Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

The Impact of Hydro-Politics on the Relations of Turkey, Iraq, and Syria

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

The Impact of Hydro-Politics on the Relations of Turkey, Iraq, and Syria

Article excerpt

This article examines the impact of water on the relationships between Turkey and its downstream riparian states, Syria and Iraq. This article defines water resources in international standards and examines the historical relationships between the three states, which have been complicated by the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP). Examining the history of Turco-Iraqi and Turco-Syrian relations, this article shows that GAP, though a point of contention, has not been the principal factor governing the relations between the three countries.

Water is a basic need for all living things. Water not only sustains life, but is also important for agriculture, industry, and every human endeavor. Given its importance, its scarcity can complicate the relationship between states that must obtain this com- modity from a shared source. While water is a political and diplomatic issue in every region of the world, there is no other region where the lack of water resources has frustrated the foreign policy designs of states more than in the Middle East. A major source of water in Turkey comes from the two major rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, which descend from the highlands of the southeast, and irrigated the region known to historians as the Fertile Crescent. The issue of ownership of the waters from the Tigris and Euphrates river basins has linked Turkey, Syria, and Iraq in contentious relation- ships in efforts for each actor to maximize their access to water.

Scholars have focused on the domestic implications of the Southeastern Anatolia Project (known in Turkish as GUneydogu Anadolu Projesi, hereafter GAP), the dangers that it poses to Kurdish identity and culture, the potential environmental devastation the project could cause, and the success, or lack thereof, of GAP in achieving its goals. The purpose of this article is to define the complications that have arisen between Turkey and Syria, and Turkey and Iraq through GAP's development.

The first section will examine the history of water conflicts as well as water in international law and will provide a perspective on each of the riparian states' concepts of their rights pertaining to the waters in question. By identifying the forms of resource scarcity and the classification of rivers, this article will explain how each actor has used existing international law to support their claims to the usage of the Tigris and Euphra- tes. This article will also analyze how past conflicts over water have failed to be resolved through international arbitration and trilateral negotiations, highlighting the importance of bilateral negotiations between Turkey and the two downstream riparian states.

The next section will provide a brief history of GAP and will outline the stated goals of the Turkish government. The modern Turkish state has attempted to harness the great potential of the Tigris and Euphrates through developmental projects, includ- ing GAR The stated goals of GAP are to harness the power of the rivers to provide hy- droelectricity for Turkey, to significantly expand the agricultural land under cultivation, and to increase the productivity and prosperity of the southeastern Anatolian region.1 In practice, however, GAP has been shown to be a domestic sociopolitical project on the part of the Turkish state to deal with and pacify the marginalized, largely Kurdish region. The southeast has lagged behind the rest of the country in social and economic development, as statistics will illustrate.

Three sections will then review the trilateral water agreements that exist between the three riparian states, the Turco-Syrian relationship, and the Turco-Iraqi relationship. Trilateral negotiations began in the 1960s and culminated in the 1987 agreement that stipulated a total amount of 500 cubic meters per second would flow out of Turkey for Syrian and Iraqi consumption. However, since the signing of the agreement, Turkey has unilaterally altered the flow of water, often without warning, which has caused separate rifts with both Syria and Iraq, resulting in the increased importance of bilateral relation- ships between each and Turkey. …

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