Is Hasankeyf in our hearts?
President of the Batman University and Archeology Professor Uluçam and his team recently uncovered relics dating back 15,000 years. According to Uluçam, as a result of the archaeological findings uncovered in a dig conducted on the banks of the river Dicle it is possible to drastically change the history of Hasankeyf. The long awaited second piece of news, for which Hasankeyf lovers have waited months for with bated breaths, relates to the withdrawal of credit assurances that were to be provided by Western investors for the Ilısu Hydroelectric Dam project. Construction for the dam project began in 1959.
Due to pressure from both European and Turkish public financial institutions from Germany, the Turkish government was given a deadline of July 6 to comply with conditions put forth by Austria and Switzerland interests.
The conditions comprised of approximately 153 paragraphs. This was an important test as to whether the Turkish government would be able to preserve the balance between construction of the dam, cultural heritage, those displaced by the project and the region’s ecology.
The Environment Ministry and thus the AKP government failed to pass this test. As a result Germany, Austria and Switzerland announced they would be recalling their credit agreement. It is no longer possible for Western investors to issue credit easily. Countries applying for credit must conform to certain criteria. Examples like the Ebu Simbel Sanctuary in Egypt, which was relocated to make way for a dam, are a thing of the past.
Why did I mention the Ebu Simbel Sanctuary? At one time I spoke with a representative of the Australian firm, Va Tech, a partner in the consortium established to build the Ilısu Dam in Hasankeyf. They had told me that "Hasankeyf, just like the Ebu Simbel Sanctuary, might be relocated." I can’t tell you how surprised I was.
Thank God the public’s voice is strong and that "playing" with the historical fabric of a region no longer seem like a clever solution anymore. After the credit cancellation announcement, I spoke with friends in the region who for years have fought on behalf of Hasankeyf. They were overjoyed that their voices were finally being heard. To mobilize into action both the Turkish and European public, as well as environmentalists, and to obtain the support from giants like Orhan Pamuk and Yaşar Kemal, and popular artists like Sezen Aksu, Tarkan and Orhan Gencebay, of course, was not easy.
My friends were happy but said, "Let’s not become lax." My friends were right. Do you remember what our minister for environment and forestry, Veysel Eroğlu, said after the cancellation announcement? He said, "Turkey will construct the Ilısu Dam by its own means." But his most striking words were, "for some Hasankeyf is just a word, but we carry it in our hearts."
How could you dare risk losing something that you love so much and that you carry in your heart? What’s the meaning of his saying, "we carry it in our hearts," when a 15,000 years of history faces destruction. My friends in Hasankeyf are right; we should not rest. The AKP government seems determined to construct the Ilısu Dam. The first step in the struggle for Hasankeyf should be to include it in UNESCO’s "cultural heritage" list. People say that Hasankeyf fulfills 9 out of 10 criteria for this list. If Hasankeyf manages to make it on this list, it may actually be saved.