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This 12,000-Year-Old Town Could Soon Be Underwater

Extraordinary photos document the Turkish town of Hasankeyf before it's flooded by a dam.

13/09/2016 2:05 AM AEST | Updated 13/09/2016 2:05 AM AEST
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Pascal Mannaerts
The Citadel, an impressive honey-colored structure overlooking the Tigris River, is one example of Hasankeyf's archaeological and religious significance.

An ancient Turkish town along the Syrian border is on the verge of destruction. But not because of war or extremism.

Hasankeyf is tucked along the banks of the Tigris River. The area is littered with history: neolithic caves, Roman ruins and medieval monuments. Yet this precious example of Mesopotamian history will almost inevitably disappear once an enormous new dam is installed.

Some 78,000 people, the majority of whom are Kurds, live in this region and will be displaced once the Ilisu Dam is finished. It’s unclear exactly when the area will be flooded, but the new structure is already more than 80 percent complete.

Pascal Mannaerts
Hasankeyf's historic treasures will be submerged once the construction of the Ilisu Dam is complete.

At 12,000 years old, many say that Hasankeyf meets all the criteria to be deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site. But Turkey has not officially applied for heritage status.

Last year, Belgian photographer Pascal Mannaerts documented what could be the town’s final days. Here are some of his images.

Pascal Mannaerts
Between 25,000 and 78,000 people living in the Hasankeyf district of Batman Province in Turkey will be forced to move because of the Ilisu Dam.
Pascal Mannaerts
Economic opportunities are rare in this region of Turkey, the site of a three-decade civil war between the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) guerrilla army and the Turkish state.
Pascal Mannaerts
Most of Hasankeyf's current population is Kurdish, but Assyrians/Syriacs and Arab Christian families used to live in cave houses by the river. Many of these families emigrated to France, Germany and Switzerland as the Turkish government's conflict with the PKK escalated in the 1980s.
Pascal Mannaerts
Awar, 14, was born in Hasankeyf. He is Kurdish, like the majority of the people living there.
Pascal Mannaerts
Hasankeyf's main street at sunrise. In the past, many restaurants, souvenir shops and small hotels were open to tourists. In 2010, the government permanently closed many of the ancient monuments, ruins and caves after someone was killed by a falling rock.
Pascal Mannaerts
Adar, a hairdresser, poses in front of a poster of Hasankeyf that hangs on the wall of his salon.
Pascal Mannaerts
The main purpose of the Ilisu Dam is to produce hydroelectric power, but it's also supposed to provide better irrigation for local agriculture.
Pascal Mannaerts
A construction site for the dam, with the ruins of the old Tigris Bridge in the background.
Pascal Mannaerts
Villagers heading home on a sunny afternoon. There is still no clear timeline for requiring residents to move out of their homes.
Pascal Mannaerts
Flooding Hasankeyf would destroy a strong symbol of Kurdish community and identity.

View Pascal Mannaert’s original photo essay here.

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