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About the Author

Jana Cavojska
photojournalist and writing reporter (Bratislava, Slovakia)

Lawyer by education, photojournalist and writing reporter now. Working for the best sold Slovak weekly magazine Plus7dni and occasionaly also for another weekly and monthly magazines in Slovakia (including streetpaper Nota bene distributed by homeless people). Member of board of trustees of Slovak non - profit organisation Človek v ohrození - People in Peril Association providing developing and humanitarian aid in 25 countries all over the world. Usually I report about people and their stories in different parts of the world. In my blog I would like to speak about the virtue of the "common" people in difficult life situations and about developing help which is really help and not just giving. You can see my photos on my website or in my facebook profile.


Town which will disappear

Published 15th August 2010 - 5 comments - 5791 views -

When the last evening sun rays light the old stone castle and then glance away from the river level, the view of Tigris valley is fascinating. Herdsmen take their sheeps to the river, children swim in the water, young boys try to fish nearby. Women have a walk along the Tigris river. Men in cafés drink another cup of strong turkish tea. Life flows the same simple way for about 12 000 years. That is the proved history of people´s activity in this area.

In next four years this all will be submerged by waters of new Ilisu dam.

Small town Hasankeyf in Kurdish area in southeastern Turkey stands in areas which were chosen by the oldest civilisations for their home long ago. It was a part of fertile land between Euphratus and Tigris rivers, Mesopotamia. Ancient Romans built fortress Cephe here. During Bysantian times was this town, called Kiphas, independent diocese. Arabs captured the town in 640 and named it Hisn Kayf. The best times Hasankeyf experienced in 12th century as an important town in Silk Road. The biggest bridge in medieval times was built here. Eski Köprüsü, the Old Bridge, was forty meters long and his massive stone pillars stay in Tigris river to this day. Artuk dynasty has built also spacious stone castle here. Their remains tower on the cliff one hundread meters above the Tigris river. Unique remains of all old Hasankeyf civilisations lie in front of visitor like in a large museum.

Common people used to live ina caves in Hasankeyf. They pierced the rock like holes in Dutch cheese. They vere cool in summer and keep warm in winter. Some people in Hasankeyf still remember living in the caves. To the houses in the town they moved only forty years ago. According to government direction.

There is one cave still settled. 70 years old lady named Peyruze and her husband can´t imagine another place for living. „Where would I go? Here I was born and here I will die,“ answers Peyruze my question about moving out because of Ilisu dam. The cave looks comfortable with many pillows and big fridge-freezer.

„There used to be our home!“ Another old lady in her headscarf points on ruins up in the hill. There are also old cemeteries. Just tops of gravestones stick out the high grass. Old buildings weren´t restored. Why for? It will be submerged anyway.

People in Hasankeyf are waiting for submerging their homes for almost sixty years! Government decided to build 22 dams in poor and problematic region of sutheastern Turkey in 1955. The GAP project (Gündeydoğu Anadolu Projesi) should produce electrical power and water for irrigating of dried areas, in basins there should be fish farms and lot of industry should come to the region. Government is working on this plan. Rivers have been redirecting into new concrete channels. Historical town and important archeological site Halfeti, the oldest settlement Hallan Cemi, historical town Samsat, rich areological locality Zeugma with antic mosaics and sculptures disappeared under water. Now it´s Hasankeyf turn.

„People are tired. We are just waiting,“ said Muhyettin Talayhan (31). „Nobody knows if the dam will be built and where will we go then. There were 10 000 people living in Hasankeyf twenty years ago. 2500 remain till now. Others left. They couldn´t endure this insecurity.“ And they didn´t find any job here. And building new houses is forbidden. There is no cinema, no gym. The only thing to do is drinking tea in cafés.

Muhyettin works for NGO Doga Dernegi. In small information office explains to the turists about Ilisu dam and collects signatures for petition against the dam. „Tigris must flow freely. If we stop it we destroy our history, culture, lives of animals and ecosystem of the Tigris valley,“ he says.

Vahap Kusen (48) is mayor of this town sentenced to death for 11 years. „Works on the dam have started in 2004 and quietly continue. For us is it very dangerous,“ he sais. He points on the root of a opposite mountain. „Government promised to built new Hasankeyf there. Nice new houses for everybody. But we disbelieve. We would agree with building the dam if it would be smaller and didn´t submerge our town and historical sites. Now, we have nothing. To build new buildings is forbidden, there are no investors, no work, no development.“

Ilisu with its 313 square kilometers should submerge 200 villages and settlements besides Hasankeyf. 78 000 people have to be relocated. It will affect also 20 000 nomadic shepherds wandering in southeastern Anatolia. „That all because of electric power?“ asks Ipek Tasli, young activist from Iniciative for keeping Hasankeyf alive.

Ipek lives in industrial city of Batman 30 kilometers far from Hasankeyf. She fights against the Ilisu dam with all her strength. „17 from 22 dams are already finished. But people don´t have better lives. They are poorer, lost their land, have to move to towns. Just big companies have profit from dams,“ Ipek says. „Life in villages was different. Everybody had his farm, animals, work. In towns there is not enough work. Especially women are in their flats like in prison. They have no reason to go out and suffer from depression.“ Ipek and her colleagues visits farmers in villages and explains them what will be consequences of building dam. Because common people often don´t understand.

Also some European banks were involved in dams investments before. But they avoided the contracts finally. Because Turkish government didn´t guaranteed protection of human rights and historical sites.

Quantity of water in rivers is another problem. Because of dams there is much les water in Euphratus and Tigris flowing to Iraq and Syria. „Water becomes a weapon,“ warns Ipek. It can endanger fragile international affairs in the region.

Hasankeyf and its people had lived from turists. Many people came to see the old castle and all historical sites. Locals run cafés, restaurants and souvenir shops, children hang on to every visitor and offered guid services „in Turkish, Kurdish, Arabics, English and Kustili – language of birds“. This is over now. I´ve got and e-mail from Ipek. She writes that there was rock fall in old castle. One person died. Governor of Batman province decided to close the castle and surrounding areas. Tourism in Hasankeyf is not possible anymore. Ipek is afraid that this all will speed up the displacing of Hasankeyf – instead of serious restoration of archeological sites.

Ipek believes that Hasankeyf will survive somehow. That there will be some acceptable solution of this situation. But when she want to speak with people from authorities or government, nobody wants to listen. „For them are we only Kurdish terorists,“ she said me in Batman four months ago. „By building dams and moving people to cities they want to destroy our, Kurdish, culture and identity.“

And with this words I can see a new meaning of her fight for preservation of Hasankeyf.


More photos in FB gallery:!/album.php?aid=2060625&id=1475550431

Category: Politics | Tags:


  • Helena Goldon on 16th August 2010:

    Briiiiiliant post and the gallery smile

  • Jana Cavojska on 21st August 2010:

    thank you. hasankeyf is really charming place which takes your heart smile. I´ve met so nice people there. They´ve lost the important source of income by closing the historical site when no tourists will come anymore. If the restoration works would be done there nothing wrong could happen…

  • Luan Galani on 23rd August 2010:

    Amazing stuff!!! The photos are equally great…
    Sad situation what they are enduring there…sad to hear that…

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