As our minibus rounds the corner and Hasankeyf comes into view, both sisters become visibly excited. “Let’s go!” and we're off across the bridge for a second glimpse of our first look at this ancient city straddling the Tigris River. A sweeping view of cave houses, ancient minarets, ruins and of course the blue-green of the Tigris as she slips past sheep and cattle grazing along her shores. Below children swim and fish in the river, enjoying their lazy-days-of-summer youth, without a care in the world.
The old minaret in the village.
There are two staircases inside that wrap like a double helix.
But the world cares, and many eyes have turned to this sleepy ancient town in Eastern Turkey. Once the Ilusu Dam is completed 90km down-river, Hasankeyf will be lost forever under rising waters.
Although the town made the list of the World's 100 Most Endangered Sites, locals are in denial.
“Foreign governments are pulling out their support, it will never happen,” a local waiter tells us. He's right; Austria, Germany and Switzerland have all opted out of the project. Another young man, selling carpets made from the hair of his grandfather’s goats plans to move on, “After military service, I’ll settle somewhere else, who can live like this?”
As we explore the old cave area of Hasankeyf, an old woman standing on her cave balcony waves to us and beckons us to come up. We scramble up the side of the cliff as she points out the way, and we are invited into her home, introduced to her grandson and given a cold glass of water from her huge Arcelik-brand fridge, the only appliance in her house. Perched on top is a wild looking skinny little cat, which scurries away when she sees visitors arrive.
There are two rooms here, one looks like storage, and something is scurrying around back there, and I tell myself it’s just the cat.
The main room has a large raised platform, which serves as a bed and sitting area. There are carpets, pillows and sheets everywhere, as well as several plastic containers full of water. Laundry is strung across a line dissecting the room.
I summon up my Turkish and ask her how long she’s been living here.
“Hasankeyf”, she responds. Doubting my Turkish skills, I ask her how many people live here.
“Hasankeyf”, she responds.
“Tu chowani?”, (How are you?) I inquire, (one of the 2 Kurdish phrases I know). Her face lights up and she replies, “Ez bashim!” (I’m good!)
I manage to surmise that five people live in the cave house, and she was born there. The power comes from an extension cord that runs up the mountain and the only appliance it runs is the fridge.
She lets us take a few pictures of her home and points out a few cherished items, a photo here, a trinket there. She shows off a few handkerchiefs and headscarves that she’s tatted around the outside. Mel and I pick a white one with blue beads. The lira we pay for the headscarf is more of a donation, the experience of being able to sit in this woman's home and observe a fading and endangered way of life is priceless.
Later, a café worker would tell us that she is one of only a handful of people still living the cave life in Hasankeyf, the others have moved into houses in the village.
“There used to be a family living in the castle, but they finally moved down to the village, all the water they used had to be transported by donkey up the mountain. It was so hard in winter.”