Thursday, March 1, 2018

Eviction threat looms over merchants in Hasankeyf’s historic bazaar

Every weekend, a steady, if modest stream of tourists still visits Hasankeyf, despite the accelerating destruction in and around the town. They buy souvenirs in the historic bazaar and enjoy a cup of tea or a meal. But local residents say the government has given merchants along the “touristic bazaar” an ultimatum: vacate their shops within two weeks, or be forcibly evicted.

Hasankeyf's historic market (Fall 2017)

Previous announcements set deadlines of 1 October 2017 and 17 January 2018 for closing the bazaar ahead of the town’s planned move to a new settlement area outside of the flooding zone. But last week’s notification (dated 22 February) is said to be stronger, warning that merchants could be evicted by force if they do not comply. Shopkeepers are understandably hesitant to abandon their workplaces, especially as peak season approaches; some are saying, “We’re not going.”

The new Hasankeyf marketplace (Feb 2018)

Many merchants have been allocated spaces for their shops in the new settlement area, but there are no customers to serve in the new marketplace, which sits near the tourism school, within view of the new museum. Neither facility has opened. In fact, the new town is still under construction, and it will be years before major tourism attractions such as the museum and an “archaeopark” (where a handful of architectural elements taken from historic Hasankeyf will be displayed) are ready for visitors. The merchants know that their incomes will drop sharply as soon as they close their current shops.

New housing is still under construction (Feb 2018)

The ostensible reason for evicting the merchants at this early date is to demolish the market and clear a path for the removal of the minaret of the Rizk Mosque, which stands at the western end of the market street. Several local residents have noted, however, that the state has not expropriated all properties along the market street, as some owners have rejected the government’s cash offers. The path cannot be fully cleared until these cases are resolved.

Some shop owners argue further that the minaret should not be moved until after the other monuments to be salvaged have been relocated to the new archaeological park and the Hasankeyf residents settled in their new homes. This would enable the bazaar to continue drawing visitors to the town, allowing for a degree of social and economic continuity during the difficult transition to the new settlement area.

Unfortunately, local residents report that recent conversations with government officials have been especially tense, and they fear that the market could be closed forcibly early this month. We hope that the authorities will find a way for Hasankeyf merchants to keep earning a living and providing for their families.

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