The Unique Armenian City of Hasankeyf

The Unique Armenian City of Hasankeyf

Why do we know nothing about this city? Well-known designer, jeweler, and traveler Nour tells about this amazing city and its mysteries. He and his friends recently visited Western Armenia and, at the insistence of the Kurds, paid a visit to Hasankeyf.

“…In the territory of Western Armenia, we had specific destinations – Arsamey, Nemrut with the memorial religious complex of King Antioch, and other famous places. On the way, we decided to turn off to Van and go see the door of the Mher Cave. On the way back, we had a tire puncture.

To fix the problem, we went to a nearby workshop. Owners, Kurds by nationality, received us friendly and served us tea, and when they learned that we were Armenians and we were coming from Armenia, they told us about an amazing Armenian city that only a few people knew about and which was only 30 kilometers from this place.

We objected to them that, according to our maps and historical data, there were no Armenian cities in this territory. They began to insist, claiming that this was our city, an Armenian city, which we simply must see.

It was called Hasankeyf. Of course, the name was unfamiliar to us. Knowing the Turkish practice of renaming and appropriating Armenian cities, we were surprised by the claims of the Kurds that this city was Armenian.

They showed us photos of the city. Hasankeyf impressed us so much that it didn’t matter whose city it was – we decided to see this miracle by all means.

Informed people compare Hasankeyf with Cappadocia. Here, people have also lived in rock caves. But what we saw was impossible to imagine even for those with the most violent imagination.

On the shore of the Tigris river rose a smooth, ideal rock with a height of about 100-150 meters and a length of 3-4 kilometers. It stretched parallel to the Tigris. This unique natural wall with a thousand windows allowing you to watch, shoot from, and thereby defend served as an excellent defensive structure in addition to its main purpose.

At the very top of the cliff were visible the remains of buildings. We had to see a little later what was going on in the cliff’s massif itself.

An old bridge used to lead to the rock, the huge piles of which have survived to our times and are still striking in their massiveness. The bridge itself, unfortunately, is no longer there, so we had to climb the cliff via a modern structure. Nothing yet spoke of the Armenian identity of the city, and this further inflamed our curiosity.

Below was a modern settlement with restaurants and cafes where people were selling souvenirs, decorations, and booklets. We visited the city first in search of an Armenian trace. Began to ask the locals whose city it was. Surprisingly, everyone answered that it was an Armenian city, and even the basis of the name was Armenian words.

One of the shop owners showed us a book in English which told about this city with reference to the Armenians. At first glance, the name “Hasankeyf” had nothing to do with Armenian words…

The first Armenian feature was waiting for us in the coat of arms which we noticed when approaching the city. It decorated the old entrance which was once connected to the giant bridge.

We noticed something painfully familiar above the entrance. We were just stunned – It was the coat of arms of the royal Yervanduni dynasty. As for the inside of the cliff, it housed 70 levels of the ancient city, by which one may trace the development of humanity.

Inside, you can see stairs, corridors, and halls. In some places, staircases were exposed to the outside world as a result of landslides.

Each floor is a new era. The lower part is a primitive settlement with completely shapeless caves. Above are the already geometric shapes of walls and decorations. The higher you go, the more clearly you read civilization. The rooms are already architecturally designed. And on top, there is a typical antique Hellenistic city.

Hasankeyf is a historical anthology. Climbing through the city, you can scroll through the story. But for us, it remained a mystery why the city had ceased to exist.

Reaching the very top, we saw the inner part of the city, which to some extent turned out to be a solution to many secrets.

But first, I want to turn to how we logically tried to explain to ourselves how the city was related to the Armenians, why it was unknown in Armenia, and what its purpose was.

“Hasankeyf” is “Hasan Kefi”, which in Armenian means “the holiday, celebration, or feast has arrived”.

There is the phrase “kefchi hasan” which is often used to address people who like to have fun, dance, or sing. No one really knows where this phrase came from, but it exists. We were explained that the chief person in the city (the mayor, according to our concepts) was called “Kefchi Hasan” – that is, the person who should do “Kef” – a holiday – keep the city ready to receive guests, and ensure a fun pastime for them.

And really, what could a 70-story city in a rocky massif have been for? Not for cattle breeding, not for farming, not for crafts. This city was designed for fun, that is, figuratively, it was an ancient Las Vegas. Rich people sailed along the Tigris to the city to have fun.

And when we looked at the inside, we made sure that it really was a comfortable city for fun because inside, it was a multi-stage amphitheater.

For many years, this territory was beyond the reach of humanity. It was a military base. Information about the city began to appear only in recent years after UNESCO expressed its concerns with the Turkish government’s decision to build a dam there and flood the city.

Of course, this should not be done. Hasankeyf is a valuable historical monument, and it does not matter who it has belonged to. However, over the course of hundreds of years, the Turks have destroyed everything that could directly or indirectly indicate Armenian presence or affiliation.”

By Elena Shuvaeva-Petrosyan

Photo by Nare Khachatryan
Photo by Nare Khachatryan
Photo by Nare Khachatryan
Photo by Nare Khachatryan

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