Drowning Civilizations: Turkey Dams Threaten Villages in Mesopotamia

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February 2015
Halfeti and Hasankeyf, Turkey

The ancient village of Hasankeyf, located in southeast Turkey is said to be one of the oldest continually inhabited settlements in the world. Situated on the banks of the Tigris river, this picturesque village has settlement activity and artifacts pre-dating the Mesopotamian era. However, in 2015, that history, and the entire village, is set to be drowned when South West Anatolia (GAP) Dam project activates its latest installment and creates a large water reservoir that will engulf the village.

The villages inhabitants have been fighting the Turkish government for years, trying to cling onto their ancestral lands. However, it looks like their struggle is coming to an unsuccessful end and they are set to be relocated to a newly built village overlooking the old one.

If government plans move forward, Hasankeyf will face the same fate of the village of Halfeti, another ancient town located nearby on the Euphrates river. Halfeti's homes and ruins are now buried under the water reservoir of the Birecik Dam, also part of the GAP project. With the villages traditional livelihoods all but erased, the inhabitants have abandoned agriculture in place of lake tourism and moved to new homes either nearby or in the cities.

This story profiles the contemporary struggle of Hasankeyf through the eyes of one of its inhabitants. It also foreshadows the possible future for Hasankeyf by visiting the village of Halfeti, which has already been submerged by dam waters.


  1. soundbite (Turkish )
    Mehmet Tevfik Mizrakli, Hotel Owner in Halfeti and Retired engineer from GAP project: 00:05-00:12 My Name is Mehmet Tevfik Mızraklı. I am the owner of 3 boutique hotels in here. 00:12-00:22 Halfeti is a genuine place. In 2000, start of the catchment by Birecik Dam submerged many houses and other things such as agricultural lands and historical heritage. 00:22-00:27 Moreover there was an ancient settlement called Zeugma 00:32 -00:38 I know how this place was before 2000, it was much more beautiful. It's nickname was "Hidden Heaven". 00:39-00:44 All kind of fruits and vegetables of Mediterranean, Black Sea and Aegean regions were able to be grown here. 00:45-00:54 Before, I have served many years for State Hydraulic Works which is the centre and the main executive of Southeastern Anatolia Project(SAP). 00:56-01:08 SAP is really important for both Turkey and World. The main axis of the project are irrigation and electricity. There are gradual dams on Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. 01:09 -01:18 We are in the lake area, where Birecik Dam on Euphrates is located. 01:19 -01:29 The dams have pros and cons. It causes local endemic flora and animals to extinct. 01:30-01:33 Agriculture has disappeared but tourism came to life.
  2. soundbite (Turkish)
    Taner Ozgul, Tour Boat Operator in Halfeti: 01:44-01:55 Those restaurants on the water are floating on our old house now, the house we moved after I was born. 01:55-02:09 It didn't have any emotional affect on me since I was just an elementary school kid. I was thinking that I could ride my bike better in the upper town, the roads were more flat. 02:10 -02:19 But for example my father is 70 years old, it is very hard for him. Think about it, he was born there, grew up there and lived there his entire life. 02:20 -02:25 His parents died there. He left everything behind, underwater. 02:26- 02:37 Suddenly they came up and said you to leave there. It is really hard for them. But the good side of it for us is it is really good for tourism. 02:37- 02:44 It enabled us to stay here in terms of job opportunities. It even made us to dedicate ourselves more to here.
  3. soundbite (Turkish)
    Ali Ayhan, Shepherd in Hasankeyf: 03:04- 03:12 My name is Ali Ayhan but everybody knows me as Ali the shepherd.I'm 34 years old. I've been living here since I was born. 03:13 -03:18 My father was born here. His father was born here and we have lived here until 2008. 03:19-03:26 Assyrians, Romans, Byzantines, Artuklus, Akkoyunlus and finally Ottomans lived here. 03:30-03:37 In 1965 they told that there was going to build a dam and since then there have been neither any attention nor investments to there. 03:37-03:39 Because on hand here is an archaeological site on the other hand there is a dam project. 03:41-03:48 When the water comes, can you see that hill, the water will rise up to there and to that palace. 03:48-03:54 Where are we are right now will be an island but it has no meaning because this is limestone, when water touches it it will melt away so fast. 03:55-04:00 a So this city will be gone, everything will disappear. It can survive maximum 10 years in the water. 04:05-04:15 When we were here we had cattle. Then they came and told us that here is tourism area we can't breed an animal in historical areas. 04:15-04:21 But why are they not protecting this area now? Why did they close it to tourism 3 years ago ? 04:22-04:32 When it was open for the public, 2011 for example, there were 280.000 visitors in one season but now in Hasankeyf it's not even 20.000 visitors in a season. 04:35-04:44 Now they tell me to live in the city, in an apartment flat because of the dam. 04:45-04:53 I am happy with my cave, I am peaceful there, full of love. How can I live in the city? It is like caging a bird! 04:53-05:03 I've struggled 17 years for Hasankeyf not to be submerged. And I realized that the human is not valued in Turkey. How can you expect history to be valued ? 05:04-05:04 Hasankeyf is not a Shepherd's Heritage, It's a World Heritage.