Europa Nostra: It’s not too late to save Hasankeyf!

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At their meetings that were held in Athens on 18-19 June 2019, the Board and Council of Europa Nostra deplored the lack of positive news and developments in Hasankeyf. The present public statement is the result of these discussions and serious concerns. It contains numerous reasons why Europa Nostra strongly believes that the Turkish authorities should refrain from flooding Hasankeyf and its surroundings.

link for statement:

Despite the significant degradation of individual monuments, including the Citadel mount, Europa Nostra recalls that Hasankeyf and its surroundings still form one of the most important archaeological and architectural sites in Europe, boasting rich biodiversity and 12,000 years of human history. The Neolithic mound at Hasankeyf, now only partially excavated, is the site of one of the earliest organized human settlements discovered anywhere. For all these reasons, Europa Nostra reiterates its belief that it is incumbent not only on Turkey but on the entire international community to ensure that this treasure is safeguarded.

In 2016, Europa Nostra listed the Ancient City of Hasankeyf among on the 7 Most Endangered sites in Europe. As Hasankeyf remains one of the most valuable witnesses of Islamic cultural heritage in a country that is a member of the Council of Europe, Europa Nostra firmly believes that it should be conserved not only according to the national law but also according to international and European conventions and recommendations.

With its Sâlihiyye Gardens and the orchards of Rasçem on thebanks of the river Tigris, present-day Hasankeyf exemplifies the integral role that garden districts and irrigated hinterlands played in Anatolia Seljuk urban design.[1] While these medieval gardens have largely disappeared across Turkey and Iran, the remains of villas, fountains, and water distribution networks in Hasankeyf offer visitors extraordinary insight into the technological and artistic milieu in which the 12thcentury inventor and robotics pioneer al-Jazari (el-Cezeri) lived and worked.[2,3] The Sâlihiyye and Kâsimiyye districts are unique, and the level of the reservoir should be kept low enough to prevent them from being flooded.

Europa Nostradeploresthe fact that over the course of two years, Turkish authorities have removed Hasankeyf’smost invaluable, symbolic and visually striking architectural elements;built massive reinforcement wallsand filled recently discovered cave dwellings. These actions-carried outin accordance with the government’shighly controversialplan to salvage the cultural heritage of the ancient city in preparation for flooding beneath the waters of the Ilısu reservoir-have significantly altered the historic landscapeand caused irreparable damage to individual monumentsof Hasankeyf.

The Zeynel Bey Tomb, which was known asone of the most distinctive monumentsof Hasankeyf,is now dwarfed by the modern concrete structures of the new settlement area. The Imam Abdullah Tomb, which is the single most important religious monument for the people of Hasankeyf and which originally stood on a hill guarding the entrance to the historiccity,now sitsunceremoniouslyon a slope below the new marketplace. Inrecent decades,the funerary complex known as the “Kızlar”or “Ayyubid” Mosque,hasservedas the main mosque of Hasankeyf. This modern adaptation is an integral part of the building’s history. Unfortunately,the modern prayer hallwas demolished before themedieval structurewas dismantled and transferred in pieces to its new location, where it has littlerelevance to the local community.

Europa Nostra stronglycondemns the factthat the design, planning and execution of Turkey’s cultural heritage conservation programmein Hasankeyf have been carried out without providing sufficient documentation to the public and certainly without having conducted sufficient consultation with either the local or the scholarly community.The blatant disregard for the relationship of the local people to the town’s architectural heritage is particularly reprehensible.

Given the degradation of the site and the debatabledesign andimplementation of the monument removalproject, it is difficult to see how the town will remain able to attract thenumber of visitors required to sustain the various businesses that have hithertooperatedin historic Hasankeyf. We urge Turkish authorities to avoid such aneconomic catastrophe for the region. More generally, the operation of the scheme should be optimized to limit the damage done to the city and the environment. This should be discussed with all interested parties.Beingpractically the last near-pristine catchment area of a major river in the Middle East, the Tigris basin holdsthe potential to producesignificanteconomic valuefor generations to come, provided that it is managed in a socially and environmentally sustainable way.

In addition, Hasankeyf and the Upper Tigris Valleyconstitute acrucial part of abiodiversity hotspot that provideshabitat for numerous threatened species. The creation of a lake in place of a river would destroy the sandy banks that provide nesting ground for theendangeredEuphrates softshell turtle (Rufetas Euphraticus),[4] and the colder temperatures and lower oxygen levels may make the lake uninhabitable forthe leopard barbel (Barbus subquincunciatus)[5] and Diyarbakırspined loach (Cobitis kellei),[6] two critically endangered fish speciesrecently observed near Hasankeyf.

Of the approximately 470 bird species known in Turkey, more than 130 have been observedin Hasankeyf. Twenty-five of thesearethreatened. The Ilısu reservoir would eliminate the steep soil slopesnext to the river, which areused for nesting by the pied kingfisher (Ceryle rudis), one of the most endangered riparian bird species in Turkey.[7] The higher water level of the reservoir may also make the rock cliffs along the river unsuitable brooding ground for the endangered Bonelli’s eagle (Hieraaetus fasciatus), as appears to have happened at Halfeti as a result of the Birecik dam.[8]

A new plant species, Salvia hasankeyfense, wasfirstidentified in 2015 andisthought to becritically endangered, as it isconfined to a small area around Hasankeyf.[9] Turkey has a responsibility to documentandmonitorthe biological diversity of the Upper Tigris basin and protect thearea’sthreatened species from extinction.[10]

1 Redford, Scott. Landscape and the state in medievalAnatolia : Seljuk Gardens and pavilions of Alanya, Turkey. Oxford : Archaeopress, 2000.

2 Al-Jazari, ibn Razzaz. The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices[Kitab fima’rifat al-hiyal al-handasiyya). Trans. Donald R. Hill. Dordrecht, Holland: D.Reidel, 1974.

3 El-Cezeri, Bedî ûz-Zamân Ebû’l-‘İzz İsmâ’il b. er-Rezzâz. El-Câmi’ Beyne’l-‘İlm ve’l-Amel en-Nâfi’ fî es-Sınaâ’ti’l-Hiyel. Çev. Sevim Tekeli, Melek Dosay, Yavuz Unat. Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu Basımevi, 2002.