Another Year Fighting Against Ilisu Dam

A Year Review of the Save the Tigris Campaign

Johanna Rivera, 16 January 2014

For the last year, the Save the Tigris Campaign has been actively working to raise awareness about the negative impacts of Ilisu dam, one of 22 dams built in Turkey on the Tigris River. The campaign gathers organizations form Turkey, Iraq and internationally to raise awareness about the negative impact of the Ilisu dam, the biggest to be built on the Tigris River and that will have disastrous cultural, socio-economic, and environmental impacts on the population of Iraq and Turkey.

The campaign has released various statements to Andritz, the turbine manufacturer, on the devastating impact of the dam on Iraqi water resources, and to the Iraqi Government, Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to bring the issue of transboundary water as an urgent foreign policy matter. The urgency of this campaign is shown by the deterioration of the water quality in Iraq and the risk of disappearance of the Iraqi marshes, an important wetland in the Middle East. The Iraqi marshes have important cultural, natural and economic value to the communities that it surrounds. The dam issue is both a geo-political and a natural resources issue, as Iraqis feel that this dam could give Turkey control over much of Iraq’s water and that Turkey could use it as a political tool whenever it wants to get something from Iraq. Iraq depends on the water of the Tigris for much of its water needs; the construction of this dam will reduce significantly the water available in Iraq. The problem cannot be reduced to this one dam. The real problem is that there is no transboundary water agreement between the riparian countries that guarantees reasonable and equitable access to water to Iraq.

In 2013, the campaign has coordinated local and international activists to raise awareness inside and outside of Iraq of the dangers of Ilisu. Iraqis have advances their efforts to join their voice to the global movement to protect rivers and people who depend on them. In this respect, the Save the Tigris campaign participated in the World Social Forum in Tunis. In a coalition of organizations we organized a session on water grabs and global solidarity. In that session, we gathered activists and local community organizers from Mexico, Peru, India and Europe working against water privatization, mining construction in indigenous communities land and dams that displace people and damage river ecosystems. We shared experiences, strategies and lessons learned from all the movements. During May,  the campaign organized a seminar In Jordan in cooperation with Iraqi scholars and water experts that made recommendations on how to work with the transboundary water issue at the national and international level. In April and May, members of the campaign visited the Ilisu dam site Turkey, and Hasankeyf, one of the many communities that will be displaced by the dam construction.

During June, the campaign organized awareness seminars in Iraq’s south provinces of Basra, Missan, Thiqar (Nasriyah) and Diwaniyah, with the collaboration of Iraqi and international activists. The seminars were organized by local activists, and invited youth groups, community leaders from the Iraqi Marshes, academics, members of the local government and local and national media. These seminars emphasized the urgency of the submission of the file of the Iraqi Marshes to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. All these efforts gained support of youth and local activists and were building up to the campaign’s session on Iraqi Social Forum (ISF) organized in Baghdad in September 2013. The Baghdad session brought Iraqi lawyers together international activists from Egypt, Palestine, Turkey and US to discuss legal aspects of Ilisu and legal strategies available in Iraq Iraqi lawyers together with international activists and water experts to protect the Tigris River.

The campaign has been actively working with legal and water experts to develop a legal framework that includes both a diplomatic as well as an international law perspective to solve the water issue, a perspective that could give Iraq the leverage to negotiate with Turkey a transboundary water agreement that will guarantee equal shares of the Tigris River. Mobilization has begun after the ISF; a statement from the Iraqi Jurist Union, demanding the government to actively engage with the water issue and with Turkey. In addition, one of Iraq’s most prominent religious leader demanded Iraq to take Turkey to the UN for arbitration on the water issue if the two states were not able to come to a solution on their own.

This is just the start, and in the beginning I saw no big progress, but as I look back into these years I can see that things are moving, I can see that people are mobilizing. These are big issues that we are dealing with, and I have learned to see each achievement as a small victory in a long journey towards democracy. It didn’t take the west 10 years to achieve the improvements in human rights and democracy that we can see today, and it is easy to take for granted the work that others did to have the freedoms that we have. The same is true for Iraq and Kurdistan. It will probably take one or two more generations, but we have started. And we are moving steadily!

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#Save the Tigris
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