Tide Of Arab-Turk Tension Rises Amid Water Shortage The headwaters of the Middle East's great rivers, the Euphrates and Tigris, originate in Turkey, which controls flow of the waters to the Arab world downstream. A three-year drought has devastated Syria and Iraq, fueling resentment against the Turks.
NPR logo

Tide Of Arab-Turk Tension Rises Amid Water Shortage

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/122365133/122372949" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Tide Of Arab-Turk Tension Rises Amid Water Shortage

Tide Of Arab-Turk Tension Rises Amid Water Shortage

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/122365133/122372949" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


Today, NPR's Deborah Amos reports from Turkey, where the country's control over water has brought privileges and distrust.


DEBORAH AMOS: I'm on a small fishing boat on the waters of the Bosporus. It's one of the busiest shipping lanes for oil transport in the world. More than a dozen tankers are on the horizon, but none of this oil comes from Turkey. The resource that counts here is water. Turkey is one of the only countries in the region to have enough water for its population.


HUSSEIN AMERY: The Arabs, the Iraqis and the Syrians feel very much that Turkey is asserting itself as a regional hydrological superpower.

AMOS: That's Hussein Amery, a water specialist at the Colorado School of Mines. Turkey is a water superpower, he says, because the headwaters of the great rivers - the Tigris and the Euphrates - are in the Turkish mountains. Over the years, the Turks have built dozens of dams limiting the flow to the Arab world downstream. The severe drought in Syria and Iraq, says Amery, has fuelled resentment against the Turks.

AMERY: Something like 160 villages in Syria between 2007 and 2008 were totally depopulated. I know, also, there are scores and scores of villages that have been depopulated in Iraq as well. Crops were not growing, cattle were dying and their source of livelihood just sort of ceased to be.

AMOS: In Turkey, Gun Kut, a water expert, expresses an often-heard criticism in response to Arab complaints.

GUN KUT: Quit wasting the water and there will be enough for everybody.

AMOS: Kut says outdated farming techniques and even worse water management wastes a dwindling resource.

KUT: Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)


AMOS: At the inauguration, more than a decade ago, then-President Suleyman Demirel said neither Syria nor Iraq could lay claim to Turkey's water, any more than Turkey could claim Arab oil. While Turkey's position has softened since then, former diplomat Faruk Logoglu says that statement has caused tension for years.

FARUK LOGOGLU: Turkey, in my judgment, properly claims that these waters originate in Turkey and that we have the first say.

KUT: They have oil. We don't have oil. They have the capital, they should invest.

AMOS: Invest in water efficiency, says Gun Kut. More important, sign on to a regional management of the Euphrates and the Tigris as if the borders didn't exist. Turkey has renewed this proposal at a time when relations with its Arab neighbors are improving. At the same time, this drought threatens the stability of Iraq and Syria, says Josh Landis, an American academic who writes an influential blog on Syria.

JOSH LANDIS: How a little country like Syria, which is badly run economically, is coming out of a socialist past, is trying to liberalize - is going to be able to provide water to all of its people is a mystery.

AMOS: There was a time that the Ottoman Empire controlled the waters of the Tigris and the Euphrates.



AMOS: These days, hawkers sell wooden flutes outside the palaces, which are now museums as well as a monument to the 800-year empire. Turkey's aggressive outreach to the Arab Middle East is sometimes called neo-Ottomanism. The new approach includes binding neighbors together through commercial ties, gas and oil pipelines and a shared electric grid. And finally, it seems, after years of tension, there are signs of agreement on regional water, says Hussein Amery.

AMERY: I would tell the Syrians, Turks and Iraqis to get together, cooperate in managing the Tigris and Euphrates as one ecosystem that it is. It requires a new way of thinking about farming and irrigation.

AMOS: Deborah Amos, NPR News.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.