hasankeyf_280Far east of Istanbul and about 65km from the border of Syria and Iraq lies the ancient city of Hasankeyf, a tiny area on the Tigris River and part of Mesopotamia which is widely considered to be the cradle of civilisation.

Hasankeyf has a history dating back over 10,000 years and contains several archeological sites including ancient mosques and churches carved into its cliffs. The primarily Kurdish population survives by cultivating and farming their fertile soil and by fishing in the Tigris River. Early each morning the people of Hasankeyf rise to take their sheep out to graze the land where their people have lived for millennia.

In 1996 the Turkish Government announced its plan to build the Ilisu Dam – the largest in the country – in this exact area of Turkey, for hydroelectric power production, flood control and water storage. The plan drew widespread criticism from environmental groups, human rights groups and local people as it would mean the displacement of over 70,000 locals and the forced flooding of Hasankeyf and surrounding areas. Furthermore, there are concerns that the 1,200 megawatt hydroelectric plant will cause massive environmental damage to native animals, reduce downstream water flow and cause irreparable damage to the Tigris basin.

In addition, the Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP) has published a report accusing the Turkish government of discrimination and repression of the Kurdish people, claiming that the dam also represents an attempt to further subjugate them. Many argue that the Turkish government does not comply with worldwide human rights laws and it is partly due to this that lead to loans promised for the dam project, from British and European banks and governments, being revoked in 2006.

The situation in this area is further complicated by the presence of the Kurdistan Workers Party, known as the PKK, a Kurdish militant organisation who are fighting for an autonomous Kurdistan. The PKK are regarded by the European Union as a terrorist organisation and there has been wide spread violence between the PKK and the Turkish Army in the past.

These communities, most of which rely on agriculture, will be relocated to other areas – large cities where they will be forced to live in high-rise apartments. There will be no space for their livestock and no land for their crops to grow. The majority of these people will lose their livelihood, their houses and, along with their beloved city, their history.

Alehteia Casey and Enrico Gaoni

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has created a petition to save Hasankeyf and surrounding areas from flooding – sign the petition here.

Music Track: Bosphorus Song 1966, Bogazi├ži Sarkisi