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Heroine and a real trouper! Slept 4 nights sitting up & found us a shower in Hasankeyf.


-Arsen Poladov! -Banging that drum for all she’s worth. A crowd of little girls, singing and beating drums, met us at Batman. They had waited for us all day, dressed up & ready in the searing sun.

Off the train for half an hour here…


-“My father made me interested in such things as Hasankeyf” – “Please draw me later when my hair is clean!” – Boy, did we have fun! Apple-cheeked Buket Sahin, my train-companion and seatmate. BOO-CAT! —–Buket’s father is noted Turkish author Osman Şahin. She gave me his book Tales from the Tarsus, a collection of folk stories, from the myth-rich Tarsus Mountain region, that he spent years researching. An ecological activist, he protested the dams and strip-mining to the point of being punished by previous governments. Buket is a fantastic photographer who travels the world, and is still a great friend. Meeting her, listening to her across the whole country and in Hasankeyf itself, made all the difference in my perception of Turkey.


Many bright faces in Batman! The whole town was there and had been all day, including a band, the drums, and the Mayor, who handed a carnation to each woman to descend from the train. Because I was the only foreigner I got two.

Not only does everyone in Turkey love Hasankeyf, but Tourism is a major factor here.

Buket at Hasankeyf, 2007


-And all the while this city has been here – Ozgur – Umut  – Seçkin: “We want to learn about our heritage.” – 3 young men sitting on the very edge of the castle precipice staring out into the darkening valley. They are students in Izmir who read Atlas Magazine, here to see & support. They have decided to spend as much time as possible touring Turkey & discovering their history—–I was much moved by these three students, and have often wondered what became of them. Behind them, the Tigris glows at the horizon, while the town sinks into twilight. I drew the boys from life, and the town later, from a photo I took from the castle at twilight.


I love this aspect of the great Castle of Hasankeyf, and learned a great deal drawing it 11 years after I took photos in 2007.  It looked then, and looks to me now, like a great griffin poised on the edge of the Tigris, which barely shows off to the right.

They started the brickwork less than half-way up the natural striations of the rock. There’s a decorative border around each window, and the palace extends all the way along the ridge at back.

Those caves at center are copious and were surely occupied. Just below center, on the right,  there are the remains of huge stone gears, used for pulling the bridge across the river.

That slanted plane at lower center is a great terrace, titled by age or earthquake. Off at bottom left we can see the tops of pine trees growing up the edge of a sheer drop.

The color, when I took these photos, was pink-tinged blue, but by day this place is golden. I think about the woman and her child, forever walking up the road at dusk in September 2007. Where was she going? What was she thinking? Where is she now?

All that is visible of this castle now is the very top. The rest is buried in dirt and water.

-Sunset kids -Hasankeyf 2007 -TriciVenola ©2018

What made Hasankeyf seem miraculous, there on the edge of the great eternal River Tigris, is that it was alive; not a museum ruin: a lively, functioning village and has been all along. Here have lived generations of Assyrians, Byzantine Christians, Hittites, Urartians, Arabs, Ottoman Turks, and all manner of civilizations. These folks now displaced to cement boxes across the water are mostly Kurdish. They’ve been here for centuries. I love these children, smiling down at me as I snapped their picture in the golden light of sunset. I expect they’re all grown now.

All of this is now buried under all that dirt.


-Hobbit walk Hasankeyf – From a photo taken in 2007—–Long before Tolkien came up with his round hobbit doors, cave dwellers worldwide were using them! This charming cobbled street runs along under a great shelf of rock eroded out of the sheer cliff, punctuated with caves. All the families there have been in these homes for generations. The government promised them a small settlement and a cinderblock home across the valley. They didn’t want to move. Would you?


-A store in a halogen cave – 2007-2018 – I started this drawing in a cave curio shop, roaming around with Buket back in 2007, and finished it a year ago, from a photo I took back then. 

Drawing the cradle in 2007. All the lights are halogen, which gives an eerie cold aspect to the warmth of the tribal accoutrements.


-Everyone is singing -I drew this in the dark, sitting with my feet in the Tigris—–A happy evening, sitting at tables set up in the running river. It was very hot, and no mosquitos!— it’s too high. Paradise. I believe the man at center paid for our dinner. Thank you, anonymous giver! We ate fish caught hours before in the river, and threw the bones back into the river to be consumed by plant life and turned into more fish. We all wore fantastic headdresses: our hair was flat and greasy with sweat, but we should care; we had the river!


-Ali Baba’s cave: actual title “Transpassers’ Cave” with Buket & a litter of tiny, flealess kittens. Heaven! -TriciVenola ©2007


-Grave, focused and kind, 15-year-old Erkan was born in Hasankeyf & loves it. He made our visit safer & happier, without a trace of huckterism- the very best face of Turkey. AND he held still for his portrait! 

—–Erkan is on my wall to this day. I think of him often. He took Buket and me to see his mother, invited us to stay there any time. He was absolutely lovely. It was he who told us that he didn’t want to live in a cinderblock house in an ugly place. He wanted desperately to stay in Hasankeyf. In 2018, Erkan found me on Instagram. He lives in Batman, still involved with Hasankeyf.

After dinner, Buket and I set out to find a ladies’ room. It was next to the huge triangular entrance to this cave. We wandered in and were invited to sleep there. The whole town of Hasankeyf was glad to see us protesters, but their generosity was still startling: the cave owners wouldn’t let us pay them. So we spent the night in what might vey well have been the original Open Sesame Ali Baba’s Cave, tucked up in tribal fabric, with the water trickling down the back wall, and the treasures were the kittens, who romped and snuggled with us all night.

Here are the guys who said, “we will live under water if we have to.” And their Grandmother.


Hasankeyf Train organizers Ozcan & Guven Eken with the Mayor, and an ancient shop recently excavated (2007) in Hasankeyf -2007-2018—–The shop goes back a couple of thousand years. I drew the three gents in 2007, from life, and filled in the rocks around them from a photo taken at the time. They all seemed to be of a piece.

Archeology in action: excavation of an ancient Roman shop back in 2007.

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