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Imagine a marvelous rural place, millenary caves carved in the limestone, inside which you were born..
Imagine a childhood made of playing and fishing along the mythical Tigris river, providing your daily food mostly by yourself..
Then imagine yourself sleeping on the roof during summer, under quiet starry nights.
This is Hasankeyf, a stunning trove of history in Southeastern Anatolia, the cradle of many european civilisations. This treasure will disappear forever over the next few months, completely flooded by the waters of the Ilisu Dam, and “This was Hasankeyf” is a tale about memories of a magic but hard past, about the petrifying perception of loss and change. This work is the result of several months of research in the village of Hasankeyf, 3000 souls living South-eastern Turkey, close to Syria and Iraq.
Archeologists agree that the first human settlements in the area date back 10.000 years, as the caverns in the mountain, inhabited until very recently, testify.
In the 1960s the population was evacuated from the caves where they had lived for centuries by government order and was relocated to emergency housing, built above part of Hasankeyf's astounding archaeological site. Today, the state Southern-Anatolia Project includes the construction of the Ilisu Dam, approximately 50km from Hasankeyf.
As a result, the current town and most of the archaeological site will be totally submerged, forcing the inhabitants into migration and displacement, abandoning their homes and customary rural life style.
Meanwhile, about a mile away, the Turkish State is building a new housing site bearing all the trimmings of modern life.
Like fifty years ago, today progress requires people to move into modern buildings, disconnected from the ecosystem of the Tigris river, now doomed to become a large artificial lake.
The loss will be enormous and whether there will be any positive outcome is yet to be seen. During the span of one regular day in the village, our documentary describes the everyday life, desires and ideas of a few Arabic and Kurdish families, aiming at understanding the issues that move around Hasankeyf, the complexity of the threat of the Dam and the people's behaviour in relation to the forthcoming changes.
The different voices, feelings and emotions that were conveyed to us will build up a unique protagonist: the citizen of Hasankeyf. If Hasankeyf's history and the tales of river and caves constitute a collective memory, epic but extremely harsh, on the other hand there is modernity, the feeling of freedom, the images and sensations that progress can instill in one's mind.
The ideas of losing a certain way of life, the relation citizen-State and the meaning of progress are investigated either through interviewees and through our commentaries, producing a double perspective on the whole state of Hasankeyf. "This was Hasankeyf" is then our poetic ethnography within such magnetic legacy of past civilisations, the exploration of those seductive desires and sad violences that the idea of Progress respectively provokes and inflicts.