental and heritage destruction has accelerated in Turkey’s historic city of Hasankeyf as crews work day and night, seven days a week to collapse vulnerable portions of the cliffs ringing the town and fill in some 200 caves. The work’s stated aim is to reinforce Hasankeyf’s ancient citadel ahead of completion of the Ilısu Dam, which would flood most of the town beneath approximately 60 meters of water. Preparations are also being made to construct a wall to cover the cliff face of the citadel mount. And a new road has been built across the Tigris River to haul equipment and rubble to and from the work site, significantly altering the course of the river and severely reducing its water quality.

The river has been diverted from base of the Citadel

The serious risks to both the historic heritage of Hasankeyf and the natural ecosystem of the Upper Tigris Basin posed by this work, which is being carried out without proper transparency or public involvement, are being documented by the Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive (Hasankeyf'i Yaşatma Girişimi) and Hasankeyf Matters. The work to reinforce the cliffs is causing irreparable damage to the historical and cultural fabric of Hasankeyf, significantly reducing the value of the citadel and the surrounding natural rock formations as cultural heritage.

Collapsing cliffs at Darphane / foundation work below Citadel

Similarly, the use of heavy equipment to collapse the cliffs beginning in August, together with the on-going construction of the new bridge one kilometre to the east of Hasankeyf, has polluted the Tigris River and is destroying extensive areas of habitat for numerous species of fish, plants and wildlife. In the course of this work, trees on the banks of the river are being cut unnecessarily and piles of debris are rising. Due to the change in the course of the Tigris, the fish habitat in the riverbed has been severely damaged for at least one and a half kilometres. Local observers report that thousands of fish have been killed.

Extensive environmental destruction

This destruction is being done in violation of legal requirements for transparency, which require that the names of contractors and sub-contractors carrying out this work be disclosed. However, on the sign describing the work in progress, the space designated for the names of contractors and sub-contractors for the project has been left blank. Our research reveals that the contractor is the ICC Group (ICC Grup), while the sub-contractor collapsing the cliffs is Rüzgar Industrial Mountaineering (Rüzgar Endüstriyel Dağcılık). Both firms are based in Ankara.

Contractors and sub-contractors not identified on project sign

News articles and press releases on the website of the State Hydraulic Works (DSİ), which is responsible for the Ilısu Dam Project, state that following the collapsing of cliffs around the citadel – an area that includes the hills of Ra’s Tibbah and Darphane – portions of the cliffs and surrounding valleys would be filled in with 4.75 cubic meters of debris/rubble and concrete. However, no plan for this has been shared with the public.

The failure to inform and consult the public regularly on substantive details of the citadel reinforcement project contravenes the laws of the Republic of Turkey, specifically Law Number 3534, which brought the country into legal compliance with the Council of Europe’s Convention for the Preservation of the Architectural Heritage of Europe (CETS 121). Article 14, Paragraph 1 of that law states that each party to the Convention will undertake “to establish in the various stages of the decision-making process, appropriate machinery for the supply of information, consultation and co-operation between the State, the regional and local authorities, cultural institutions and associations, and the public”.

International law mandates that intangible cultural heritage must be protected and that the public must be substantively and systematically consulted regarding projects for the conservation of immovable cultural heritage. Contrary to these legal requirements, the on-going work in and around Hasankeyf – its goals, technical plans, detailed methods and time schedule – is shrouded in extreme secrecy.

Meanwhile residents of Hasankeyf and neighbouring villages and towns are witnessing each day the dismemberment of the landscape where they and their ancestors have lived for centuries. Experiencing the dust and sounds of explosions created by this project, and seeing the destruction of historic landmarks and touchstones for collective memory, is intensifying the trauma and uncertainty they have lived with for 50 years, since the first proposal for the Ilısu Dam Project that would mean the death of their community and way of life.

As the filling and covering of cliffs is causing significant damage to the immovable historical structure of Hasankeyf and to the fabric of the town’s intangible cultural heritage, the project also violates the human right to culture upheld by the United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution 33/20.

We thus call again on the companies destroying the historical fabric of Hasankeyf and the Tigris Basin ecosystem to withdraw immediately from these damaging projects.

A concrete wall is meant to protect the cliff face from erosion

Monday, September 11, 2017

Call for solidarity with Hasankeyf: Join the 2nd Global Action Day on 23 September 2017

The recent destruction of historic cave dwellings and the relocation in May of the 15th-century Zeynel Bey Tomb -- the first of nine monuments the government plans to move -- have been disheartening events to witness for those of us who love Hasankeyf. But the fight is not yet over.

Our allies at the Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive (Hasankeyf'i Yaşatma Girişimi) have announced that 23 September 2017 will be the second global action day for the defense of Hasankeyf and the Tigris River. They are calling for activists, members of social movements, NGOs and others all over the world to protest the controversial Ilısu Dam project that threatens Hasankeyf and communities far beyond.

Since the first global action day in September 2015, construction of the Ilısu Dam and Hydroelectric Power Plant has continued without a break, with protests in Turkey suppressed under emergency rule. But demonstrations have resumed with new energy since part of the castle rock at Hasankeyf was destroyed in mid-August 2017 using explosives and other means, an action taken without proper legal permission. This latest development marks the start of a new level of destruction of the outstanding and unique cultural and natural heritage of the 12,000-year-old settlement of Hasankeyf and the surrounding Tigris Valley. It is also pushing people out of their homes in Hasankeyf.

The first Global Action Day for Hasankeyf, in September 2015

At the same time, these actions have brought activists and organizations from all over Turkey, as well as Iraq and Iran, together in opposition to the Ilısu Dam project. Hasankeyf has a strong symbolic value for all people in Turkey struggling against dams and other destructive investment projects, and many activists from all over the country are expected to come to Hasankeyf to show solidarity on 23 September 2017.

The Turkish government has announced several times that construction of the dam is nearly complete, though this is difficult to independently verify. What is important is that we stand together against this project which will destroy a whole region while benefitting only a few.

Along with the Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive, we invite all people concerned about Hasankeyf to organize a public action in your city or country on 23 September 2017 against the destructive Ilısu project. The demands of such protests should target the Turkish government, the Austrian company Andritz -- the leader in the Ilısu consortium -- and request action from the Iraqi government, which has thus far been silent about the effect the dam will have on its already strained water resources.

Please share news and photos of your action with us, and on social media, using the hashtags #HasankeyfeDokunma ('Don't Touch Hasankeyf') and/or #HasankeyfeSesVer ('Speak Out for Hasankeyf').

The struggle continues -- Hasankeyf Yaşasın! Long Live Hasankeyf!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Europa Nostra’s Board gives statement on the endangered heritage site of Hasankeyf, Turkey

The Hague, 29 June 2017 — The Board of Europa Nostra, the leading heritage organisation in Europe, made a statement about the Ancient city of Hasankeyf and its surroundings in Turkey, listed among the 7 Most Endangered heritage sites in Europe in 2016, following a nomination by the Cultural Awareness Foundation. In their statement, the Board of Europa Nostra deeply deplores the decision of the Turkish government to build a dam that would lead to the flooding of a site of world significance, without proper and transparent justification and without adequate compensation measures. In particular, the Board regrets that the removal of the Zeynel Bay Tomb has been carried out with insufficient consultation with the local and scholarly communities and that other Islamic monuments of great significance remain highly endangered. The Board of Europa Nostra urges the Turkish authorities to adhere to the standards of heritage protection that are included in the European Conventions and to set up a proper consultation process with local communities and civil society organisations concerned in an open and transparent manner.

Koç Mosque and Sultan Süleyman Mosque (center);
minaret of Er-Rizk Mosque (left)

Statement by the Board of Europa Nostra

The Board of Europa Nostra, meeting on 14 May 2017 in the framework of the Europa Nostra’s European Heritage Congress in Turku, Finland, was advised that the longstanding intention of the Turkish Government to move the Zeynel Bay Tomb, a monument featuring Timurid tradition, has now been completed, as part of the ongoing government project to build a dam that will lead to the flooding of the archaeologically and architecturally important site of Hasankeyf on the river Tigris.

It is to be regretted that this removal has been carried out without sufficient documentation having been provided and certainly with insufficient consultation either with the local or with the scholarly community, both of which believe that the value of the site of Hasankeyf is far greater than the benefits to be obtained by its flooding. It is to be even more regretted that other Islamic monuments of great significance including the medieval bridge of the 12th century of the Artukid dynasty, the 15th century mosque complex and tomb of the Ayyubid Sultan Süleyman and the Imam Abdullah tomb, remain at risk. For all these reasons, Hasankeyf was included on its 2016 List of 7 Most Endangered sites in Europe, as part of the programme run by Europa Nostra in partnership with the EIB Institute and the Council of Europe Development Bank.

The Europa Nostra Board also deplores the fact that the law recently passed by the Turkish Grand National Assembly overrules the decision taken by the Turkish courts in 2013 that the relevant Environmental Impact Assessment Report was inadequate.

In the light of the above worrying developments, Europa Nostra Board states the following:

1) The foreseen flooding of Hasankeyf would destroy evidence for one of the oldest organised human settlements ever discovered. Such a site is not just of national and European but of world significance. Therefore, we believe that it is incumbent not only on Turkey but on the entire international community to ensure its safeguard.

2) Hasankeyf possesses one of the richest treasures of Islamic monuments in any country member of the Council of Europe. Acknowledging and affirming the value of this heritage for Europe’s shared cultural heritage, we deeply deplore the decision of the government of Turkey, a Member State of the Council of Europe, to build a dam which would lead to the flooding of such a site and, as a consequence, to the loss of one of the most valuable witnesses of Islamic heritage in a European country, without proper and transparent justification and without adequate compensation measures.

3) We urge the Turkish authorities to adhere to the principles and standards of heritage protection which are included in the European Conventions adopted under the auspices of the Council of Europe and of which Turkey is a signatory (namely the Granada Convention and the Valletta Convention). We also make a strong appeal to the Turkish authorities to set up a proper consultation process with local communities and civil society organisations concerned in an open and transparent manner. It is by now very late but applying best international practice to this case of outstanding but endangered heritage could still be beneficial.


Europa Nostra
Joana Pinheiro
Communications Coordinator
T: +31 63 43 65 985, M: + 31 6 34 36 59 85

Hasankeyf Matters
John Crofoot
T: +1 404 831 7757, +90 542 285 85 67

Facebook: Europa Nostra
Twitter: @europanostra
Flickr: europanostra
Facebook: Hasankeyf Matters
Twitter: @HKMatters


About Europa Nostra
Europa Nostra is the pan-European federation of heritage NGOs which is also supported by a wide network of public bodies, private companies and individuals. Covering more than 40 countries in Europe, Europa Nostra is the voice of civil society committed to safeguarding and promoting Europe’s cultural and natural heritage. Maestro Plácido Domingo is the President of the organisation. Founded in 1963, Europa Nostra is today recognised as the most representative heritage network in Europe. We campaign to save Europe's endangered monuments, sites and landscapes, in particular through the 7 Most Endangered programme. We celebrate excellence through the EU Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Awards. We also contribute to the formulation and implementation of European strategies and policies related to heritage, through a structured dialogue with European Institutions and the coordination of the European Heritage Alliance 3.3.

About Hasankeyf Matters
Hasankeyf Matters was formed in Istanbul in 2012 with the goal of consolidating information about Hasankeyf, its history and its potential for economic development. With volunteers based in Hasankeyf as well Istanbul, Hasankeyf Matters has organised twice-yearly “ingatherings” in Hasankeyf to attract visitors and showcase elements of traditional life (e.g. gardening, herding, fishing, foraging) that could serve as the foundation for commercial services for tourists. Hasankeyf Matters partnered with The Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive and the Cultural Awareness Foundation (a Turkish NGO) in the successful nomination of Hasankeyf for the 7 Most Endangered programme run by Europa Nostra in partnership with the European Investment Bank Institute and with the support of the Creative Europe programme of the European Union.

About Hasankeyf
Hasankeyf, sitting on the banks of the River Tigris, is one of the most important architectural and archaeological sites in Europe, boasting a rich biodiversity and 12,000 years of human history. Masterpieces of Islamic architecture, dating from the 12th to 15th centuries C.E., make the town one of the best preserved witnesses to Seljuk urban culture, particularly from the Artukid and Ayyubid dynasties.

A small town with a great heritage, Hasankeyf already attracts about 500.000 visitors each year, a number expected to rise. Given its historical, architectural and economic significance for the region, public opinion supports its preservation. The area was declared a First Degree Archaeological Site by Turkey’s Supreme Board of Monuments in 1978 and has been under the protection of the Culture Ministry’s General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums since 1981.

The urgent threat to Hasankeyf is posed by the Ilısu dam hydroelectric power project which, if implemented as planned, would submerge the site under 65 metres of water by 2018. The Government of Turkey has a vision for salvaging selected monuments and developing the site as a prestigious destination. However, Hasankeyf’s preservation in its original location might prove more economically advantageous than the dam, and its cultural significance for Turkey is incomparable.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Protest against Bresser at its Dutch headquarters: Withdraw from relocation of Hasankeyf monuments

+++ DEM-NED (Council of Communities from Kurdistan in Netherlands) +++ Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive, Turkey +++ Hasankeyf Matters, Turkey +++ Mesopotamian Ecology Movement, Turkish-Kurdistan +++ Save the Tigris and Iraqi Marshes Campaign, Iraq +++ 
Humat Dijla, Iraq +++ Mountain Watch, Iran +++ BankTrack, NL ++++ CounterCurrent, Germany +++ The Corner House, UK +++

Today, several dozen people from Dutch, German, Iraqi, Iranian, British and Turkish civil-society organizations are protesting at the headquarters of the Dutch company Bresser in s-Gravendeel, near Rotterdam. Bresser, which specializes in the relocation of buildings and monuments, is currently moving historical monuments in Hasankeyf, located in the mainly Kurdish-populated South East of Turkey. The relocation is part of the highly controversial Ilısu dam project and we demand from Bresser to put an immediate stop to the relocation of the cultural sites.

Hasankeyf is a 12,000-year-old settlement on the Tigris River with unique cultural and natural heritage, and is currently threatened by the construction of the Ilısu Dam. The mega-dam under construction would create, if completed and implemented as planned, a social, cultural and ecological disaster in the region, impacting not only Turkey but the Tigris basin in Iran and Iraq. The local population and Turkish as well as international environmental and human-rights groups vehemently reject the project, which will lead to serious human-rights violations. To make way for the dam, a small number of ancient monuments will be relocated outside the planned dam reservoir to a location close to the new settlement of "New-Hasankeyf".

Bresser’s involvement was central to the relocation of the 550-year-old and unique tomb of Zeynel Bey in May 2017. And now the Dutch company, together with the Turkish company Er-Bu, is planning the relocation of five further monuments, including the Middle Gate (to the castle), a mausoleum, a bath and a social complex. Works are planned to start in late summer 2017. In a later step, three other monuments (among them the famous El Rizk Mosque) are planned to be relocated. Their relocation would be an unforgivable act of cultural-heritage destruction and a violation of the human rights of the local people, and facilitate far-reaching and irreversible impacts along the Tigris basin.

The protestors criticize the uncritical and persistent involvement of Bresser in this project, which is in violation of Turkish law and international conventions. The contracting of the project also took part in secret outside of public scrutiny. The relocation of the Zeynel Bey Tomb is an active violation of the Convention for the Protection of the Architectural Heritage of Europe (CETS 121) which both Turkey and the Netherlands have signed, and also an infringement of the Human Right to Cultural Heritage. Bresser reacted to the coalition’s requests only after the campaign contacted the Dutch government. There was no effort to consult civil-society organizations or the local population impacted by the relocations. Bresser rejects all responsibility, whilst it is clear that without the company’s involvement, it would be almost impossible for the Turkish Er-Bu and the Turkish government to relocate the monuments. Due to the company’s failure to conduct due diligence on human-rights impacts, and the evident lack of respect for human right to culture, a number of civil-society organizations will soon lodge a complaint against Bresser for violation of the OECD Guidelines for multinational enterprises.

This protest is not the first and will not be the last call on the company to end its involvement. Already in December 2016, more than 20 Turkish and international organizations signed an open letter calling on Bresser to stop the relocation of the Zeynel Bey Tomb.

It is not too late for Bresser to withdraw from the relocation process. If Bresser continues with the relocations, however, the company will be guilty of destroying the oldest cultural heritage in Mesopotamia and make way for a mega-dam that will destroy not only cultural sites but vital biodiversity in the region.

Ercan Ayboga
Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive
T: +49 1637577847

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."