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‘They are barbaric’: Turkey prepares to flood 12,000-year-old city to build dam
The ancient settlement of Hasankeyf will soon be submerged as part of a controversial dam project – despite residents’ protests
After the half-hour drive from Batman in south-east Turkey, the ancient city of Hasankeyf, which sits on the banks of the Tigris River, appears as an oasis.
Hasankeyf is thought to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements on Earth, dating as far back as 12,000 years and containing thousands of caves, churches and tombs.
But this jewel of human history will soon be lost; most of the settlement is about to be flooded as part of the highly controversial Ilisu dam project.
Construction work on the dam and its hydroelectric power plant started in 2006 and Hasankeyf is now just weeks away from destruction, despite a fight by residents and environmental campaigners to save it. The Turkish government has given residents until 8 October to evacuate.
An attempt to challenge the project at the European court of human rights on the grounds that it would damage the country’s cultural heritage was unsuccessful.
First conceived as far back as the 1950s, the dam project has long been mired in controversy. On its completion it will be the fourth biggest dam in Turkey and is predicted to generate 4,200 gigawatts hours of electricity annually, but at a huge cost.
The scheme will mean the flooding of 199 settlements in the region, thousands of human-made caves and hundreds of historical and religious sites. Campaigners warn that close to 80,000 people will be displaced.
They also warn of terrible damage to the natural environment, saying biodiversity will suffer, and that numerous vulnerable and endangered species are threatened by the construction of the dam.
Hasankeyf has been part of many different cultures in its long history, including ancient Mesopotamia, Byzantium, Arab empires and the Ottoman empire, but Hakan Ozoglu, a history professor at the University of Central Florida, said the settlement predates all these civilisations.
Only 8 historical monuments – including a tower from what was said 2 be the oldest university in the world, half of an old Roman gate to the city and a women’s hamam dating 2around 1400 – have been saved from Hasankeyf. The pieces were moved 3km away and now stand on a vast plain
A spokesperson at the ministry of energy and natural resources was also contacted. “Why do you want to talk about Hasankeyf when we have so many other projects?” was their only comment.
The Turkish authorities’ crackdown on protests has also hindered Hasankeyf residents’fight to stop the dam As the residents wait for the floodgates to open and for Hasankeyf to be slowly submerged by the rising river,
they say they will continue to raise their voices and spread the message of the settlement’s history, even after entry to it is banned in October.
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