The clock is ticking for an ancient city in southern Turkey that is about to be left underwater. Despite an outcry from locals and activists, the 12,000 years of human history in Hasankeyf will be completely submerged when a reservoir behind the new Ilusu dam is filled over the next few months.
Hasankeyf, built on the banks of the river Tigris, is one of the oldest sites of human settlement in the world. The caves in the city date back to the Neolithic era, and some of the cave dwellings have continued to provide homes for locals until today. Civilizations that ruled over ancient Mesopotamia, the Byzantines, Arabs and Ottomans, all took turns leaving their mark on Hasankeyf over the millennia. The resulting landscape is nothing short of an open air museum.
The Ilusi dam and the Hydra Electric Power Plant to be powered by it were first devised in the 1950s, but legal battles meant ground wasn’t actually broken until 2006. The fourth biggest dam in Turkey, it will help fulfil the country’s energy needs and provide irrigation to the agricultural lands surrounding it. Once completed, the power plant will generate 4,200 gigawatts of electricity annually, similar in capacity to a small nuclear plant.
But residents say it all comes at a very high price.
The project will affect 199 settlements in the area and push thousands of people out of their homes and away from their livelihoods. The government has built a new town with 710 houses for the soon-to-be displaced, but some aren’t happy about the forced relocation.
Firat Argun’s family has lived in Hasankeyf for 300 years. His six children were born there, as was he. Within a few months, Argun will have to uproot his family and leave his small home to set up a new life.
“We were living with hope but we lost that now. They gave us three to five months,” he told CBS News. “I need to start all over again. I feel like I have just arrived in this world. I don’t know if it is going to be good or bad.”