In Turkey, a power play will leave ancient towns underwater

The nation’s plan to control its most precious resource includes a controversial dam that will drown some of its history.

The ancient town of Hasankeyf sits on the bank of the Tigris River. The Ilısu Dam will cause the river to rise some 200 feet, submerging this modern café, the ruins of the 900-year-old bridge behind it, and Neolithic caves (in the background).
PHOTOGRAPH BY MATHIAS DEPARDON, INSTITUTE

Hasankeyf is a 12,000-year-old village carved into a plateau flanking the Tigris River. It looks like something out of a surreal fairy tale. Overlooking the town are caves crafted by Neolithic pioneers and the ruins of a citadel as old as the Byzantines. The settlement bears traces of the Romans. It’s the site of significant medieval Islamic architecture, including a bridge across the Tigris that established it as an important outpost along the Silk Road. Marco Polo may have crossed there on his way to China.

Hasankeyf is also an active town in southeastern Turkey, with markets and gardens and mosques and cafés—a place with a palpable feeling of historical continuity and survival.

Yet in 2006 the Turkish government officially began work on a giant dam across the Tigris River that will lead to the drowning of an estimated 80 percent of Hasankeyf and the displacement of its 3,000 residents, as well as many other people. The dam—the Ilısu—is now almost complete, and the flooding could start anytime in the next year.

Read This Next

These ants can shrink and regrow their brains

How to stop discarded face masks from polluting the planet

‘Tiger King’ stars’ face scrutiny in court

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet