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Damming Diplomacy: The Brutal Impact of Turkish Water Politics on Syria and Iraq

A Deep Dive into the Geopolitical Maneuvering and Human Consequences of Water Resource Control



JUL 27, 2023


In the parched landscapes of the Middle East, where life clings to the rhythmic ebb and flow of water, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers course through time and territory as the lifelines of Syria and Iraq. Their journey, however, commences in Turkey, where their vital life-giving force is seized, harnessing these ancient waters to feed the hunger of energy and agricultural ambitions, embodied in Turkey’s ambitious Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP) and the mammoth Ilısu Dam.

Yet, this story isn’t merely about the manipulation of water; it is about power, control, and a crisis echoed in the barren fields of Syria and Iraq. It’s about the urgent whisper of the rivers, growing fainter, as the lifeblood of the downstream nations is drawn away, leaving a trail of droughts, declining agricultural productivity, and economic hardships in its wake.

The stark consequence? A staggering 40 percent reduction in water flow to Syria and Iraq – a wound inflicted even before the leviathan of Turkey’s energy projects in the Euphrates basin comes fully to life. The lifeblood of these nations, their agriculture, lies disrupted and withered. Their crop yields have dwindled, plunging rural communities into the throes of food insecurity and economic despair. The ripple effect has driven migration from rural to urban, the strain on city infrastructure almost palpable.

Yet, water scarcity isn’t the only fallout of Turkey’s hydropower and irrigation endeavors. A more insidious undercurrent flows through this narrative – a unilateral approach to water resource management and dam construction, breeding tension and mistrust amongst the nations. Turkey’s use of water as a political bargaining chip, particularly in Kurdish territories, does little but fuel the diplomatic flames, further complicating an already fragile situation.

As GAP unfolds, its benefits are largely pocketed by Turkey, leaving Syria and Iraq grappling with the burden of its consequences. This tale of resource distribution echoes the wider narrative of socio-economic inequity in the region. While Turkey thrives on increased energy generation and economic prosperity, Syria and Iraq reel from the blow of water shortages and socio-economic instability. As these stark contrasts take center stage, they further erode the relationship between these nations, casting a long shadow over the prospects of regional cooperation and development


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