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Euphrates-Tigris Rivers System: Political Rapprochement and Transboundary Water Cooperation

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Turkey's Water Policy


Water-related development projects on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers have been highly contested over the last four decades and have caused relations between the riparian states, i.e. Turkey, Syria and Iraq, to become highly strained and serious crises occurred. All co-riparian states are unilaterally strengthening their efforts to develop water resources to increase their hydropower potential, and to extend their irrigated agricultural areas. These activities pose the main threat to their mutual relations, and to date, the riparians have failed to achieve a common agreement. Since major non-water issues are now solved, or are at least approached, in a more pragmatic manner, the prospects for joint initiatives have improved. Figure 1 shows a map of the two rivers, their main tributaries and selected dams. Table 1 and Table 2 provide an overview of the context for cooperation on both rivers.

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  1. 1.

    Iran’s demand is not included; its supply amounts to 9 percent, i.e. 4.7 BCM/year. For details, see Belül 1996.

  2. 2.

    The situation was exacerbated because impounding took place during a period of continuously dry weather.

  3. 3.

    One of the most important legal texts between Iraq and Turkey on the water resources of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and tributaries is the Protocol annexed to the 1946 Treaty of Friendship and Good Neighbourly Relations (see Annex 11). The protocol provides a framework for the two parties to deal with their respective interests along the river system. It emphasised mainly the urgency of building up flood control works on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and underlined the positive impact of storage facilities to be sited in the Turkish territory.

  4. 4.

    The Turkish side regards the Euphrates and Tigris as one river system because both rivers form the Shatt al-Arab watercourse. This opinion is reinforced by the existence of the Thartar Canal, which was built by Iraq: it connects the Tigris with the Euphrates and diverts water from the Tigris to the Euphrates. This view is, so far, not shared by Iraq and Syria. With respect to these contradicting views, Article 2a of the UN Water Convention reads as follows: “‘Watercourse’ means a system of surface and groundwaters constituting by virtue of the physical relationship a unitary whole and normally flowing into a common terminus.”

  5. 5.

    See Scheumann (2003) for the relevance of non-water issues as disturbing factors.

  6. 6.

    United Nations Treaty Series 87/12171, 17/7/1987.

  7. 7.

    Friends of the Earth, the International Rivers Network, the Center for International Environmental Law, and the Washington Kurdish Institute (; see also WCD Thematic Review, Regulation, Compliance and Implementation (2000) Accessed 28 May 2010.

  8. 8.

    I.e. the project in Hasankeyf which is the major ancient town on the Ilisu Dam site.

  9. 9.

    See for details the DSI website baraji_bilgilendirme_notu.swf Accessed 20 December 2009.

  10. 10.

    External Monitoring Group (2009) Ilisu Dam and HEPP Project. External Monitoring Group Report, June 2009. Accessed 28 May 2010.

  11. 11.

    See also UNEP 2003.

  12. 12. Accessed 29 September 2005.

  13. 13.

    Personal correspondence with Prof. Mukdad Ali, Baghdad University, College of Science, March 2005; see also accessed 28 May 2010 and UN Chronicle 2002 Issue 2… Accessed 29 September 2005.

  14. 14.

    The UNEP/DEWA/GRID website considers that “positive signs of environmental recovery have been emerging […] visible in new satellite images taken in May 2003.” (UNEP/DEWA/GRID, 2004).

  15. 15.

    Bilateral relations between Turkey and Syria had long been uneasy. Two principal sources of friction were Syria’s extensive logistical support to the separatist terrorist organization, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Syrian irredentist claims to the province of Hatay in Turkey. Despite official denials by Damascus, Syria’s support of subversive actions against Turkey since the early 1980s have been widely known and documented.

  16. 16.

    A joint Communiqué between the Republic of Turkey, Prime Ministry, Southeastern Anatolia Project Regional Development Administration (GAP) and the Arab Republic of Syria, Ministry of Irrigation, General Organization for Land Development, 23 August 2001, Ankara, Turkey, on file with the authors.

  17. 17.

    “Iraq, Turkey want to integrate economies, transform Mideast,” Today’s Zaman, E-Gazette, September 18, 2009.

  18. 18.

    In 2002, a bilateral agreement between Syria and Iraq was signed concerning the installation of a Syrian pump station on the Tigris River for irrigation purposes. The quantity of water drawn annually from the Tigris River, when the flow of water is within the average, will be 1.25 km3 with a drainage capacity proportional to the projected surface of 150,000 hectares. Personal communication with the Turkish officials at Ministry of Foreign Affairs and DSI, January 2010.

  19. 19.

    “Joint Statement of the First Meeting of the High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council between Syria and Turkey,” December 24, 2009, Syrian Arab News Agency.

  20. 20.

    Personal communication with officials at DSI, Ministry of Environment and Forestry, March 2010.

  21. 21.

    This section is mainly drawn from Kibaroglu A (2008) The Role of Epistemic Communities in Offering New Cooperation Frameworks in the Euphrates-Tigris Rivers System. Journal of International Affairs. vol 61, no 2, 191-195.

  22. 22.

    The co-author of this chapter, namely Aysegul Kibaroglu is the co-founder of the Euphrates-Tigris Initiative for Cooperation (ETIC).

  23. 23.

    As a spin-off from a project conducted by the International Center for Peace at the University of Oklahoma, some Iraqi, Syrian and Turkish participants in the said project have decided to launch a cooperation initiative, in collaboration with the University of Oklahoma and Kent State University. See

  24. 24.

    Summary statement presented at the conclusion of the XII World Water Congress, November, 26 November 2005, New Delhi, India; ETIC Newsletter 1, no. 3, ETIC workshop synthesis document (World Water Week, Swedish International Water Institute, Stockholm, 21 August 2006). On file with the authors.

  25. 25.

    See Accessed 30 May 2010.

  26. 26.

    ETIC organized a training program in 2006 on dam safety in collaboration with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for professionals from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. ETIC organized a workshop on Knowledge Technology in March 2009 in Gaziantep, Turkey for participants from Iraq, Syria and Turkey. The last training workshop was organized by ETIC in Aleppo in January 2010 on Geographical Information Systems and their implementation in natural resources management. See Accessed 30 May 2010.

  27. 27.

    ETIC has been pursuing a research activity entitled “Collaborative Planning and Knowledge Development in the Tigris-Euphrates Region”. The stakeholders in this activity are Iraqi, Syrian and Turkish universities faculty members. On file with the author.

  28. 28.

    ETIC Newsletter (2006) vol 1, no 4. On file with author.

  29. 29.

    See Accessed 21 July 2010.


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Kibaroglu, A., Scheumann, W. (2011). Euphrates-Tigris Rivers System: Political Rapprochement and Transboundary Water Cooperation. In: Kramer, A., Kibaroglu, A., Scheumann, W. (eds) Turkey's Water Policy. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

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