Hasankeyf's Zeynel Bey Tomb to be relocated tomorrow

The Zeynel Bey Tomb in Hasankeyf, which has been encased in a concrete foundation, has now been lifted from its original foundation. According to local reports, the tomb will be moved tomorrow.

The ancient town of Hasankeyf stands on the banks of the Tigris river in Northern Kurdistan. Hasankeyf is 12,000 years old but it is set to vanish forever under a 121 square mile artificial lake when the Ilısu dam is completed. The dam will displace up to 78,000 people, the majority of whom are of Kurdish origin. Another 30,000 nomadic people will also be directly affected. 199 villages will be completely or partially flooded.

Tragically, the same region already has a devastating recent history. In the 1990s, whole villages were either burnt down by Turkish security forces or forcibly expelled. Thousands of people were killed or disappeared. By the mid-1990s, more than 3,000 villages had been wiped from the map. The pretext for these actions was to clear the PKK guerrillas out of the villages but many say the main aim was to expel Kurdish people from their homeland and destroy Kurdish culture and traditions.

There are now roughly 3,000 residents living in Hasankeyf. Many people have already left because of the uncertain future of the area and because there are now barely any employment opportunities. Once a thriving tourist destination, visitors flocked to the town to visit the ancient ruins and to marvel at Hasankeyf's 5,000 caves, which, until recently, were inhabited for thousands of years.

The historic town was selected as one of Europe’s “7 Most Endangered” heritage sites for 2016. The nomination was submitted by the Cultural Awareness Foundation and supported by Hasankeyf Matters and the Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive as a step toward preserving the town and supporting an ongoing dialogue about heritage conservation and sustainability. Hasankeyf is under direct threat by the Ilısu Dam and Hydroelectric Power Plant Project. If implemented as planned, this project will flood the town and destroy most of its archaeological treasures.

Yesterday local sources reported that the Zeynel Bey Tomb in Hasankeyf, which has been encased in a concrete foundation, has now been lifted from its original foundation. According to local reports, the tomb will be moved tomorrow (Friday) without advance notification to the press. At the time of writing, the DSI (the State Hydraulic Works), which is responsible for the Ilisu Dam Project, has not announced the move on its web site.

This relocation is done in the framework of the construction of the Ilisu Dam and Hydroelectric Power Plant which is one of the most controversial dams in the world and in the last phase of its construction. In total, eight monuments are planned to be relocated before the completion of the Ilisu Project. The historical bridge pillars are in the process to be covered with stones and damaged for ever.

The whole process of the planned relocation of the Zeynel Bey Tomb was violating existing laws, particularly the tender and contracting process. There is globally no similar experience with the relocation of a monument of such an age and binding agent technology (550 years old). Considering that the monument is very fragile and in poor condition (there are splits in the cupola), it is expected that the lifting of 90 cm and the continuous vibrancy will lead very likely to serious damages or even to the destruction of the tomb. But even if it would be successfull, the relocation of the monuments in Hasankeyf would lead to the loss of their cultural significance through the disconnection to their natural environment. Among others, the outstanding value of Hasankeyf is the connection of cultural heritage and nature.

Hasankeyf Matters, Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive and Mesopotamian Ecology Movement released the following statement calling for the cancellation of the project to relocate the Zeynel Bey Tomb, and the immediate stop of the Ilisu Project:

“While the government claims that it is transmitting Hasankeyf’s cultural heritage to the future and transforming the town into an important tourism center for the region, they have shrouded their work in secrecy. During the decades of planning and preparation for the Ilisu project, the government has denied the local people a say in shaping the future of their town. Now the government is raising new barriers to the journalistic documentation of the changes underway in Hasankeyf.

The DSI has touted the relocation of the Zeynel Bey Tomb as the first time a whole building has been moved to a new location in Turkey and they predict that this will attract worldwide attention. Considering the claim to transform Hasankeyf into an important tourism center for the region, the interference with the work of professional journalists to document this work and the failure to publicize the date for the actual relocation of the tomb show that Turkish authorities know that the these projects cannot withstand careful scrutiny.

Indeed, the limited press coverage over the past four years shows that the project is fraught with problems. Experts considered different locations for the tomb – 1 km, 1.5 km and now 2 km from the original location – all without seeking the views of the town’s residents. For at least four years authorities have said the tomb would be moved along rails, but within recent months the plan suddenly changed and it was disclosed that the move tomb would be moved on a trailer of some 150 wheels along a specially built road. Finally, authorities failed to disclose to the public the problems encountered when a test run using the new system was conducted two weeks ago.

The public deserves to know and we demand that the DSI disclose why the method of relocation was changed at such a late date. We also seek full disclosure of the details of the revised plan and evidence that the revised plan has been approved in the proper way.

The fact is that this project is fraught with problems – not just within the context of the controversial Ilisu Dam, which threatens the entire natural ecosystem of the Upper Tigris Basin with destruction, but also the project to relocate the Zeynel Bey Tomb. The sketchy and unstable plan threatens to destroy this invaluable manifestation of cultural heritage. The relocation of the Zeynel Bey Tomb to the new settlement area is an unforgivable and wanton act of cultural heritage destruction. This project and the whole Ilisu Project must be halted immediately. We need a new approach to building broad consensus around the socio-cultural development Hasankeyf and the Tigris Valley.”

The statement by John Crofoot on behalf of Hasankeyf Matters and Ercan Ayboga on behalf of Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive and Mesopotamian Ecology Movement also called for the immediate release of National Geographic photographer Mathias Depardon who was detained while taking pictures in the new settlement area of Hasankeyf on May 8, and liberty for each journalist and human to move in and around Hasankeyf.