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Dead are last to leave ancient Turkish town before submerging

In a grim postscript, former residents of the town Hasankeyf are relocating the remains of the dead before the unique settlement dating back 12,000 years is engulfed by water from the construction of a dam.
View of old Hasankeyf, which will be significantly submerged by the Ilisu dam being constructed, with the new Hasankeyf in the background in the southeastern town of Hasankeyf, Turkey, June 1, 2019. Picture taken June 1, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas - RC12E749C880
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HASANKEYF, Turkey — The chugging of heavy machinery echoed through Hasankeyf, an ancient town on the banks of the Tigris in southeastern Turkey on a recent Sunday. The settlement, soon to be inundated by the waters of a nearby dam, was no stranger to earth-moving works over its 12,000-year history, but the diggers' task on this day was particularly gloomy. With the town’s residents already resettled elsewhere, the time had now come to move the dead.

The relocation of graves punctuates Hasankeyf having reached the end of the road after years of protests and legal battles to halt construction of the Ilisu Dam. The saga began for local residents in the late 1960s when a group of strangers arrived by mule. The locals had initially mistaken the men for tourists, but they turned out to be engineers dispatched to take water-level measurements of the Tigris. In 1980, Turkish officials gave the go-ahead for a hydroelectric dam as part of a massive development project for the impoverished, predominately Kurdish southeast. The Tigris, the lifeblood of Hasankeyf for millennia, would now drown the town, along with its unique heritage dating back to Neolithic times.

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