Government to flood 12,000-year-old town, turning it into artificial lake

By Amanda Schmidt, AccuWeather staff writer
January 11, 2019, 3:28:19 PM EST

(Photo/REUTERS/Sertac Kayar)

A general view of the ancient town of Hasankeyf by the Tigris river, which will be significantly submerged by the Ilisu dam being constructed, in southeastern Turkey, April 29, 2018.

(Photo/REUTERS/Julia Hart)

View of old houses with the new Hasankeyf in the background in the southeastern town of Hasankeyf, Turkey Aug. 13, 2018.

(Photo/REUTERS/Sertac Kayar)

A general view of the ancient town of Hasankeyf by the Tigris river, which will be significantly submerged by the Ilisu dam being constructed, in southeastern Turkey, Aug. 26, 2018.

(Photo/REUTERS/Sertac Kayar)

People visit the ancient town of Hasankeyf by the Tigris river, which will be significantly submerged by the Ilisu dam being constructed, in southeastern Turkey, Aug. 26, 2018.

(Photo/REUTERS/Sertac Kayar)

A bride is pictured in the ancient town of Hasankeyf by the Tigris river, which will be significantly submerged by the Ilisu dam being constructed, in southeastern Turkey, Aug. 26, 2018.

(Photo/REUTERS/Sertac Kayar)

People visit the ancient town of Hasankeyf by the Tigris river, which will be significantly submerged by the Ilisu dam being constructed, in southeastern Turkey, Aug. 26, 2018.

(Photo/REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo)

People walk through a bridge over the Tigris river in the ancient town of Hasankeyf, which will be significantly submerged by the Ilisu dam being constructed, in southeastern Turkey, Sept. 27, 2017.

(Photo/REUTERS/Julia Harte)

View of an old house with the new Hasankeyf in the background in the southeastern town of Hasankeyf, Turkey Aug. 13, 2018.

(AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

The medieval stone minaret, the remains of the old bridge and the new bridge are seen from the fortress of Hasankeyf, Turkey, on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 1999.

(DHA-Depo Photos via AP)

An enormous, 600-year-old tomb is moved on a large wheeled platform, to make way for a hydroelectric dam on the Tigris river, in a village of Hasankeyf, southeastern Turkey, Friday May 12, 2017.

(DHA-Depo Photos via AP)

An enormous, 600-year-old tomb is moved on a large wheeled platform, to make way for a hydroelectric dam on the Tigris river, in a village of Hasankeyf, southeastern Turkey, Friday May 12, 2017.

(AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

Children stand in front of a "turbe," a tomb of an Artukid ruler in Hasankeyf, Turkey, on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 1999.


A small town in southeastern Turkey, Hasankeyf, will be submerged in the coming months.

Hasankeyf and its surrounding limestone cliffs are home to thousands of human-made caves, 300 medieval monuments and a unique canyon ecosystem, according to the Smithsonian.

The ancient town, which has been inhabited for 12,000 years, will be swallowed up by an artificial lake as part of the Ilisu hydroelectric dam project, AFP News reports.

The dam will be Turkey's second largest. It has been built further downstream of the Tigris River, which runs through Hasankeyf.

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The Ilisu dam project is a central element of the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP), a land development plan to boost the economy of the long-neglected region, through hydroelectric energy and irrigation, AFP reports.

The 3,000 habitants of Hasankeyf are divided on their feelings about the imminent flooding of their town and a hundred nearby villages.

Some are angry at the sacrifice being imposed on them, while others are impatient for the economic benefits promised by the government, AFP reports.

Many of the residents feel that the project will destroy the history embedded in their small, historic town and local activists have opposed the intervention over fears about long-term destruction to the environment. Ercan Ayboga, an environmental engineer for the Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive, has cautioned that the impacts of flooding the ancient area could have everlasting effects, even though the dam may not be a permanent fixture beyond the next century.

“The Tigris River basin is one of the last areas where a river runs freely in Turkey without having been dammed,” Ayboga told The Guardian in a report published in 2017. “The dam will completely destroy the river banks. The microclimate will change due to the dam, a phenomenon we have already seen after the dams on the Euphrates. The biodiversity will suffer; the rich variety of plant and animal life will be severely diminished.”



However, the Turkish government dismisses much of the criticism, arguing that everything has been done to save the monuments.

For example, in August 2018, the 1,600-ton historic Artuklu Hamam bath house was loaded onto a wheeled platform and moved down a specially constructed road to its new home. A site that is located 2 kilometers (approximately 1.8 miles) from the town and is soon to become an archaeological park.

Workers also recently moved the remnants of a 14th-century Ayyubid mosque to that same site.

In May 2017, workers moved an enormous, 600-year-old tomb on a large wheeled platform to safety. The 15th-century, domed Zeynel Bey Tomb weighed approximately 1,100 tons.

These relocation operations have transformed the town into a construction site.

Busloads of tourists have been replaced by swarms of dump trucks and a crane that sits at the town's entrance, AFP reports.

Flooding of Hasankeyf - mosque relocation

An enormous, 600-year-old tomb is moved on a large wheeled platform, to make way for a hydroelectric dam on the Tigris river, in a village of Hasankeyf, southeastern Turkey, Friday May 12, 2017. (DHA-Depo Photos via AP)


Despite the disruptions, other residents feel that their town may benefit from the move, believing that it may boost tourism and improve their lifestyles.

During the inauguration of the Ilisu construction site in 2006, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then prime minister, promised the dam would bring "the greatest benefit" to local people.

Part of this promise involves building a "new Hasankeyf" on the other side of the river, with spacious flats and an ultra-modern hospital.

Engineers are waiting for the green light from Erdogan to close a third floodgate and complete the retention of the water, a process launched last summer, AFP reports.

After that, a three-month countdown will begin for Hasankeyf before it disappears beneath the Tigris.

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