Threatened Hasankeyf

Photographs from Hasankeyf, Batman, Turkey
Image via Wikipedia

All these stories and Kadri suddenly opened up in the car about his family history: Armenian; his grandfather died at 42, Musur, went from Caucus to Iraq, moved to Kiziltepe where one uncle stayed and another liked to whore. We pushed east, through Siverek, and I loathed it. It looked like it was bombed, and it probably was, for Turkey had razed 3400 villages and towns during their civil war against the PKK, and everyone looked Arabic, but not a friendly Arabic, but positively glowering walking down the street. And then I remembered, hey, this is the place Mehmet warned about, with the nasty-as-dogs trigger-happy members of the Bucuk Clan!

Getting later…we pushed east to Midyat, a double city, the first one new and of course horrifying. We’re all getting slightly nervous about time; we want to see Hasankeyf and the sun’s starting to go down, and you do not want to drive anywhere in this area at night. The war’s pretty much over, the gendarmes stopping us every 20km (three years ago it was every 6km) say it’s fine ,they’re not kidnapping civilians anymore, but they just killed some soldiers and police last week, and we should really get moving. I tell the others it’s a double city, that a few km down there’s a second old one that’s supposed to have lovely streets and Syrian churches, but they all want to triage it out, and it’s so ugly in the first city they don’t believe there is a second city. Luckily, the second one was past it on the road to Hasankeyf, and the prettiest church was right there on the road. We got out to see the Suryani Kilisesi, and inside there’s a class of children in a small side room talking in Aramaic. A guy named Ayhan comes out and shows us around. I ask him if the class is on the up-and-up, and he says it’s yasak dil ve din – forbidden (illegal) tongue and religion – but I gather that since they’re no big separatist threat, the government lets it all happen. The story is very sad: there was a 2000-year history of Christianity in Midyat, but it’s now down to about 300 people, since the PKK ’s been extorting money from the merchants and the Islamic extremists have been making death threats and the economy’s gone to hell. He showed us the class, the beautiful church, the folkloric paintings, and the hundreds-of-years-old bible.

Kadri’s gunning the SUV like a bat out of hell for Hasankeyf, which is on the Tigris river. I point out, often, that every cop has said there’s scant terrorist threat to our lives, but it seems that if he doesn’t calm down, we’re going to fly off the cliff. Kadri of course looks calm, his blood cold, his face expressionless, but his foot remains leaden. He slows down and asks me to get out and take a picture of the Hasankeyf sign for him. I grumble that it’s a stupid picture, what else in the world looks like this, but I comply – at which point a gendarme steps out of nowhere and informs me that I’ve just taken picture of a military training site and it was forbidden. My heart’s in my mouth for a minute as I don’t want to give up my almost-completed roll of film… but then he looks me over, smiles, and says, well, don’t do it again, and waves us on.

We get to the site and the whole thing look like an ant or mole complex. Caves everywhere, another Cappadocia, lining what was once the silk road. We climbed around and up the stone pathway uphill to the 12th-century palace of the Artukid (Turcoman) kings; looked down the sheer cliff face, saw the four pillars of an old Artukid bridge across the gorge, and saw the 15th-century Zeyn El-Abdin Turbesi, a cylindrical dome tomb with turquoise tiles and red brick. Inside the latter somebody had had an izgara picnic party, and there was bits of vegetables left over. Lots of children wanted to be our guides, and Kadri announced that if they went away, he would offer anyone 250,000 TL (15 cents) for any piece of blue mosaic they found on the ground, which he immediately regretted, as not only did everyone come up with goods, but they started throwing rocks at the building to get more for us, and we did not want to take any home at all of course, he just said it because he thought it was an impossible task to keep them busy. He paid off a couple and begged them not to ever throw rocks at the building. Not like it matters anyway. The whole site – the complete stunning town, the entire gorge, every ruin, one of the most unique, precious places I’ve ever been – is scheduled in two years to be completely flooded, under water, as Cabriel would say, kaput, as Turkey enlarges its Ilisu dam to develop the southeast region’s agriculture and economy and stop its cause for separatist strife. As we left, as the sun was setting, a filthy boy of about 6, earnestly tugged my arm: “Which team?” I looked at the colors of his shirt and answered correctly “Galatasaray,” at which point he danced and hoo-hooed to all of his friends.

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