2 Kasım 2011 Çarşamba

Hasankeyf values: Six reasons why Hasankeyf matters

Why is Hasankeyf, including the lower city that lies at the foot of the cliff-top castle, worth saving?  

It's a combination of six things: 1) landscape & geology, 2) a rare surviving example of medieval Islamic city planning, 3) fourteen centuries of Islamic history, 4) Islamic architectural history, 5) extraordinary people, and 6) a city in schematic relief . . . the more you look at Hasankeyf, the better you can see Istanbul.

First, the landscape is magical.  Take a walk through the canyons and you begin to appreciate the magnitude of forces that have shaped the surface of the earth.  Standing on the cliff above the river, you see a landscape that is much the same as it must have been in the 15th century, when Akkoyunlu Uzun Hasan and Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II fought for control of Eastern Anatolia, and you wonder how many trade caravans, how many armies have crossed the valley below.
 Second, Hasankeyf is a rare (practically unique) example of a medieval Islamic city where the present contours are reasonably close to what they were in the late-Seljuk era.  Samarra has been destroyed.  Samarkand and Bitlis hold diverse architectural treasures, but their surroundings have been overwhelmed by modern construction.  Lingering among the remains of Hasankeyf’s gardens, khans and mosques, you see the relationship among buildings, streets and open spaces and imagine the daily comings and goings of travelers and traders, clerics and dervishes, scholars and soldiers.  Timgad in Algeria, Palmyra in Syria, and Ephesus in Turkey provide good examples of urban design in the Roman Empire.  In Hasankeyf, you contemplate traces of urban life in a medieval Islamic society.  (Photo: Suleyman Mosque, Hasankeyf Lower City)
Third, from the point of view of Islamic history: Hasankeyf and the surrounding areas of Upper Mesopotamia were among the earliest territories outside the Arab peninsula where Islam took hold and flourished, four centuries before the Seljuk Turks’ pivotal victory at Manzikert in 1071.  Several tombs and holy places in and around Hasankeyf honor the memory of holy men who were Companions of the Prophet. 

Fourth, the remains of Hasankeyf’s large mosque complexes provide valuable insight into the process of architectural experimentation and innovation extending from the first monumental mosques, such as the oblong Great Umayyad Mosque of Damascus, up to the Ottoman adoption of the large central dome, and culminating in the work of Mimar Sinan.  Hasankeyf's early Artukid-Seljukid mosques do not look anything like the later Ottoman innovations.  Together, the three major mosques of Hasankeyf – The Great Mosque inside the fortress and the Koc Mosque and Suleyman Mosque of the Lower City – provide an exciting opportunity to compare the spatial lay-out, structural engineering and decorative aesthetics with which the Artukids and Ayyubids developed a style of worship space which is distinctive in simplicity and rich in spirituality.  These three mosques stand in varying states of disrepair; what you see of them has been there for centuries, undisturbed by major restoration efforts. 

Photo: Koc Mosque, Hasankeyf Lower City

Photos: Great Mosque, Hasankeyf Fortress

Fifth, the people of Hasankeyf reflect the magic of the landscape in their piety, spirituality and hospitality.  Arabic remains the first language for many.  For others, it is Kurdish or Turkish.  They are proud of their faith and heritage and are open to dialogue with people of other religions.  The earnestness of the townsfolk combined with its open skies and clean, dry air make Hasankeyf a good place to recharge.  Some have suggested that Hasankeyf might serve as a retreat for achieving new perspective on intractable conflicts and challenges.

Photo: Abdullah's Teahouse
Sixth, Hasankeyf holds clues for understanding Istanbul.  Like Istanbul, Hasankeyf was a walled city, with ample open spaces, fields and gardens.  The essential elements of city life are easily visible here: transportation routes, water supply and defensibility.  Istanbul and Hasankeyf share the same basic elements of city planning: palace, defense walls, and residential neighborhoods graced with mosques and their adjacent schools and markets.  Istanbul has morphed into a complex megalopolis, but the features that define Istanbul (or Damascus, Cairo, etc.) have been in place for centuries.  Hasankeyf, however, is where the medieval Islamic urban schema is most vivid.  See Hasankeyf, understand Istanbul.

20 Şubat 2011 Pazar

Visualization, but only with adult supervision

A fellow marathon runner insisted that we visualize the process of completing the 42.2 km course.  It makes sense intuitively.  Serious runners always like to study the map and have look at the actual course before race day.  Executive coaches teach their clients to have a picture in mind of what success looks like.  Dress for success.  Play the part even before you've been assigned the role.  Visualization helps people achieve their goals.

What happens when a society begins to look backwards?  Does that lead them on a path of regression?  Given the misgivings expressed when Orhan Pamuk or a television soap plays with images of the Ottoman past, one might conclude that looking back can be dangerous.  But the Greater Istanbul Municipality has been busy busing school children to the Istanbul 1453 Panoramic Museum, where the sole objective is to "see" the Ottoman forces, led by II. Mehmed, the Conqueror, breach the walls of Constantinople.

Hasankeyf is another place where one can visualize history, but the narrative is messy and problematic.

The heyday of Hasankeyf was the 12th century.  When the Fatimids of Egypt invaded Palestine, the Selcuk Turks in Baghdad relocated their Artukid vassals to Hasankeyf.  The Artukids proceeded to build most of the monuments visible today at Hasankeyf -- the bridge, the Great Mosque, the Palace, and the minaret of the Rizq Mosque.  The Ayyubids and Akkoyunlular (White Sheep Turkmens) renovated and expanded these structures, but it was the Artukids who gave the city the basic form we see today.

Hasankeyf is a typical Seljuk city: a walled city, comprising a central mosque and palace, and a "suburb" outside the fortified center.  In other words, Hasankeyf offers little in the way of Ottoman design and architecture.

Not only that, but Hasankeyf eventually passed from the Artukids to the Ayyubids to the Akkoyunlular.  The Akkoyunlular, a group of Turkmen tribes, first emerged at Diyarbakir and later made Tabriz their capital.  Hasankeyf remained an important military and cultural center, but it would never again be a capital city.

The White Sheep were allies of Timur in his raids across Anatolia, and they fought alongside with Timur in 1402 at the Battle of Ankara, where the Ottomans suffered a huge defeat.  I. Beyazid (great-grandfather of II. Mehmed) was captured and eventually executed.  His four sons fought among themselves for a decade.  I. Mehmed emerged as the winner of the interregnum and began to rebuild the empire.  But Timur (with Akkoyunlu allies) had knocked the wind out of the Ottomans.

Seventy years later, II. Mehmed the Conqueror made a gamble.  Leaving the European frontier of the empire largely undefended, he concentrated all his resources on confrontation with the White Sheep, who were now led by Uzun Hasan, a powerful rival allied (both militarily and by marriage) with the Byzantine Emperor of Trebizond as well as with the Vatican and Venice.  Mehmed the Conqueror did not defeat Uzun Hasan in 1473, but the battle marked the beginning of the end for the Akkoyunlular.  It was also where Uzun Hasan's son Zeynel was martyred.

The Zeynel Bey Turbe at Hasankeyf is thus a monument to Akkoyunlu opposition to Ottoman expansion in Anatolia. (The mausoleum is pictured above.)

Hasankeyf is a reminder of constantly shifting alliances across the Mediterranean and the Fertile Crescent.  The Turkmens were allied with Venice, which also appealed -- in vain -- to Germany and Hungary in the contest with Mehmed the Conqueror.  Byzantine rulers of Constantinople had earlier sought the help of Muslim armies in defending the city from "the Latins."  The conflicts have been not so much between West and East, as among different groups in the regions surrounding the Mediterranean.  If today, European economies find themselves dependent on laborers from Eastern Anatolia, in the 15th c., the Vatican and Venice relied on the Turkmens to keep the Ottomans at a distance.

The boundaries are porous; alliances are fluid.  Always have been.  These folding, refolding, unraveling, interweaving ties among Eurasian peoples are easy enough to grasp once you take time to contemplate them.  Hasankeyf is a thought-provoking and imagination-inspiring emblem of the cultural interactions leading up to the emergence of the Ottoman Empire as a world power, which in turn helped to spur Europe on toward renewal and modernity.  What a shame it would be to deprive generations to come of the opportunity to explore the landscape at Hasankeyf and visualize history in all its complexity.

16 Şubat 2011 Çarşamba

Hasankeyf is like Istanbul

Hasankeyf is like Istanbul: the geography is irresistible and compelling.  When you stand at this place, you know instantly why it was chosen – not just as a military post – but as a spiritual home. 

But did people settle here first for military reasons or in search of spiritual refuge?  What draws people to Istanbul and why has it remained so important over such a long time?  Is it spiritual endowment or strategic location along the corridors of economic and military power? 

Hasankeyf offers a chance for collective self-reflection about what it is that motivates and enables us to cluster in cities – built environments that support spiritual and intellectual growth and also provide security and economic opportunity . . . and the possibility (i.e., the inevitability if not the necessity) of war.

Hasankeyf, like many archeological sites, enables us to think about “city-ness” as we climb over old streets and collapsed walls.  What is different about Hasankeyf is that we have the chance to experience “city-ness” up close in a medieval and Islamic context.  And, ultimately, Hasankeyf is one of the best parallels for understanding Istanbul, because the city reduces the urban experience to its fundamental elements:

Spiritual privilege
Strategic location

Any great city must combine these basic elements.  In both Hasankeyf and Istanbul, the value of being there adds up to so much more than the sum of its parts, because each place is endowed with a special quality that touches the soul deeply and nourishes it endlessly.

The problem is that Hasankeyf has utterly lost its strategic value.  Once it became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1516, it was no longer on the frontier.

15 Şubat 2011 Salı

Going back to how things look from Hasankeyf

Hasankeyf values may seem a pretentious title, but "Hasankeyf" is already in use on Blogger, so I tried adding "values" and it worked. I could have used "view," because I think the view of the landscape from in front of the Great Mosque (pictured here) is one of the best things about Hasankeyf. Standing on top of the cliff, looking across the Tigris Valley to the mountains in the north -- this is where you can understand that the site is a composite and integral whole. Geology, biology, and a medieval city. All at once. And gradually the history of Anatolia comes into focus.

But "view" might be too touristic.

So the title is a bit of a gamble. Are we up to it? Can we sustain a conversation about Hasankeyf and the ethics by which we make political and economic decisions? Can we talk about Hasankeyf in terms of the trade-offs that inevitably must be made if the standard of living is to keep rising? How much are those of us who live in a city, say Istanbul, willing to pay for a continuous supply of electricity or for the opportunity to choose filtered coffee (imported) over a slender glass of tea (locally produced)?

And who are "we" any way? I am certainly not up to this debate on my own. So please share your thoughts and opinions. My hope is that this will be a good venue for surfacing and evaluating information about Hasankeyf and the Ilisu Dam Project.