Hasankeyf: Ancient town in Turkey faces dam flood

A traditional wedding ceremony in Hasankeyf Image copyright Magma magazine
Image caption A traditional wedding ceremony in Hasankeyf, which was once a Silk Road trade hub

The town of Hasankeyf in eastern Turkey faces flooding now that parliament has decided that a controversial dam will go ahead, despite local objections.

Turkey launched the Ilisu dam project on the river Tigris in the 1950s, but legal battles tied up work on it until 2006.

It foresees the flooding of more than 300 sq km (120 sq m) of land, including nearly 90% of Hasankeyf.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The minaret of Al Rizk mosque (right) sits on the bank of the Tigris, overlooking the remnants of the old Tigris bridge

The government says the dam will provide the country with much-needed power generation and improve local irrigation, but critics complain that thousands of years of cultural heritage will be lost.

The government is building a new town for the displaced locals, and a museum to house ancient monuments, but opponents say there is much more to be explored from an archaeological perspective.

Image copyright Magma magazine
Image caption Elaborate Neolithic cave dwellings are a highlight of the area

They also fear that some of the town's most striking features, from the 600-year-old minaret of the Al Rizq Mosque to Neolithic caves, could be lost.

Mass deportations

Beyond architecture, Hasankeyf has a rich ethnic heritage.

The Ottoman Turks captured it in 1515, and its mainly Armenian and Assyrian inhabitants were forced to leave during the brutal mass deportations carried out by the Ottoman government during World War One.

Kurds have made up the majority of the population since then.

Lawyer Murat Cano, who has campaigned to save Hasankeyf for over a decade, told the BBC that all legal avenues inside Turkey had been exhausted, which is why he took the case to the European Court of Human Rights in 2006.

Image copyright Magma magazine
Image caption Zeynel Bey tomb is the only remaining monument from the 15th century Aq Qoyunlu period

The court decided in December 2015 to review the case, but it may be too late to save the town.

"The destruction of cultural heritage should be seen as a violation of human rights," Mr Cano said.

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