Southeastern Anatolian Project
by Sandra Akmansoy
The University of Texas at Austin
Department of Civil Engineering
December 6, 1996

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Executive Summary

The Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP) is the most comprehensive project ever implemented in Turkey. This project covers, in addition to irrigation and hydropower schemes, all the related social and economic sectors including industry, transportation, mining, telecommunications, health, education, tourism, and infrastructure for the region, which is mostly populated by Kurds. The construction of two dams on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, out of the 22 planned, has sparked much protest from Syria and Iraq, the two downstream countries.

Using Geographical Information Systems and each country's legal position, this paper examined The Helsinki Rules on the Uses of the Waters of International Rivers. The conclusions were decisive. Over 70 percent of the water in the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers originate in Turkey, yet Turkey plans to only use 24 percent of it, leaving 76 percent of the water to the downstream countries. The construction of the GAP will control the highly variant flows in the rivers and, thereby, benefit the downstream countries. The lands to be irrigated in the GAP region are considered the most efficient in terms of agriculture, and the agricultural and industrial potential to be created by the GAP will increase the level of income in the region approximately 5 folds.

The political issues between the three countries proved to be at the core of this conflict. Syria's support of the terrorist Kurdish Workers Party and its use of it as an instrument of pressure against Turkey, and territory disputes have forced Turkey to consider Syria as its adversary. Turkey's alliance with the West against Iraq during the Persian Gulf War, the Kurdish situation, and Turkey's concern for Iraqi expansionism together with territory disputes have caused malevolence between Iraq and Turkey. One can only conclude that this is a struggle for power and not water. Who will be controlling who's water, and essentially the economy and the region, is at the core of the conflict.
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The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, shown in Figure 1, are two of the most important rivers in the Middle East.
Figure 1: Map of the Tigris and Euphrates

Both rivers originate in the mountains of Turkey, flow south through Syria and Iraq, and drain through the Shatt Al-Arab waterway into the Persian Gulf. Average annual runoff in these two rivers exceeds 80,000 million cubic meters, of which about 33,000 million are generated in the Euphrates and 47,000 in the Tigris. Flows in both rivers are extremely variable. Minimum flows of the Euphrates have been reported as low as 180 cubic meters per second, while maximum flows as high as 5,200 cubic meters per second have occurred. Half of the annual runoff of the Euphrates is generated during the brief spring (April and May) snow melt, and runoff in dry years has amounted to as little as 30 percent of the annual average flow. For 30 years, negotiations over the Euphrates among Turkey, Syria, and Iraq have produced no lasting agreement, in part because the three countries have long been at odds with each ot