Today tourists arrive at the dock of the monumental area of New Hasankeyf, where they board replica ancient vessels replete with life-size model pirates and they venture out for a mini cruise on the water. On the hilltops they can view the surviving ruins of the ancient settlement: the rest they can only imagine. Together with its 12 thousand year history, the town situated on the banks of the River Tigris in majority Kurdish Batman Province has now vanished beneath the water.
Its destiny, together with that of a further 199 villages and their 80 thousand inhabitants, was decided by the Turkish government that turned a deaf ear to the many objections from the region’s population and completed the construction of the enormous Ilisu dam 85 km to the south, a project that cost 1.3 billion euros. The goal is to produce 4,200 gigawatt hours of electricity each year to supply the Turkish population. But this is at the expense of the local inhabitants, who were forced to leave their homes and their farmland, often without adequate compensation.
Hasankeyf is emblematic of a political approach that has trampled on Kurdish rights and uprooted people from their homes. But that’s not all: the project has drowned one of humanity’s most ancient settlements and its relics of the Assyrians, Medes, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and Ottomans. At the end of 2019 all of the inhabitants had to leave the old town and in 2020 it was completely submerged beneath the waters of the reservoir, along with an important part of the history of Mesopotamia.
We began to document the situation in Hasankeyf in 2015 when the dam was 80% complete; at that time it seemed that the substantial protests against the project still had some hope of success. We returned a second time in 2019 to document the rising waters of the reservoir and the end of any hope of a change of heart from the Turkish government. Finally, we returned in August 2021 when the reservoir had been filled and the town had disappeared.