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Protecting the Mesopotamian Marshes from the Ilisu Dam

As noted in a media statement, “The international coalition of the ‘Save the Tigris and the Iraqi Marshes Campaign’ welcomes the achievement accomplished by the national Iraqi team for the nomination of the Iraqi marshes to the World Heritage Committee…”

Photo: Mesopotamian Marshes in Iraq. Photo from Green Diary.
Photo: Mesopotamian Marshes in Iraq. Photo from Green Diary.

The marshes located in the southern parts of Iraq (Mesopotamia) are the largest wetlands in the Middle East and are the homeland of the Marshlands Arabs, whose culture and civilization dates back more than five thousand years. If the marshes were to be recognized as a World Heritage site, it would also help the campaign against the destructive impacts of dams like the Ilisu Dam in the Euphrates and Tigris River 

The media statement adds, “In March 2012, the Save the Tigris and the Iraqi Marshes Campaign launched a petition to the World Heritage Committee, urging the Committee to assess the impacts of the construction of ‘Ilisu’ dam on the potential world heritage sites in Mesopotamia, and to press the riparian countries not to take any action that can cause any damage, to potential world heritage sites, as in Hasankeyf, Turkey and the marshes in the south of Iraq.”

On April 25, 2012, Blue Planet Project founder Maude Barlow signed the petition urging the protection of the cultural and natural heritage of Mesopotamia endangered by the Ilisu Dam. The dam would impact on the right to water for thousands of people and lead to the destruction of an area with ten thousand years of world heritage.

In her new book Blue Future, she writes, “The United Nations is particularly concerned about the Ilisu Dam on the Tigris River, which will force the resettlement of up to seventy thousand people. There is no plan in place for them, something the UN calls ‘utterly disturbing’, and the dam will ‘severely’ restrict the water supply in Iraq, Turkey’s downstream neighbour. This violates Turkey’s ‘extraterritorial obligations to respect the right to water of the farmers and other residents in Iraq depending on the Tigris River.”

She adds, “The ancient Mesopotamian Marshes were drained during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s to give the Iraqis a tactical advantage. Saddam Hussein drained them further during the 1990s in retribution against Shias who hid there and against the Marsh Arabs (Ma’dan) who protected them. …Still, by the mid-2000s the marshes had been greatly rejuvenated, and many of the Ma’dan were returning… While Turkey claims that the massive dam expansion is for hydroelectric power, the waters of the Mesopotamian Marshes are again being used as a weapon. American journalist Jay Cassano says that the real reason for the dams is to flood the canyons where the Kurdistan Workers’ Party mobilizes near the mountainous Iraq-Turkey border.”

At the World Social Forum in Tunisia in March 2013, the Blue Planet Project helped to organize a ‘Global Solidarity Against Water Grabs Through Dam Projects and Mining’ workshop which featured speakers from Kurdistan and Iraq speaking against the Ilisu Dam.

Further reading
ACTION ALERT: Protect Mesopotamia from the Ilisu Dam
Blue Planet Project at workshop on dams and mines
Water justice at the 5th World Water Forum
‘Damocracy’ opposes Ilisu and Belo Monte dams