Communities lost and found, and soon to be drowned

Turkey has seen many different cultures and peoples come and go over the millennia. We know quite a lot about most of them, such as the Greeks, the Persians, the Romans, the Arabs and the Mongols.

Each left their own mark, physical or otherwise. Perhaps the most obvious is the legacy of the Arabs who brought Islam to Turkey. Today over 90% of Turks are Muslim, culturally at least, if not devout.

Armenian cathedral, Aktamar Island,
Lake Van
But there are many sites that bear witness to the Christian heritage of what we now call Turkey.  Aktamar Island in Lake Van in south-eastern Turkey is the site of a 10th century Armenian cathedral. It has an impressive array of bas-relief carvings of biblical scenes on its outside walls, and some remains of frescoes on the inside. The whole island was a monastic settlement until 1915.

Church, Diyarbakir
We visited two Christian churches in Diyarbakir (there should not be a dot on that last i, but I don't know how to type it), one Armenian, the other or Syriac. Although they are not of the same religious community, their respective congregations are so small they hold a joint service on Sundays, alternately in one church or the other.

Today we visited an incredible site in Göreme in central Anatolia: a network of churches built in caves during the Roman period when Christianity was the prevailing religion in the region.  The name Göreme means "cannot be seen" as the churches, monasteries and convents were hidden behind mounds of soft rock, which have since eroded. The site is in the middle of an area of strange rock formations nicknamed "fairy chimneys".

Göpekli Tepe
These former communities, ancient and more recent, are well documented for their historical significance.  Completely unknown until the 1990s, however, is another site of huge archaeological importance: Göpekli Tepe.  This is the oldest architectural structure yet discovered in the world, dating from around the 10th millennium BC.  That's millennium, not century.

c. 1800 BC — AD 2015
It's wonderful that we are still discovering ancient sites of human development, but we are also losing some.  The loss might be through migration or other social phenomena, but sometimes it is a result of decisions taken in the name of modernisation.  The town of Hasankeyf is about to be lost forever.  It is scheduled to be flooded by an artificial lake on the Euphrates created by a dam just completed but not yet operational.  The waters will rise to the level of the top of the minaret of the town's mosque.

The next time I see it will be on a diving holiday.

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