Tuesday, February 16
Syria: Dragonflies and the Lake and the Blindness of Interventionists
1994From The Coming Anarchy, Robert D. Kaplan
Resource distribution is strengthening Turks in another way vis-a-vis Arabs and Persians. Turks may have little oil, but their Anatolian heartland has lots of water—the most important fluid of the twenty-first century. Turkey's Southeast Anatolia Project, involving twenty-two major dams and irrigation systems, is impounding the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Much of the water that Arabs and perhaps Israelis will need to drink in the future is controlled by Turks. The project's centerpiece is the mile-wide, sixteen-story Ataturk Dam, upon which are emblazoned the words of modern Turkey's founder: "Ne Mutlu Turkum Diyene" ("Lucky is the one who is a Turk").
Erduhan Bayindir, the site manager at the dam, told me that "while oil can be shipped abroad to enrich only elites, water has to be spread more evenly within the society. . . . It is true, we can stop the flow of water into Syria and Iraq for up to eight months without the same water overflowing our dams, in order to regulate their political behavior."2004
From Water Security in the Middle East: Growing Conflict over Development in the Euphrates-Tigris Basin, Patrick MacQuarrie
Hafez al-Assad, President of Syria since 1970 before his death in 2000, whom Kissinger once described as “the type of man who would go into a poker game with a pair of twos and threes and come out scooping the pot,” knew that Turkey’s development plans for GAP could cost him up to 40 percent of Euphrates flow, putting a huge dent into his plans to develop irrigation in the Euphrates valley, threatening his policy toward relative food security, exacerbating the social pressures evident with a rapid growing population and stagnant economy, and compromising the already lower than predicted hydroelectric yield from the Tabqa Dam on the Euphrates.
With water needs in the 1990s being at least 3.5 bcm and as much as 6.0 bcm, Assad needed a security card to play with Turkey; however, he had more than pair of twos and threes, he had aces. He invited various members of guerrilla factions, liberation movements and dissidents to set up shop in Damascus; among them was the Kurdish Workers’ Party, or PKK, the Turkish People’s Liberation Army, the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia, or ASALA and Dev Genc and Dev Sol guerrillas, also including pro-Greek opposition groups for the independence of Cyprus. Getting their training in Syria, and later the Becca Valley in Lebanon, they took their campaigns to Turkey, gradually turning southern Anatolia into a bloody battleground.****
As MacQuarrie goes on to explain the Turks got even. Then it was Syria's turn again.
Syria isn't a quagmire; it's a Gordian Knot, a knot woven from struggles over water rights. Al Qaeda, Islamic State, the Baathist regime, machinations about gas and oil pipelines, conflicts between Iran and Al Saud, between Palestinians and Israelis and Israelis and Syrians, and even Islam and its various sects, are like dragonflies that hover over a lake. When the dragonflies die, this has no effect on the lake. In the same manner the Gordian Knot of Syria's relations with Turkey would remain if all the frictions caused by politics and religion were taken away.
How old is the knot? When was it woven?
Return to Patrick MacQuarrie:
The ‘Stolen’ Province of Hatay
In the extreme northeast corner of the Mediterranean, the Taurus Mountains join the sea, separating Anatolia from the Levant. There, on the Gulf of Iskenderun, lies the port city of Iskenderun (known historically as Alexandretta), and in the mountains inland, Antakya, the ancient city of Antioch. During the Ottoman Empire the region was administered as the Sanjak of Alexandretta.
Historically, Antioch was usually considered a part of Syria while Alexandretta was a more cosmopolitan port. In the carving up of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, France won the inclusion of the Sanjak of Alexandretta in the League of Nations Mandate over Syria-Lebanon.
In the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923, Turkey renounced any claim to its former territories. But in 1936, when Syria was slated for independence under the mandate, Kemal Atatürk approached France over the question of Alexandretta, insisting that a majority of its population were Turks, and that it should revert to the Turkish Republic.
In an effort to keep Turkey from drifting towards Germany again, France sought to accommodate the Turks, and the League recommended an autonomous Sanjak which would control its own internal affairs, but whose external affairs would fall under Syrian control. An election in 1938 resulted in a Turkish President and [Sanjak] renamed itself the State of Hatay. (101)
Syria has never recognized the incorporation of the Hatay into Turkey. There is still an Arabic-speaking population in the region, though Turks are now the solid majority. Syria does not actively press the claim, and in fact during the recent crisis over the PKK, Turkish President Süleyman Demirel explicitly warned Damascus not to raise the Hatay issue.
Syrian maps frequently show the entire region as part of Syria, and during Syrian talks with Turkey regarding the reduction of Euphrates flows, Syria used the Hatay card insisting that France had no right to cede the territory to Turkey under its mandate. Turkey’s position usually focuses on flow details of the Orontes River (Asi, as it is called in Lebanon), which originates in Lebanon, flows through Turkey and into Hatay province of modern Turkey.
The rub over the Orontes River is largely latent, but it serves as a bargaining chip for both sides (Turkey and Syria). Syria in an agreement with Lebanon in 1972, takes most of the waters, allocating only 80 mcm to Lebanon. The river is of extreme importance to Syria and its developments in the Ghab Valley, providing electricity for the towns of Homs and Hama and irrigating up to 230,000 ha. (102) Even though Turkey insists that Syria has used up to 90 percent of Orontes resources by the time it gets to Hatay, the arguments are usually principled.
To Turkey, Syria’s argument over its use of the Euphrates is the same as Turkey’s concern over Syria’s use of the Orontes. Syria maintains territorial integrity over Orontes waters, that exploitation of her waters is purely the sovereign right of Syria. Turkey argues the same position regarding the Euphrates waters. Naff and Matson indicate that “inverse symmetry” or riparian power balance between positions of states on the Orontes River keeps a relative calm over the issue.
However, the argument over Hatay is part of a complex web of water security issues interlinking Syria, Turkey and Iraq. (103)****
That's as far back as MacQuarrie went in 2004 to outline the conflict between Turkey and Syria, but conflicts in that part of the world about water and arable land are recorded in the Old Testament.
I'm grateful to 'committee of correspondence' member Robt. Willmann at Sic Semper Tyrannis for finding MacQuarrie's thesis, which should be studied cover to cover by everyone tired of stumbling in circles.
Is there nothing, then, that can be done to cut through the Gordian Knot? There's always something that can be done but not by the blind. Not by the blind.