The village of Hasankeyf located in the province of Batman in Southeast Turkey is the only place in the world that gathers nine of the ten criteria to be considered worldwide heritage by the UNESCO. However the Turkish government has accomplished no efforts these last years to offer its inclusion to the organization or to promote tourism in the region. The key reason in this lack of initiative is that the efforts hired by the state would harm his dam project that is supposed to entirely flood Hasankeyf along with 52 other villages and 15 small towns by 2016.

This hydroelectric dam is part of the GAP (The Anatolia Project of southeast Turkey), which is presently the most important territory planning project in Turkey: it concerns eight provinces and will irrigate 1,7 million dry hectares of earth from 22 dams fed by waters of the Tigris and the Euphrates.

To these environmental and social risks, political risks have also been added. The dam was severely criticized in effect by the neighboring countries of Iraq and Syria who accuse Turkey of appropriating waters of two rivers running to the south of their territories, hit by dryness. In the absence of definite agreement with Iraq and Syria, the building of this dam constitutes a violation of international law.

There are one-thing Islamic State militants and the Iraqi government they’re besieging agree on: Turkey is using more than its fair share of water.

Water levels on the Euphrates River that flows 2,700 kilometers (1,700 miles) from eastern Turkey through Syria and Iraq past ancient Mesopotamian lands have fallen more than half this year, withering farmers’ crops and raising the risk of a wider regional conflict, Iraqi officials say.

Iraq and Islamic State say Turkey needs to release more water from its dams to replenish the river in the former Fertile Crescent area where drought-like conditions endanger millions. The situation has grown even more acute for Iraq after Islamic State, whose holdings fall within the watershed, used a dam captured in Ramadi in June to cut off water to government areas. 

Turkey, for its part, says it has to look after its own and is investing $35.5 billion in dam and irrigation works to ensure reliable water supplies.

“Turkey’s desire to withdraw yet more water runs the risk of plunging the region into greater turmoil,” said Adel Darwish, co-author of Water Wars: Coming Conflicts in the Middle East. “Turkey believes it can act with impunity while other countries are busy fighting Islamic State.”

They’re not the only ones facing international water issues. About 261 trans boundary basins support 40 percent of the world’s population. The United Nations says the number affected by water scarcity due to climate change may more than double to 1.8 billion by 2025.

A NASA study of the Tigris-Euphrates river basins showed stored freshwater reserves about equal to that in the Dead Sea was lost over seven years through 2009.

“Water levels are at a record low” because Turkey is taking more than a fair share, Shorooq al-Abayachi, deputy head of the Iraqi parliament’s agriculture and water committee, said.

Islamic State agrees. Water shortages are the “biggest challenge” it faces, it said in a May video. The group accused Turkey last August of reducing supplies to exert control, a charge Turkish authorities deny.

The result may be a vicious circle where water shortages exacerbate the conflict, in turn blunting resource management.

Conflicts over water have long haunted the Middle East. Yet in the current fighting in Iraq and Syria, the major dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are seen not just as strategic targets but also as powerful weapons of war.

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