Three countries, namely Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, which share the drainage basins and catchment areas of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, have been compelled to construct dams and control water flows within their territories due to their increasing dependence on the water from these rivers. Among these, Turkey, positioned upstream compared to its southern neighbors, requires a significant amount of water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers for the development of agriculture and industry in its southeastern Anatolian region through the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP). This has led to a considerable reduction in the water outflow to Syria and Iraq by constructing numerous dams on these two rivers within Turkey’s borders.
The reduction of water in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers since the implementation of this plan has caused substantial harm to the environmental security of Iraq and Syria. These damages have resulted in unfavorable political, economic, and social consequences for both countries. Furthermore, this issue has given rise to doubts about Turkey’s political objectives in recent decades, leading to tensions and conflicts among the three nations. The consequences, whether intended or unintended, have also affected Iran’s environmental issues, including the influx of dust particles.
Based on this context, “Yashar Zaki” and “Seyed Soroush Asadollahi” have conducted research using a descriptive-analytical approach and library resources. They seek to answer the question: “What impact did the hydropolitics of the GAP project have on the environmental security of Iraq and Syria, and what are Turkey’s objectives in implementing this plan?”
The phased implementation of the GAP project in recent decades has resulted in various environmental consequences, including water pollution, the extinction of rare flora and fauna species, increased desertification, soil salinity, the drying of wetlands and ponds, and the production of dust particles in Iraq and Syria. It appears that Turkey, relying on this project, aims to establish hydro hegemony in the region.
Water Instead of Oil in the Modern Era
One of the primary concerns of any political entity about large-scale land management is environmental management, especially of non-renewable environmental resources. Nowadays, water resources have transformed into one of the most fundamental sources of conflicts in the 21st century, capable of being the source of many global transformations. In this context, the obstacles to water supply and the intensity of demand have become crisis-prone issues.
This vital resource, referred to as a tool of competition between nations, can potentially lead to tensions and conflicts, particularly among countries facing water scarcity. The importance of this matter is such that some theorists and experts in the field of political geography refer to the current era as the era of hydropolitics (policies based on water).
They believe that water resources are among the foundational factors of geopolitical crises, as competition between countries for shared water resources and access to freshwater sources can lead to efforts by nations to achieve national security and reduce regional conflicts. Adequate water resources for a country imply development in agriculture, sufficient food, economic growth, and public welfare.
Water security is particularly relevant in arid and semi-arid regions, and it’s closely related to national security. Water is one of the most significant indicators of security in Western Asian countries. Nowadays, it is being positioned as an essential resource, gradually replacing oil, and it is both a factor of tension and division as well as cooperation and collaboration in the Western Asian region.
For this reason, one of the most important issues concerning international relations and defining the borders of a country relates to rivers that flow between one or two countries as the primary sources of freshwater. There are more than 200 international rivers in the world. The range of interactions between nations regarding the exploitation of these shared water resources encompasses a wide spectrum from harmony and complete cooperation to discord and conflict.
Objectives of the GAP Project
The utilization of the phases of the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP) in the past decades has had significant impacts on Turkey’s economic, political, social, and environmental domains, as well as on downstream countries. In this study, using the theoretical framework of the regional security complex “Barry Buzan,” the authors have examined Turkey’s objectives. In this study, using the theoretical framework of the regional security complex “Barry Buzan,” the authors have examined Turkey’s objectives in implementing the Southeastern Anatolia Project on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, along with its political, economic, and social implications.
The results of this research indicate that Turkey, Iraq, and Syria, as major actors in the Tigris and Euphrates river basins, which are situated within the same geographical region, have formed a hydro-political security complex. Changes in the hydro-political pattern of the upstream country have led to alterations and consequences in downstream countries. The evaluation of environmental effects reveals that the GAP project’s implementation is not confined to the internal governance of individual countries; it holds transboundary repercussions.
Therefore, linking water security to water resources outside a country is, in essence, tying a part of national security to the region. The absence of collaborative management structures and governance of surface and groundwater resources can transform the utilization of these resources into a source of crisis between nations.
In the execution of this project, national water needs are met, but it appears that the project’s political goals are more pronounced, or at the very least, it can be inferred that this project has the potential to be used as a coercive tool against downstream countries (Iraq and Syria). It can be employed to leverage water against their oil resources, establishing a winning card.
It seems Turkey aims to solidify its power over neighboring countries as a “hydro-power” by gaining control over water arteries. Given that the Western Asian region lies within the belt of aridity, experiencing recurrent droughts and reduced rainfall in recent years, the final utilization of the GAP project’s dams has led to Iraq and Syria, as downstream countries of the Tigris and Euphrates river basin, being devoid of the environmental consequences’ protection.