Ancient Turkish town could disappear underwater in weeks

Dam construction could leave town inundated

By Rob Picheta, CNN
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(CNN) - A historic Turkish town with thousands of residents is just weeks from destruction, after officials defied a decades-long campaign of opposition and pressed forward with plans to flood the region.

Hasankeyf will be cordoned off on Oct. 8, the regional governor confirmed at a meeting on Saturday, leaving furious residents just over a month to vacate their homes.

The town, which sits on the banks of the Tigris River in southeast Turkey, will be inundated as part of the construction of the Ilisu Dam, which will produce power for the region.

It is a project that has been mired in controversy for years and has lost the support of foreign governments and backers due to its impact on the ancient city.

Hasankeyf is estimated to be around 12,000 years old, potentially making it one of the oldest settlements in Mesopotamia.

Among its historically significant features are the remnants of a 12th-century bridge, a 15th-century cylindrical tomb, the ruins of two mosques and hundreds of natural caves.

But the town's streets, homes and historical sites will be engulfed once a relocation process has been completed, with only its citadel remaining above water, according to Turkey's Foreign Ministry -- which says the dam will have several economic and environmental benefits.

Hulusi Sahin, the governor of the Batman province in which Hasankeyf sits, said at Friday's meeting that when a new road in the area is opened, the ancient town will be closed off.

"After this date, the old settlement will no longer have any traffic. With the opening of the new road, we will take the old settlement completely into the security circle," he said.

"Entry and exit will not be allowed... for this reason, our citizens have to make all their plans in accordance with the calendar of highways. Time is running out, we all have our duties."

The move was met with outrage from the numerous groups campaigning to save the town, with Hasankeyf Coordination calling it a "cordon of destruction."

But the decision appears set to move a lengthy saga towards a predictably bitter conclusion.

Countries including the UK removed their support for the Ilisu Dam as far back as 2001, and the project has attracted international attention on numerous occasions over recent decades.

In 2008, the dam lost funding from several European firms.

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