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Hasankeyf is located in Turkey
Coordinates: 37°42′50.79″N 41°24′47.4″E / 37.7141083°N 41.413167°E / 37.7141083; 41.413167Coordinates: 37°42′50.79″N 41°24′47.4″E / 37.7141083°N 41.413167°E / 37.7141083; 41.413167
Country Turkey
Province Batman
 • Mayor Abdülvahap Kusen (AKP)
 • Kaymakam Bilgihan Bayar
 • District 529.95 km2 (204.61 sq mi)
Population (2012)[2]
 • Urban 3,129
 • District 6,702
 • District density 13/km2 (33/sq mi)

Hasankeyf (Turkish: Hasankeyf, Kurmanji Kurdish: Heskîf, Arabic: حصن كيفا‎, Greek: Kiphas, Latin: Cepha, from Syriac: ܚܨܢ ܟܐܦܐ Ḥéṣn Kayfa) is an ancient town and district located along the Tigris River in the Batman Province in southeastern Turkey. It was declared a natural conservation area by Turkey in 1981.[3] Predominantly Armenian and Arab before, a steady and significant Kurdish immigration from surrounding villages in the last 20–30 years - combined with the effects of the Armenian and Assyrian Genocide - has shifted the ethnic balance. Kurdish people form the majority of the city centre today.[4]

Much of the city and its archeological sites are at risk of being flooded with the completion of the Ilisu Dam.


Hasankeyf is an ancient settlement that has borne many names from a variety of cultures during its history. The variety of these names is compounded by the many ways that non-Latin alphabets such as Syriac and Arabic can be transliterated. Underlying these many names is much continuity between cultures in the basic identification of the site.

The Akkadian and Northwest Semitic texts of the Mari Tablets (1800–1750 BC) refer to Ilānṣurā, an important walled city on a large river. Ilānṣurā has been tentatively identified with Hasankeyf. By the Roman period, the fortified town was known in Latin as Cephe, Cepha or Ciphas, a name that appears to derive from the Syriac word ܟܐܦܐ (kefa or kifo), meaning "rock". As the eastern and western portions of the Roman Empire split around AD 330, Κιφας (Kiphas) became formalized as the Greek name for this Byzantine bishopric.

Following the Arab conquest of 638–640, the town became known under the Arabic name حصن كيفا (Hisn Kayf). "Hisn" means "fortress" in Arabic, so the name overall means "rock fortress". Western reports about the town before the 20th century refer to it by various names that are transliterated from Arabic or Ottoman Turkish. The most popular of these were Hisn Kaifa and Hisn Kayfa, although a wide variety of others are used including iṣn Kaifā, iṣn Kayfā, iṣn Kayfâ, iṣn Kīfā, iṣn Kîfâ, Hisn Kayf, Husn Kayfa, Hassan-Keyf, Hosnkeif and Husunkeïf. As part of Atatürk's Reforms in the 1920s and 30s, many place names were modified to more Turkish-sounding forms and the town's official name was changed to Hasankeyf. This version appears occasionally in foreign reports in the mid 20th-century but only becomes prevalent after about 1980. In the Kurmanji Kurdish language, the town is known as Heskîf.


Hasankeyf is an ancient city, and has been identified with the Ilanṣura of the Mari Tablet (c. 1800 BC).[5] The Romans had built the Cephe fortress on the site and the city became the Kiphas fortress and a bishopric under the Byzantine Empire. It was conquered by the Arabs, in ca. 640, renamed Hisn Kayf. In the 12th century, the city was successively captured by the Artukids as their capital. During this period, Hasankeyf's golden age, the Artukids and Ayyubids built the Old Tigris Bridge, the Small Palace and the Great Palace. The infrastructure, location and significance of the city helped increase trade and made Hasankeyf a staging post on the Silk Road. The Ayyubids (descendants of Saladin) captured the city in 1232 and built the mosques that made Hasankeyf an important Islamic center.[6]

The city was captured and sacked by the Mongols in 1260. The city would rise from its ashes though as summer homes for Ak Koyunlu emirs were built. Following the Ottoman ascendancy established by Selim I in the region in the early 16th century, the city became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1515, during Sultan Süleyman I's campaign of Irakeyn (عراقین; "the two Iraqs", i.e. the Arab Iraq and the Persian Iraq) in 1534, at the same time as Batman, Mosul, Baghdad and Basra.[6]


The current population of Hasankeyf is predominantly Kurdish. Assyrians/Syriacs and Arabs are also present in the town.[7]

View of the Upper Town, also called the Citadel/Castle

Archeological sites[edit]

Hasankeyf is rich in history throughout the ages and aside from the sites below, thousands of caves exist in the cliffs that surround the city. Many of the caves are multi-storied and have their own water supply. Churches and mosques were also carved into the cliffs and numerous ancient cemeteries exist throughout the area.[6]

  • The Old Tigris Bridge – Built in 1116 by the Artuqid Sultan Fahrettin Karaaslan, it replaced an older bridge. The bridge over the Tigris River is considered to be the largest from the Medieval Period. Support for the bridge was built with wood in case the bridge had to be removed in order to prevent an attack. Because of this, two piles and some foundation work are all that exist of the bridge today.[6]
  • The Citadel – This structure sits 100m above the Tigris River, overlooking Hasankeyf. The Citadel has likely been used as a dwelling place for centuries.
Mausoleum of Zeynel Bey, son of Sultan Uzun Hasan (Hasan the Tall) of the Aq Qoyunlu dynasty, or White Sheep Turkomans (1378–1508)
  • Small Palace – This palace was built by the Ayyubids and overlooks Hasankeyf as it sits on a cliff.
  • Ulu (Big) Mosque – With no inscriptions remaining, it is not exactly known when and by whom the mosque was built. However, it is thought that it dates from the period of the Ayyubids who have subsequently restored the mosque in the years 1327, 1394 and 1396.
  • Great Palace – The palace was built by the Artukids; it occupies an area of 2,350 m² and has an associated rectangular tower that may have been a watchtower.[6]
  • El Rizk Mosque – The Mosque was built in 1409 by the Ayyubid sultan Süleyman and stands on the bank of the Tigris River. The mosque also has a minaret that has remained intact.[6]
  • Süleyman Mosque – This mosque was built by Sultan Süleyman and is all but destroyed except for a minaret. Süleyman's grave is missing from the site as well.
  • Koc Mosque – The mosque is located east of the Süleyman Mosque and was likely built by the Ayyubids.[6]
  • Kizlar Mosque – Located east of the Koc Mosque, the Kizlar mosque was also likely from the Ayyubid period as well. The section of the structure which is used as a mosque today was a mausoleum in the past, containing grave remnants.[6]
  • Imam Abdullah Tomb – This cube-shaped tomb lies west of the new bridge in Hasankeyf and is the tomb of Imam Abdullah. Abdullah was the grandson of Cafer-i Tayyar, uncle of the prophet Mohammad. The tomb is dated to the 14th century and an epitaph on the tomb states that the tomb was restored in the Ayyubid period.[6]
  • Zeynel Bey Mausoleum – Named after Zeynel Bey, this mausoleum is opposite Hasankeyf on the Tigris River. Zeynel Bey was the son of Uzun Hassan ruler of the Akkoyunlu Dynasty which ruled over Hasankeyf in the 15th century.[6] Zeynel Bey died in battle in 1473, and was buried in this circular brick mausoleum glazed with navy blue and turquoise tiles built by architect Pir Hasan. The building resembles in its architectural style mausoleums in Central Asia.
A panoramic photo of Hasankeyf with the Tigris River in the background.

Ilısu Dam impact[edit]

View of the Tigris River in Hasankeyf, seen from the Citadel. Reed covered restaurants serve fresh river fish along other regional specialties

With its history that spans nine civilizations, the archaeological and religious significance of Hasankeyf is considerable. Some of the city's historical treasures will be inundated if construction of the Ilısu Dam is completed.[8] These include the ornate mosques, Islamic tombs and cave churches.

According to the Bugday Association, based in Turkey, Ms. Huriye Küpeli, the prefect of Hasankeyf, the Swiss ambassador to Turkey and representatives of the Swiss led consortium of contractors for the dam project have suggested what they believe to be a suitable nearby spot for moving the historical heritage of Hasankeyf, an operation for which the Turkish Ministry of Culture pledges to provide 30 million euros.[9]

The threat of the Ilisu Dam project prompted the World Monuments Fund to list the city on its 2008 Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the world.[10] It is hoped that this listing will create more awareness of the project and prompt the Ilisu Consortium to develop alternate plans that are more sympathetic to this site of exceptional historical and cultural significance.

In December 2008 export credit insurers in Austria, Germany and Switzerland announced suspending their support for the project amid concern about its environmental and cultural impact and gave the Turkish government 180 days to meet standards set by the World Bank.[11] These standards were 153 requirements on environmental protection, resettlement of villages, protection of cultural heritage, and resource management with neighbouring states. As Turkey did not fulfil any of them, the three ECAs indicated in a joint press release issued on the 7th of July 2009 that they withdrew from the project. Shortly after, in another joint press release [12] issued on the same day, the three banks (Société Générale, UniCredit and DekaBank) financing the Ilısu Dam project also stated – in line with the decision of the ECAs – that the export credit granted by the three banks for the construction of the Ilısu Dam would no longer be available.

This was the second victory, which also meant that Turkey would have to finance the proposed project with internal sources. The Minister of Forestry and Environment, Veysel Eroğlu, on a number of platforms, declared that the government would build the Dam despite all obstacles. The Ilısu Dam became a “project of honour” for the Turkish State which becomes clear in the words of Eroğlu [13] “We do not need their money. We will construct this dam at any cost”. Since 2009 the construction goes on with the financial support of Turkish banks; Garanti Bankası and Akbank. However, it is maybe incorrect to call these entirely Turkish as since 2011 a 24.5% of Garanti Bankası belongs to the Basque bank called BBVA.


The local climate is affected by the Dicle River flowing through the city. It makes the winters milder, with the lowest temperatures of 6–8 °C. The summers are as hot as 40–43 °C and the yearly average temperature is 25 °C.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Area of regions (including lakes), km²". Regional Statistics Database. Turkish Statistical Institute. 2002. Retrieved 2013-03-05. 
  2. ^ "Population of province/district centers and towns/villages by districts - 2012". Address Based Population Registration System (ABPRS) Database. Turkish Statistical Institute. Retrieved 2013-02-27. 
  3. ^ a b "Hasankeyf". Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Retrieved 2008-10-23. 
  4. ^ Distribution of Kurdish People — GlobalSecurity.org
  5. ^ Michael C. Astour, "The North Mesopotamian Kingdom of Ilansura", in Mari in Retrospect, American Oriental Society
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Hasankeyf, justturkey, 1/2/2008; Batman, gap.gov.tr
  7. ^ Turkish history to sink to oblivion, Asia Times
  8. ^ Ahmed, Kamal (2001-07-01). "UK drops Turkish dam plan". The Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 2008-10-27. 
  9. ^ Hasankeyf Raman Dağı'na taşınıyor
  10. ^ Davidson, Christina (November 2008). "Turkish Bath". The Atlantic Monthly. pp. 30–31. Retrieved 2008-10-23. 
  11. ^ Insurers halt work on Turkish dam, BBC World, 24 December 2008
  12. ^ [1], Bank Track
  13. ^ [2], Ekonomik Ayrıntı

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