Skip to main content

Middle East

Turkey’s water war on the Kurds 

The Ilisu dam, on the Tigris in southeast Turkey. Burak Kara/Getty Images

“Thirsting and starving enemy populations in order to annihilate them” is as old as war itself, says Patrice Franceschi in Le Figaro. But it isn’t just history. Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is using this “terrifying and forgotten weapon” to wage a war of attrition against the Kurds. The Turkish mountains are the “water tower” of the surrounding region – they’re where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers begin before they “irrigate Syria and Iraq”. Via a series of dams, Turkey has been gradually closing the taps on the rivers for months. It has also halved the flow of the freshwater pumping stations it seized on Syrian territory in October 2019.

Now there’s a terrible “artificial drought” on the arable plains where the Kurds live. Food prices are rising, society is fracturing and the “sinister” Turkish secret services are stoking the situation to “pit the people against their leaders”. No country is putting pressure on Erdogan to stop attacking civilians in this way. If the Kurdish regions of Iraq and Syria fall into chaos, then the Islamist terrorist movements they contain will flourish. We’ve already abandoned the Kurds once – in 2019, when the “foolish and incomprehensible” Donald Trump pulled American troops out of Syria. We can’t do so again.