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That sinking feeling: the drowning of Hasankeyf

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The remarkable historic site of Hasankeyf was put on the World Monuments Fund Watch List in 2008, as one of the hundred most endangered heritage sites in the world. Despite this, and a domestic and international outcry, much of the ancient city is almost certain to be drowned by the waters of the İlisu dam across the Tigris, part of the GAP project.

Pledges to save key elements of the site, including for example the brick-built Zeyn El-Abdin Türbesi, and remove them to a reservoir-side open-air museum are decried by critics, who say the remains are far too delicate to move. The most vociferous critics of the scheme are the eighty thousand or so locals who stand to be displaced by the flood waters. Several other groups also oppose it, including those who live downstream in Iraq, who fear the dam will wipe out their already scant water resources; Kurdish nationalists, who view the dam as a deliberate attempt to wipe out their cultural heritage; and assorted national and international environmental groups.

Meanwhile, work has started on the dam, 70km downstream of Hasankeyf, and a “new” concrete village of Hasankeyf can be seen emerging high on the slopes of the mountain across the river. Unhappy locals reckon the flood waters will subsume their homes by 2018 or 2019.

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