Hasankeyf and the Ilisu Dam

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Hasankeyf 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. Much of the city and its archeological sites are at risk of being flooded with the completion of the Ilisu Dam, a concrete-face rock-fill dam on the Tigris near the village of Ilısu and along the border of Mardin and Şırnak Provinces in Turkey.

The dam has drawn international controversy, because it will flood portions of ancient Hasankeyf and necessitate the relocation of people living in the region. Because of this, the dam lost international funding in 2008. Kurdish Kurdistan Workers’ Party militants have also attacked infrastructure associated with the dam which led to construction delays. The dam began to fill its reservoir in late July 2019.

During the Middle Bronze Age the area around Hasankeyf was likely part of the Hurrian kingdoms. By the Early Iron Age, the Hurrians had been assimilated with other peoples. Their remnants were subdued by a related people that formed the state of Urartu (Ararat). The present-day Armenians are an amalgam of the Indo-European groups with the Hurrians and Urartians.

Urartu is a geographical region commonly used as the exonym for the Iron Age kingdom also known by the modern rendition of its endonym, the Kingdom of Van, centered around Lake Van in the historic Armenian Highlands (present-day eastern Anatolia).

It is unknown what language was spoken by the peoples of Urartu at the time of the existence of the kingdom, but there is linguistic evidence of contact between the proto-Armenian language and the Urartian language at an early date (sometime between the 3rd—2nd millennium BC), occurring prior to the formation of Urartu as a kingdom.

The kingdom rose to power in the mid-9th century BC, but went into gradual decline and was eventually conquered by the Iranian Medes in the early 6th century BC. The geopolitical region would re-emerge as Armenia shortly after. Being heirs to the Urartian realm, the earliest identifiable ancestors of the Armenians are the peoples of Urartu.

In the 6th century BC, with the emergence of Armenia in the region, the name of the region was simultaneously referred to as variations of Armenia and Urartu. In the trilingual Behistun Inscription, carved in 521 or 520 BC by the order of Darius I, the country referred to as Urartu in Akkadian is called Arminiya in Old Persian and Harminuia in the Elamite language.

The mentions of Urartu in the Books of Kings and Isaiah of the Bible were translated as “Armenia” in the Septuagint. Some English language translations, including the King James Version follow the Septuagint translation of Urartu as Armenia.

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, although several locations in northeast Syria have also been proposed.

By the 14th century BC, the Hasankeyf area was within the Hurrian kingdom of Mitanni (Hittite cuneiform Mi-ta-an-ni; also called Maryannu, Nahrin or Mitanni by the Egyptians, the Hurri by the Hittites, and the Hanigalbat by the Assyrians), a Hurrian-speaking state in northern Syria and southeast Anatolia from c. 1500 to 1300 BC.

Maryannu is an ancient word for the caste of chariot-mounted hereditary warrior nobility which existed in many of the societies of the Middle East during the Bronze Age.

The term is attested in the Amarna letters written by Haapi. Robert Drews writes that the name maryannu, although plural, takes the singular marya, which in Sanskrit means ‘young warrior’, and attaches a Hurrian suffix. He suggests that at the beginning of the Late Bronze Age, most would have spoken either Hurrian or Indo-Aryan, but by the end of the 14th century, most of the Levant maryannu had Semitic names.

While the Mitanni kings were Indo-Aryan, they used the language of the local people, which was at that time a non-Indo-European language, Hurrian. A Hurrian passage in the Amarna letters – usually composed in Akkadian, the lingua franca of the day – indicates that the royal family of Mitanni was by then speaking Hurrian as well.

Their sphere of influence is shown in Hurrian place names, personal names and the spread through Syria and the Levant of a distinct pottery type. Bearers of names in the Hurrian language are attested in wide areas of Syria and the northern Levant that are clearly outside the area of the political entity known to Assyria as Hanilgalbat.

Graeco-Aryan, or Graeco-Armeno-Aryan, is a hypothetical clade within the Indo-European family that would be the ancestor of Greek, Armenian, and the Indo-Iranian languages. The Graeco-Armeno-Aryan group supposedly branched off from the parent Indo-European stem by the mid-3rd millennium BC.

Between the 9th and 7th centuries BC it was part of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, and by the mid-6th century it was part of the Median empire. In Roman times, Hasankeyf (known as Kepha, Cephe, Cepha or Ciphas) was a base for legionaries on the frontier with the Sasanian Empire of Persia.

‘They are barbaric’: Turkey prepares to flood 12,000-year-old city to build dam

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