Hydropolitical analysis of the diversion of Tigris water into Turkiye with the construction of "Ilisu" dam

Document Type : Research Paper


Department of Human Geography, Faculty of Earth Sciences, Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran, Iran



Water has been in the spotlight for a long time, and water supply has fueled a range of power relations between those who have and those who need water. Supply of water, energy and food are the most fundamental identifiers of the 21st century. Therefore, based on such identifiers, the 21st century should be defined as the century of water diplomacy. In the future, regions of the world will have strategic value that have large and stable water resources. The World Bank warned in 1995 that the wars of the 21st century will be water-based wars. Therefore, the conflict between the scarcity of fresh water and the demand to obtain it has caused conflict between the actors. In the Middle East, the most controversial of these conflicts is over the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which Turkey is trying to enclose. Downstream countries are experiencing a new dimension of geopolitical conflicts. Using library resources, this research answers the question of "what geopolitical results will be the use of the Ilisu Dam and the control of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers by Turkey in the downstream countries". The research method in this study is a combination of descriptive-analytical and historical methods. In contrast to the downstream countries, i.e. Syria, Iraq, and Iran, a four-way cooperation should be established around these resources in order to provide water resources and prevent problems such as drought, fine dust, land subsidence, and the like. In international practice, water containment is unacceptable. There is also a need to create a strategic alliance between the mentioned countries so that they can finally solve their needs by using water diplomacy. Turkey's hydropolitical strategy has now formed the center of the country's foreign policy, and the politicians of this country are aware that now hydropolitics increases the power of this country in various geopolitical dimensions. Today, water is the source of power, wealth and geopolitical prestige of countries. Turkey's policy is to take advantage of all opportunities to impose its hydropolitical domination on the downstream countries. In its geostrategic equations, this country intends to define its role as a hydro-hegemon, and it has made an eloquent effort in this direction. The crisis of insecurity caused by ISIS also caused the countries of Syria and Iraq to pay attention to the control of the country and the effort to create security, which is the basic priority of statehood, instead of undertaking blue diplomacy. On the other hand, lack of water has not been unaffected in the occurrence of internal unrest in these countries. Therefore, Turkey has used these conditions to become hydro-hegemonic, and in the current situation, it can use hydropolitics as its powerful weapon. In practice, this country intends to replace water with oil and gas and introduce itself as the water heartland and the strategic heartland of the Middle East. It is worth noting that any agreements and negotiations that take place have a weak possibility of significantly changing Turkey's water conditions as a strategic privilege. The negative consequences of the closure of Tigris and Euphrates water inevitably affect Iran as well. The change of Shat al-Arab watershed (Arvand River), migration, lack of water in wetlands and the increase of fine dust in the region, water salinity, many agricultural problems and the like have caused many problems at the local and national level in Iran and will increase in the coming years. The ecosystem status of the Tigris and Euphrates water basins will change in the future, and this will cause public dissatisfaction within the countries, as well as differences and conflicts at the local and regional levels. The exploitation of Iliso dam will also have a direct effect on increasing these problems. These issues have a direct impact on geopolitics. Therefore, they reduce the status, weight and geopolitical influence of the countries downstream of Turkey. Therefore, due to the fact that Turkey can control the incoming water of the Tigris and Euphrates, the geopolitical dependence of Syria and Iraq on Turkey has increased. As a result, according to the current hydropolitical conditions of the region, the countries of Iraq, Syria and Iran have become geopolitically dependent on Turkey. In such a situation, Turkey can use its geopolitical advantages to exert power and use water resources as leverage against the aforementioned countries to achieve its political and strategic goals. It seems that the Turkish government will remain as Mir Abi, who holds the vital rights of the southern and eastern lands and will become a rich country with strategic leverage in the future. Also, due to the increasing decrease of water resources in Syria and Iraq, in case of lack of rainfall, the possibility of increasing conflicts and even war based on hydropolitics and of a direct type between these countries is not far from expected. In case of such a conflict and conflict, Iran should be able to take steps to cooperate with Syria and Iraq, without creating tension, in addition to maintaining its security in the western borders. Iran must know that it is inevitably located on the downstream side of Turkey and its future is linked with Iraq and Syria. Considering that the teachings of international law scholars support the doctrine of limited territorial sovereignty and today this principle is one of the rules of customary international law, the best approach for the management of Tigris and Euphrates water is this principle. It seems that according to Turkey's approach, the only way to deal with this country's arrogance is to put pressure on this country to see itself in regional geopolitical isolation and to consider diplomacy and interaction as the way out of this situation. This research suggests that Iran, enters into water diplomacy and cooperates with other countries in its interests. Also, cooperation between countries is necessary to produce new water resources. Cooperation should be formed beyond the issue of water and by expanding to other subject areas, it should create interdependence and interweaving between the economy, politics and culture of countries.


Main Subjects

Articles in Press, Accepted Manuscript
Available Online from 21 April 2024
  • Receive Date: 30 September 2023
  • Revise Date: 16 April 2024
  • Accept Date: 21 April 2024