Turkish water dispute with Iraq and Syria over the Euphrates

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Water resources once shared by different countries could cause major political unrests or disputes between sharing entities. The Euphrates originating in Turkey and finding its path into both Syria and Iraq has been the cause of continuing clashes between Turkey on one side and both Iraq and Syria on the other. The Turkish government on different occasions has built dams to produce water reservoirs; however, such measures have been extremely troubling to Iraq and Syria. In 1990 Turkey stopped the water of the Euphrates River to fill the reservoir of the Ataturk Dam saying it was for security reasons not political ones.
       The Euphrates and the Tigress pass through Syria and Iraq making them both international rivers. In 1957, Turkey sent a memorandum to Baghdad informing Iraq that Turkey was intending to build the Dam of Kiban at the meeting point of the Euphrates and the Murad rivers. The lake was to hold about 9.4 billion square meters of water; however, 30.5 billion square meters of water was the right figure.

Further tensions came to surface when Turkey announced the GAP project jeopardizing irrigation and power generation projects in both countries. The project main purpose is to irrigate 1.7 million hectares of lands in the plains of Harats in Turkey, and it aims to generate about 26 billion kilowatts/hour per year. The first blue prints of the project initiated in the seventies, and the final cost estimate is 34 billion dollars finished in the year 2005. The GAP project was originally a hydroelectric project, but it has transformed into an integrated regional development program to help Turkey nourish undeveloped southern agricultural resources. Furthermore, tension has increased for not only the denigrated share for both Iraq and Syria but also the quality of water they are receiving. In August 1998, Turkey mobilized some of its troops close to the Syrian borders alarming a possible military conflict between both countries. The motive behind Turkey’s rather bold military move was because of the ongoing Kurdish confrontation in southeast Turkey; however, the water dispute was significantly present in the row between both countries. Syria has complained continuously of not receiving its due share of the Euphrates water.

Turkish claim of Syrian support for the PKK (Partia Karakaren Kurdistand or Kurdistan Workers’ Party) to induce Turkey to concise on the water issue gave Turkey the leverage it needed to respond in the shape of a military pressure to force an end to Syria’s use of the ethnic card. The GAP project has become a national pride symbol to almost all of Turkey’s national political parties that come from different backgrounds and orientations, and it has kept itself as a significant project to all successive governments. The water issue in Turkey is interconnected with lots of complicated politics on both national and international levels. Water resources integrated in helping southern Turkey develop a rich agricultural landmine and produce hydroelectric power needed for underserved areas make the water issue a vital national political issue, yet it unfolds a continuous international conflict with neighboring countries embedding other issues within such as ethnic conflicts. In 1987, Turkey has declared its intention to implement an ambitious project of pumping water to some Arabic countries and Israel through a 2700-kilometer pipe extending from Turkey all the way to the United Arab Emirates. The project not welcomed by both Syria and Iraq who would suffer more water quantity denigration from the Euphrates and the Tigres. The Peace Pipeline, the name of the project, is looking to provide other countries in the region with some water supplies. 13 million square meters of water is to be saved for Turkish use in irrigation and power generation while 16 million square meters would be pumped to the Middle East region at a rate of 3.3 million square meters a day.

The pipeline will consist of two branches primarily through Amman and other Syrian cities, and another branch approximately 400 kilometers long passing through Saudi Arabia and Kuwait ending in the United Arab Emirates pumping about 250 million square meters of water a day. Turkey is still facing new challenges with its southern neighbors in controlling and distributing water supplies. It has always been a key player in the region which has been on continuous alert due to conflicts throughout the past decade; however, no constructive steps have been taken by Turkey to help reduce tensions with both Syria and Iraq. The water conflict between Syria, Iraq, and Turkey is a good example of analyzing how water could mingle with economical, power and ethnical matters. The Kurdish crisis in southern Turkey, the water shortage in Syria and Iraq, and agricultural development plans in the region highly influenced the conflict between all three.

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