Turkey: the uncertain future of the inhabitants of a 12,000-year-old city submerged in an artificial lake

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Situated on the banks of the Tigris in southeastern Turkey, Hasankeyf was once a highly touristy town for its historical monuments dating from Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman times.

Two roofs sticking out of the water are the only visible part from the ancient city of Hasankeyf, which was submerged in the artificial lake that was formed after the construction of a controversial dam.

Located on the shores of Tigris, in southeastern Turkey, Hasankeyf was once a highly touristic town for its historical monuments, dating from Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman times.

The controversial construction of the Ilisu dam led to the transfer of its inhabitants, mostly Kurds, to a new place. Some of the historical monuments were also displaced.

And with the constant noise of the pneumatic drill, its market and its half-built roads full of dust, the new Hasankeyf looks more like a city under construction.

Abdurrahman Gundogdu, 48, fears that his life will never be the same again.

“I only earn 1% of what I made in the old city”says Gundogdu, owner of a souvenir shop, hardly visited. “There are local tourists, but they don’t really have money,” he complains.

Forced to leave their city, 12,000 years old, some inhabitants managed to have the graves of their relatives transferred to them.

About 500 graves were transferred in September to the new Hasankeyf. Others were submerged by the waters, because they were not displaced in time.

The Ilisu Dam is a central element of the Southeast Anatolia Project (GAP), a land use planning plan that seeks to boost the long-abandoned economy of the region. relying on energy and irrigation.

Inhabitants and activists for cultural heritage they tried to convince to the government not to build the dam to save the ancient city, but to no avail.

The pillars of the old bridge, once the delight of amateur photographers, also disappeared, as well as the troglodyte houses carved out of the calcareous rock for millennia.

“It is something very tragic. All your past, your ancestors, your story is suddenly submerged under water “, says Ridvan Ayhan, spokesman for the association” Save Hasankeyf “, which campaigned against the dam.

The government rejects the criticism and claims that most of the Hasankeyf monuments were protected and that a new town was built nearby. to relocate the 3,000 inhabitants of the historic city.

For the authorities, the new city should also become a tourist attraction, with the possibility of taking boat trips and visiting an “archaeological park” with displaced monuments, such as a hamam and a mosque from the 14th century.

In addition, activities will also be proposed like hiking, paragliding or jet skis, according to Haluk Koc, deputy governor of Hasankeyf.

“The authorities tell us: ‘Hasankeyf will be the Bodrum or the Marmaris of the east,'” says Bulent Basaran, a merchant, referring to two popular tourist cities on the Turkish west coast.

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