Turkish pop star Ajda Pekkan played Hasankeyf last week, drawing 10,000 fans as part of Hürriyet newspaper’s “Freedom Train” – a project to raise awareness of human rights issues among children and women in southeast Turkey. (Video of the show is here, embedding disabled for some reason). Hasankeyf is a dramatic cliffside town on the Tigris River, full of magnificent medieval ruins. It would be largely flooded by the proposed Ilisu Dam, which has recently been denied funding (again) by European governments. Hürriyet reported:
Thousands flooded in to Hasankeyf from neighboring districts such as Şırnak, Mardin and Diyarbakır to watch a historic performance by superstar Ajda Pekkan and supporting rock band Yüksek Sadakat. “It is a great pleasure to be here with you in this unique concert at such a historic and beautiful location. We must not allow the 12,000 years worth of history that sits in this location to be usurped by a dam,” Pekkan said at the opening of the concert. Quoting one of her songs “I was born a free person I will leave a free person,” Pekkan told the crowd that Hasankeyf must live freely as well. “Even when we leave this location tomorrow we will continue to take responsibility for this area,” Pekkan said.This trailer for Sakae Ishikawa's "Life in Limbo" offers a glimpse of the city:
The Ilisu project calls for damming the Tigris River and building a 1,200-megawatt power station as part of a $32 billion irrigation plan for impoverished provinces in Turkey’s southeast. Turkey planned to relocate antiquities and monuments from Hasankeyf, the region’s only surviving city built during the Middle Ages, with roots dating to the Assyrians. Critics of the project, which would create a 300-square-kilometer lake, include Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2006. The dam would destroy 400 square kilometers of river habitat that includes species such as the Euphrates soft-shell turtle.
As Pekkan notes, Hasankeyf is at the eye of a storm of environmental, human rights, and historic preservation activism, now led by the the Doğa Association, Turkey’s major environmental NGO.
It’s a complicated situation for archaeologists. In the past two decades a series of dams have built on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Turkey under the auspices of the Southeast Anatolia Project. Most of the rivers' length is now dammed. Extensive salvage surveys and excavations1 have revealed hundreds of sites and recovered stunning works such as the famous Zeugma mosaics.
A mosaic at Zeugma on the Euphrates. Much of the site is now flooded by the Birecik Dam (Photo NOVA)
However, thousands more sites from the river valleys that were the “cradle of civilization” from have gone underwater unrecorded and unstudied. A couple years back I published a study of the politics of archaeology in Turkey’s large dam projects, and concluded that archaeology was used as a political football by both dam proponents and opponents alike, while archaeologists themselves remained relatively silent on the issue.
(Mehmet Masum Süer)
Mostly, archaeologists accept the trade-off between development and salvage archaeology: we get some scraps of data before the site gets destroyed. Hasankeyf raises the question of where to draw the line: it’s the last major free-flowing stretch of either the Tigris or Euphrates in Turkey, and is inarguably a site of major archaeological significance. Is there a point where we as archaeologists should stop accepting development plans, and protest instead? (And what are the criteria for doing so?)
There’s an excellent petition to declare Hasankeyf and the Tigris valley a World Heritage Site. You can sign it here.
Türkiye'de yaşayanlar Doğa Derneği üyesi burada olabilir. (Turkish residents can join the Doğa Derneği here.)
If you like environmental report evaluations (I confess, I do), German NGO WEED has done detailed critiques of the environmental impact reports and resettlement plans for Ilisu (German with some reports in English).
1 Salvage work for the Southeast Anatolia Project dams has generated a large bibliography. Some highlights:
Algaze, G. (1989) A new frontier: first results of the Tigris-Euphrates Archaeological Reconnaissance Project, 1988. Journal of Near Eastern Studies 48:241-281.
Arık, M.O. (2001) 1999 Excavations at Hasankeyf. In N. Tuna, J. Öztürk, and J. Velibeyoğlu, eds. Salvage Project of the Archaeological Heritage of the Ilısu and Carchemish Dam Reservoirs – Activities in 1999. Ankara: METU Historic Environment Research Center.
Kennedy, D., ed. (1998) The Twin Towns of Zeugma on the Euphrates. Rescue Work and Historical Studies. JRA Supplemental Series 27. Portsmouth, RI: Journal of Roman Archaeology.
Özdoğan, M. (1977) Lower Euphrates Basin 1977 Survey. İstanbul: Middle East Technical University.
Tuna, N., J. Öztürk, and J. Velibeyoğlu, eds. (2001) Salvage Project of the Archaeological Heritage of the Ilısu and Carchemish Dam Reservoirs – Activities in 1999. Ankara: METU Historic Environment Research Center.
The tomb of Zeynel Bey (Mehmet Masum Süer)