Friday, July 18, 2014

Artistic Adventures In Hasankeyf: Ingathering Number Five!

"A building does not have to be an important work of architecture to become a first-rate landmark. Landmarks are not created by architects. They are fashioned by those who encounter them after they are built. The essential feature of a landmark is not its design, but the place it holds in a city's memory. Compared to the place it occupies in social history, a landmark's artistic qualities are incidental."
 ~Herbert Muschamp 

There is so much to say about Hasankeyf where does one begin?
 View of the Tigris from a Hasankeyf teahouse next to the castle. 

Artists capturing Hasankeyf on paper!
In May of this year, I was part of a group of artists who attended “Hasankeyf Ingathering Number 5.” As an artist, art historian and general humanist it’s no wonder why I am drawn this particular little village in South Eastern Turkey that is under threat of being flooded in the next few years. Many of the people have given up and left for other areas of Turkey, but many have stayed to fight for their 12,000 year old ancestral town as long as they can. It seems that only the strong characters and their children have stayed, which makes this little Arabic-Kurdish-Turkish speaking town quite the place to visit and spend some time exploring.

I’m going to digress a bit here as I see parallels between Hasankeyf and my hometown. I grew up in Naramata, BC,  a very small, idyllic village in Canada, 14 km from the next big town, Penticton. Naramata isn’t on a river like Hasankeyf, but we do have a large lake in front of us. Hasankeyf and Naramata are both small tightly knit communities that are facing swift changes that threaten what makes them the unique communities they are. 

One of the many passageways carved out of the hillside centuries ago.
The surrounding hills of Hasankeyf have much to offer anyone interested in 
hiking, photography and history. 
Growing up in the 80’s, Naramata was a very well hidden secret, full of families who wanted to raise their kids in the beauty and safety of a tight village. Naramata’s livelihood was dependant on the fruit industry usually run by orcharding families. In the summer we would swim in the lake, eat stone fruit out of the orchards, and watch out for big fruit trucks carrying big bins of fruit to the thriving packing house located in the middle of the village. Farming was never a get rich quick kind of livelihood, but it made for an extremely rich place to live. 

The Koc Mosque. The minaret below is attached to the 
Sultan Suleyman Mosque. This area was thought
 to have been the commercial and 
intellectual center of the Lower City.
But then the wineries moved in, and now almost all of the orchards have been ripped out and replaced with grape vines. Big fortress-like buildings with heavy oak doors and slick-looking tasting rooms moved in and replaced the barns full of farming equipment and orchard ladders. I can’t blame people for wanting to make a living and the wineries have helped the area by bringing in new tourism dollars and an industry that employs a lot of people in the town. 

But now Naramata has become a popular place for summer housing, and this is the real danger to our little community. It means that people aren’t living here year round. And when people aren’t living here year round, or are moving here only to retire, the elementary school is under threat to be closed every year. They have already started sending grades six and seven to the next town for school. If the school closes, I am afraid there will be no incentive for families to move to the village and the community will suffer immensely. Not to mention the businesses such as the restaurant, pub, coffee shop and local store that need to be sustained year round. With no winter population I have a soft spot for these businesses that continue to try to make a go of it in Naramata. 
Hasankeyf Ingathering participants out for a morning walk along the Tigris,
for a better look at the figures on the Artukid Bridge. 

Granted, Naramata’s problems are nothing like Hasankeyf’s. We aren’t going to physically lose our town and there is growth in Naramata whether we like it or not. But I keep thinking about what it was like to grow up as a kid in there, and how I return year after year because this is the beautiful place I like to call home. And when I am in Hasankeyf, I see the kids playing in the streets, running in and out of the mosque courtyards and playing in the ruins that once were great buildings on a strategic position on the Silk Road. It is easy to see how they love their town. They play football in the street and catch fish in the Tigris. They visit with the neighbours who all know exactly who they are, and who their parents and grandparents are. It’s like the whole town has a hand in raising everyone’s child. And one day, they may not have a home to return to. I cant imagine how horrifying and devastating that would be, to live under the threat that you will lose everything you know in the near future. (But when is the near future? This discussion has been on the table for forty years! No one really knows when the near future actually is- except now that the dam is 80% finished, the near future seems nearer than ever.) 

Some of this year's art workshop participants: I didn't know we were covering our faces with the map! 
(As we didn't have parental permission to take photos of the kids this was a creative solution!)
Recently the government came through and spray-painted big ugly numbers on the sides of the buildings to mark them for the minuscule payout the Hasankeyfers will receive once they are evicted from their homes. One resident, frustrated with the spray painted ugliness remarked, “How can we tell the kids that vandalizing the monuments hurts our town when the government comes in and does it themselves?” Residents aren’t  legally allowed to make improvements to their homes either. It’s a depressing situation for those who choose to live in Hasankeyf. As the dam has threatened their town and way of life for over forty years, I can’t imagine what that would do to a psyche of people growing up and living under this kind of constant threat. 

Printmaking with recycled styrofoam veggie trays. 
Last year I was asked to be part of a project to create a walking guide for Hasankeyf in the hopes that if there was a guide to the monuments in town, that people visiting Hasankeyf could understand the importance of what they were looking at, and that those on a day trip could see what they were missing and return at another time to visit it in it’s entirety. John Crofoot and a few Hasankeyf trekking guides perfected the outline for the walking guide, and I created a visual that was both functional and aesthetically pleasing. The map was a hit, especially with the younger inhabitants, so I went out to Hasankeyf in March 2013 for Hasankeyf Ingathering number 3, and with the help of John and a few others, we put on a free art workshop for the kids, aimed at getting them to express their feelings about their town. 

Puppets and letter decorating!

John told me to prepare for thirty kids, but we had just over fifty (John says fifty, I say more!) show up in the park that was graciously lent to us by the Belediye. I was expecting mayhem since we barely had enough supplies (I over-planned but I hadn’t over-planned that much!) but luckily our wax-resist puffy pillows were a hit. We had to water down the paint even further to stretch it out  and break all of the oil pastels in half to make sure everyone could access what they needed. When we were finished, two things surprised me: 1) that the kids were happy to leave their creations hanging from the trees in the park, and 2) that they were almost as excited about the clean up as the art making. Kids borrowed a water hose and some brooms from the Belediye next door and I watched in vain as our brand new paintbrushes were used to clean spilled paint out of the crevices in the concrete. But I was ecstatic to have been part of this experience, and everyone who helped in the workshops came out on a creative and inspirational high. 

A view of the Tigris with the new bridge.
So when the opportunity came up again in May of this year, I jumped at it. But why limit the art making to kids? Let’s bring adults too. Hasankeyf has more than enough interesting architecture, plant, animal and people life to draw- it’s an Urban Sketcher’s dream. So Hasankeyf Matters and I spread the word, mostly through Facebook, that the Fifth Ingathering would be an artist-themed gathering, and a group of my favourite people from Istanbul flew out to Batman and then on to Hasankeyf and we had an amazing weekend, drawing, eating, talking, and learning about the new challenges Hasankeyf is facing. 

Smashing job of the Minaret, mini Hasankeyfers!
The dam is about 80% finished. Some are losing hope of saving the town, but others are wondering if a series of smaller dams could distribute the same amount of water evenly through the river (resulting in a lower water level around Hasankeyf.) It seems strange that the government has gone ahead with restorations to structures that will most likely be flooded. There was talk that the government may cover everything with a highly durable plastic (much like giant condoms!) or cement over certain structures (such as the Artukid Bridge) so when the dam has completed it’s 40 year life cycle, they may be able to recover some of Hasankeyf. 

We did two days of workshops this time around, and since we had other artsy participants, we decided to do stations instead to maximize the creative talent. I paired up with a fellow art teacher from Istanbul, and we did finger puppets one day, and printmaking the next, though there were other activities such as stamping, painting and decorating a large “I love Hasankeyf” sign. I thought perhaps the puppet project could lead into story telling, and maybe one day it will, as I have heard the kids are excited about making puppets again. I would like to create some sort of fabric puppet theatre for next time (something that could be strung up between trees and then rolled up and put away for future use.) Because I believe there are lots of stories that need to be told about Hasankeyf, and the world needs to start listening to them. 

The Timurid built Zeynel Bey Tomb.
It’s my hope that no matter what happens to Hasankeyf, that these kids remember these workshops as a time where the came together to celebrate their town and why it was important to them. If the Ilisu dam project goes ahead and Hasankeyf does get flooded, may they remember the positive community building experiences they had in the art workshops and carry this with them to their new lives. I hope they get the idea that together in the art workshops they can talk to each other about ideas and cooperatively solve problems. Today’s kids deal with paint. Soon they will be the ones in charge. They can only benefit from the community dialogue that is happening in the workshops at their level now.  

On another serious note, looking at the big picture, the world has not been kind to Islamic antiquities over the past few years. We have lost  the Buddhas in Afghanistan, The Islamic Arts Museum in Cairo, Various sites in Syria such as the Great Mosque of Aleppo and the Souk in Aleppo, possibly the winged lions and other Antiquities in Mosul, Iraq, and God knows what is being lost other than precious human lives in Gaza and Israel at the time I type this. All of these World heritage monuments have been lost because of terrorism and bombings. It floors me to think that so many antiquities that have survived for hundreds of years in the hands of humans and all of a sudden we have lost them all in a matter of a decade. (Not to make light of the atrocious number of innocent lives lost as well.) 

The one and only drawing I managed to squeeze in!
Too much to do in Hasankeyf!
And here we have Hasankeyf- not only important for the people who live there and call it home but it is also home to structures that are becoming increasingly rare and important- not only because we are learning what they are (despite the governments campaign to keep Hasankeyf a secret since it meets nine out of the ten requirements to be deemed a UNESCO site- to qualify for UNESCO WHL status, a site must meet at least one of ten criteria.  Very few listed sites meet more than four.  Hasankeyf meets nine of the ten!) but because these monuments are becoming rarer in a volatile world. Take the Artukid Bridge, the spinal cord of Hasankeyf, which is decorated with figures still visible around the base. Since depictions of living things is  frowned upon in Islamic art, this is a rare find indeed- and only one example of the many treasures scattered around Hasankeyf. It’s not too late to save these monuments, if people are listening. 

So head out to Hasankeyf and see it. 
Just in case. And take the map with you! 

Further Reading: 
All things Hasankeyf: 


  1. Thanks for sharing your lovely photos! I'm sure the kids had a blast. So sad to see these historical treasures/landmarks being destroyed though.

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