Turkish authorities on Friday conducted a hugely ambitious and controversial operation to move a centuries-old tomb to new location to stave off the risk of flooding from a dam project.
The tomb of Zeynel Bey is a 15th century memorial to one of the key figures in the Ak Koyunlu tribe who controlled much of eastern Anatolia and the Caucasus and vied for supremacy with the emerging Ottomans.
The exquisite building, known for its dome and intricate coloured stonework, lies in the old town of Hasankeyf in the southeastern Batman province.
Much of the town will be under water or risk damage in the next years because of the development of the Ilisu Dam project which aims to drastically improve energy supplies for the Kurdish-dominated southeast.
The 550-year-old, 1,100 tonne tomb had already been loaded onto a special wheeled platform and just after dawn began the painstakingly slow journey to its new location.
It is being moved around two kilometres (over one mile) to an archaeological park being set up just outside the town.
The journey lasted around five hours but the head of Turkey’s water agency Murat Acu said it would take three days to fully put the tombe in place.
Dozens of locals watched as the tomb, bedecked with a Turkish flag, made its stately way along a road.
Zeynel Bey was the son of the founder of the Ak Koyunlu dynasty, Uzun Hassan but was killed at the 1473 Battle of Otlukbeli with the Ottomans and the tomb erected in his memory.
Located on the banks of the Tigris river, Hasankeyf is home to a cluster of sites from the Roman, Byzantine, pre-Ottoman and Ottoman eras.
Turkish authorities say everything necessary will be done to secure and safeguard all heritage that could be damaged or submerged by the dam when the process begins in the next two years.
“We have carried out archeological excavations in the region of the dam, identified the historic sites and developed projects to protect them,” said Water and Forests Minister Veysel Eroglu, adding that other historic objects would also be moved this way.
But some local activists have expressed concerns that the unique character of the town is going to be lost forever.
“The relocation of the Zeynel Bey Tomb would be an unforgivable act of cultural heritage destruction and a violation of the human rights of the local people,” said an open letter signed by activists including Ercan Ayboga of the Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf alive.
French photographer Mathias Depardon was detained on May 8 while working on a report in Hasankeyf for National Geographic magazine. He has been held ever since although media reports say he is set to be deported soon.
Turkish police have said he was detained for “propaganda for a terror group” — a reference to outlawed Kurdish militants — and have not confirmed any link to his work in Hasankeyf.