The completion of Turkey’s IlIsu Dam threatens to flood much of the historic city of Hasankeyf, according to the New York Times.

The city, which traces its history back as much as 12,000 years and is one of the world’s first organized human settlements, sports a range of cultural treasures from Neolithic cave dwellings to the 600 year old minaret of the Al Rizq mosque.

As the Smithsonian describes, more than 20 cultures have left their mark on Hasankeyf, including Assyrians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Turkish Artukids, Kurdish Ayyubids, Mongols, and Ottomans. In more recent years, it was home to Armenians and Assyrians, but today is mostly Kurdish. The rich cultural history is visible in its several hundred monuments, including Roman ruins, the sole example of Timurid architecture in Anatolia, and mosques representing the “Turkish synthesis” of Central Asian, Persian, and Arab styles.

With the completion of the dam, water levels would rise 200 feet, submerging most of the city under a 121-square-mile reservoir. The project, which has its roots in Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s plan to meet Turkey’s energy needs through a series of dams on the Tigris and Euphrates, is set to become Turkey’s fourth hydroelectric dam.

The Turkish government has begun construction on a nearby city and a cultural park to relocate residents and some of Hasankeyf’s monuments. Hasankeyf’s District Governor Faruk Bülent Baygüven affirms that the district would become a “tourist center,” and that “this place will be very beautiful in five or six years.”

But many oppose the government’s plans and see them as inadequate.

Residents such as Firat Argun, for example, do not wish to relocate. For those who are willing to relocate, the homes in the new city cost over twice as much as what the government is willing to give them for moving out.

Hasankeyf’s mayor
Abdulvahap Kusen has expressed concern that many of the monuments are too fragile to survive a move to a cultural park. Rather than push aquatic tourism on the new reservoir, opponents claim that the government should focus its tourism efforts on the cultural and environmental attractions already there.

The website Hasankeyf Matters is attempting to raise global recognition of the site, which it claims meets 9 out of 10 of the criteria for designation on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. In 2007, a protest in Istanbul urged European banks to cancel credit to the dam project, and in 2008, some European investors did withdraw their support, since the project failed to meet environmental and cultural protection standards.

Nevertheless, the project has since continued, and is now more than 80% complete. It is still unclear when it is set to finish, or whether it will encounter further delays.


Cover photo: Artkulu tomb from 12th century; credit: CharlesFred via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA