Turkey’s water war on Syria

Turkey has deliberately withheld water flow from the Euphrates to Syria, thus stealing the country's share from this river and that caused a water crisis in the north and east of the country. Plus, citizens in the northeastern part of Syria are still suffering from water shortage as the Turkish occupation and its mercenaries repeatedly stop operating Allouk water station near the occupied city of Ras Al-Ayn, thereby cutting off water supplies to Hasakah neighborhoods, threatening around a million people with thirst and damaging the agriculture there.

Syria Times interviewed Dr. Pablo Sapag, a Professor at Madrid Complutense University and author of the book “Syria in Perspective” to shed light on the Turkish aggressive behavior, on the consequences of this inhuman act on the citizens and agriculture in the Syrian Al-Jazira region and on the world’s silence and inaction to pressure Turkey to stop this crime.

 “Turkey’s behavior regarding water issues vis-a-vis Syria is not just humanly irresponsible and cruel but profoundly contrary to international law. It goes also against the very few formal commitments it has previously acquired with Syria on the matter. Even though Turkey is one of the few states that has not signed it, let alone to ratify the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention -in fact it has been stubbornly against it, there are several previous pieces of mandatory international law that clearly regulate the use and share of water by riparian states. The latter is the case of Turkey, Syria and Iraq when talking about the Euphrates and also the Tigris rivers,” Prof. Sapag said, pointing out that Syria and Iraq signed and ratified the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention, but Turkey didn't.

He added that the UN Convention and those previous laws are inspired by the same principles: equitable and reasonable utilization of water, the obligation on not causing  significant harm to other riparian states and the one that gives priority to the vital human needs. The last one is also a principle shared by Islamic law, and however Sharia is not considered in the relations between states not to mention by international law, it’s rather striking that a country that has an extreme and radical religious inspired regime does not abide at least to such a basic principle, he pointed out.

Sapag went on to say that “in 1987 and in advance of the finalization of the gigantic Ataturk dam which was added to the previously built Keban and Birceik dams upstream the Euphrates, Turkey officially committed itself through a Protocol to guarantee an average flow of at least 500 cubic meters per second to Syria. If because rain shortages or severe drought that clause is not possible to be implemented , the deficit has to be covered in the following months. For years and specially the last two ones Turkey is not fulfilling such an agreement.”

“Turkey is neither abiding to other international commitments with its patrons. For example, when it built the Kehan dam in the mid 1960’s the condition imposed to it by the US to receive financial and technical aid to complete the project was to guarantee a yearly downstream water flow of at least 350 cubic meters by second. Nowadays less than 200 cubic meters are reaching the Syrian Arab Republic territory,” he stressed.

Finally, Sapage said, in its desire to become an EU member state, Turkey has committed itself to adapt its legislation to the EU’s one. Brussels directives regarding the use of water contemplate all the aforementioned principles but also put a strong focus on environmental protection. Altering so violently and systematically the downstream course of the Euphrates river because its gigantic and selfish hydroelectric generation system with the three dams, suppose a permanent threat to the environment, moreover in a time of global climate change concerns, as the United Nations has recently warned, droughts are becoming longer and more severe around the Mediterranean.

Regarding the consequences of the Turkish behavior on the Syrian citizens and agriculture in Al-Jazira region, Sapag said “these systematic Turkish uses of water in its own selfish interest or even worse, as a weapon of ethnic cleansing against other states and people, are dramatic. Many farmers in the Syrian region of Al-Jazira have had to abandon their wheat and cotton crops. They have also seen the dead of their livestock and many have even lost their homes. All this because they don’t have even a minimum of water guaranteed for irrigation and human and animal use, and also electricity, as the stream of the Euphrates arrives to Syria as a thin thread almost invisible, Syrian hydroelectric power stations are barely operating at their minimum capacity of energy generation. Water is essential for life but in nowadays electricity is as essential to most human daily activities. Without electricity it’s not possible to properly treat patients in hospitals, run schools, universities or even small businesses.”

“All this is provoking a human and an economic catastrophe.  According to several independent NGOs, stomach diseases already eradicated decades ago in Syria have reappeared, affecting specially children and old people. Migration is on the rise putting pressure for resources in other Syrian regions. Not to mention the difficulties to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic in which water is an essential tool to stop the spread of the virus. The World Health Organization has strongly recommended to wash hands frequently and to sanitize all kind of places, surfaces and objects, something mainly done using water, Prof. Sapag clarified.

Moreover, Sapag said, the occupation of the Syrian Allouk water plant by Turkish mercenaries also adds to all the suffering of the Syrian people in the northeast. “More than one million people of Hasakah Governorate have been depending for months on drinkable water supplied by trucks and other difficult methods. Those trucks have to avoid the action of occupation forces and mercenary gangs in the region that steal the water of the trucks as they robber Syrian wheat, petrol and other resources that later are smuggled through the borders,” he made it clear.

On why the world keeps silent over the Turkey’s inhuman act, Sapag explained that Turkey is not being accountable of its behavior in northeastern Syria because the only actors that have enough and direct leverage to do it share with the Turkish radical regime the interest to destroy the multi-religious and multi-ethnic Syria, two characteristics that are also very visible in the Syrian Al-Jazira region.

“The US and the EU have the legal tools above mentioned to force Turkey to comply with the minimum cubic meters of water flowing downstream the Euphrates into Syria. However, they have not even given the lightest of the admonitions to their preferred ally Turkey. This shows once again a double standard policy which at the end supposes a threat to the rest of the world. The same Europeans so concern in their statements about migration and climate change are allowing this to happen in a region which sharing with the EU natural borders, resources and security concerns.

 Interviewed by: Hamda Mustafa