Drought, Water Management, and the Kurdish Question

Searching for Crumbs in Syria’s Breadbasket
An estimated 50,000 more families have migrated from rural areas this year due to drought. A woman prepared dinner in a tent on the outskirts of Al Raqqa.
By ROBERT F. WORTH
Published: October 13, 2010
Refugees have left their farmlands and are living in tents in Al Raqqa, Syria, because of a drought. Julien Goldstein for The New York Times

AR RAQQAH, Syria — The farmlands spreading north and east of this Euphrates River town were once the breadbasket of the region, a vast expanse of golden wheat fields and bucolic sheep herds.

Now, after four consecutive years of drought, this heartland of the Fertile Crescent — including much of neighboring Iraq — appears to be turning barren, climate scientists say. Ancient irrigation systems have collapsed, underground water sources have run dry and hundreds of villages have been abandoned as farmlands turn to cracked desert and grazing animals die off. Sandstorms have become far more common, and vast tent cities of dispossessed farmers and their families have risen up around the larger towns and cities of Syria and Iraq. ….

Droughts have always taken place here, but “the regional climate is changing in ways that are clearly observable,” said Jeannie Sowers, a professor at the University of New Hampshire who has written on Middle East climate issues. “Whether you call it human-induced climate change or not, much of the region is getting hotter and dryer, combined with more intense, erratic rainfall and flooding in some areas. You will have people migrating as a result, and governments are ill prepared.”

The Syrian government has begun to acknowledge the scale of the problem and has developed a national drought plan, though it has not yet been put in place, analysts say. Poor planning helped create the problem in the first place: Syria spent $15 billion on misguided irrigation projects between 1988 and 2000 with little result, said Elie Elhadj, a Syrian-born author who wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on the topic. Syria continues to grow cotton and wheat in areas that lack sufficient water — making them more vulnerable to drought — because the government views the ability to produce those crops as part of its identity and a bulwark against foreign dependence, analysts say.

Illegal water drills can be seen across Syria and Iraq, and underground water tables are dropping at a rate that is “really frightening,” said Mr. De Schutter, the United Nations expert. There are no reliable nationwide statistics, and some analysts and Western diplomats say they believe the Syrian government is not measuring them.

As in other countries across the Arab world, corruption and failed administration are often to blame. “A lot of powerful people don’t abide by the regulations, and nobody can tame them,” said Nabil Sukkar, a Damascus-based economic analyst. ….

“Syria to consecrate its secularism through series of instructions…”
On October 13, the Palestinian-owned Al-Quds al-Arabi daily carried the following report by Kamel Sakr: “Syrian sources assured that the recent instructions issued in regard to certain religious symbols placed by some on their cars, were not only related to this issue but also affected other and more important facets in the context of the consecration of the secular character of the Syrian state and the separation of religion from the state at the level of many details related to daily and public life. The sources who are directly concerned about this development, revealed to Al-Quds al-Arabi that strict instructions were recently issued by the Syrian Ministry of Endowments affecting several religious behaviors, namely the organization of visits to the mosques and the prevention of gatherings in them.

“They also affected the organization of Ramadan feasts and the practice of religious rituals in worship places solely, banning the presence of prayer locations inside the restaurants and the practice of religious rituals in the workplace. It also prevented the people from wearing any signs pointing to their religious affiliation, regardless of what this affiliation is. The sources assured that this inclination affected the followers of the Islamic and Christian religions, but also all the sects and minorities without any exception, in a practice aiming at consecrating the secular character of the state and at containing religious appearances in their specified locations.

“It is in this context that Minister of Higher Education Ghayath Barakat had issued instructions preventing female students wearing the Niqab from entering the campuses of Syrian universities, corroborating his rejection of this phenomenon, which he was quoted as saying went against the academic values and traditions and the ethics of university campuses…”

Kurds (this relates to the previous post)
– “Damascus and the Kurdish cooperation with Ankara…” (Translation thanks to mideastwire.com)

On October 14, the pro-parliamentary minority daily Al-Akhbar carried the following report: “Turkish steps to solve the Kurdish dilemma. Syria is a major part of this project. President Bashar al-Assad has issued a series of positions in the past days that stirred the interest of the Turks but that also left a number of questions and mysteries…….

“Those who followed the comments of the Turkish journals and agencies about the latest visit of Erdogan to Damascus before it actually took place this past Sunday, noted that the headline of the visit was not the crisis of the Iraqi cabinet, nor was it the preparation for the announcement of the economic union that will bring together Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, but rather a discussion on how ready Syria is to cooperate with Turkey regarding the efforts of Ankara along the front of solving the problem of the Kurdistan Workers Party. And while the positive Syrian, as well as Iraqi cooperation is more than certain…Iran is still far from taking part in this issue.

“What Turkey is asking Iraq for is now known: to limit the freedom of the Kurdish fighters in the regions of the Kurdistan territory, namely in the Kandil Mountains and to sever the Kurdish financing of the “Kurdistan” [Workers party] and to close the Iraqi borders with Turkey and to pledge not to turn the northern Iraqi territory into an independent state and to prevent the continued recruitment of Iraqi fighters by the “Kurdistan” [Workers party].

“As to what the Syrian side is required to do, this is a different [matter]. The estimates indicate that there are around 1,500 Kurdish Syrian fighters in the ranks of the Kurdistan [Workers party] out of 5,000. Any solution that ends with the party giving away its weapons through a peace treaty, must include guarantees to those fighters and to their families whether by issuing a general Syrian pardon or by allowing their families to go live in Turkey with their men.

“The Turkish newspapers understood the statements of Al-Assad on the “need to always open the door for the repentant ones” as an assertion that Damascus is ready to pardon the Kurdish fighters under the condition that Ankara would concomitantly do the same, and based on expanding the democratic rights of the citizens, rather than on the basis of acknowledging an autonomous-rule region for a specific ethnicity.

“Indeed, Erdogan personally alluded to the presence of a crisis revolving around the presence of families of Kurdish fighters in Syria. His statements in this issue were confined to “the need to reach a solution to the problem in cooperation with Syria.” He however did not clarify whether his idea is to allow these families to go to Turkey or to bring back the fighters who have received a pardon back to Syria and to grant them the Syrian nationality.

“The roots of the crisis date back to the early years of the birth of the modern Turkish republic in the 1920s of the past century when thousands of Kurds fled from Mustafa Kemal [Ataturk] to Syria where they failed to obtain the [Syrian] nationality and this issue exploded during the famous population census that took place in Syria in 1962. And according to Husni Mahalli, a Syrian journalist who is an expert in the Kurdish affairs and who lives in Turkey, the number of the Kurds currently living in Syria without identity papers is around 200,000…

“And as Turkey is refusing to even think about the possibility of the establishment of a Kurdish state on its northern borders [in Iraq], Syria also doesn’t want to hear anything about the possibility of the Kurds in Turkey obtaining an autonomous [rule] as this might revive the federal demands of the Kurds in Syria…

“And according to the Kurdish Turkish writer, Ibrahim Goshlo, the fiercest element in the “Kurdistan” [Workers party] is constituted by the Syrians as these are the organizers of the bloodiest military operations. He also indicates that the Syrian elements of the “Kurdistan” [Workers party] are worried that their Kurdish companions are ready to offer compromises at the ongoing dialogue with the Turkish authorities and it is in the [Syrian Kurds’] interest to hinder that.

“He expressed his belief that any pardon decision will reshuffle the cards within the “Kurdistan” [Workers party], while stressing that even if Syria does issue a pardon, it will not be limited to the Kurds, because [Syria] does not admit that it has a nationalistic crisis. Al-Assad had made its clearest position on the Kurdish issue this past July during an interview with the “Today Zaman” newspaper where he said that his country “is ready to receive 1,500 Syrian fighters in the “Kurdistan” [Workers party] rows.” He also encouraged Turkey [to carry out] its Kurdish efforts so that the “Kurdistan” [Workers party] would turn into a political party.” – Al-Akhbar Lebanon, Lebanon
Click here for source

Israel Lobby Lends Support to Greece
By Jonathan Broder, CQ Staff
CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS – FOREIGN POLICY
Oct. 12, 2010 – 5:21 a.m.

American Jewish groups that make up the pro-Israel lobby are putting their muscle behind Greek-American causes on Capitol Hill, angering Turkey but reflecting new strategic shifts in the eastern Mediterranean.

Greece, once a sharp critic of Israel and an outspoken supporter of the Palestinians, has drawn much closer to Israel this year, signing agreements that have deepened their political, economic and military ties. The rapprochement between Athens and Jerusalem follows growing tensions between Israel and Turkey, which spilled over after a May 31 Israeli commando raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla that left nine Turks dead.

The alliance between pro-Israel and pro-Greek groups comes amid growing anger with Turkey on Capitol Hill, where many lawmakers support Israel and criticize Turkey, a NATO ally, for voting against new sanctions on Iran at the United Nations in June.

In an initial show of force, the two ethnic lobbies helped push House passage of a resolution calling for the protection of Greek Orthodox religious sites in the Turkish-occupied areas of Cyprus. Turkey’s 1974 invasion and occupation of northern Cyprus has long been a major issue for Greek-American groups, but the Israel lobby had not spoken out on the issue until now because of its earlier strategic alliance with Turkey.

“With Turkey becoming increasingly antagonistic to the rule of law and moving eastward, it behooves both Greece and Israel to bond together and forge a strategic relationship that strengthens the security of each nation,” Florida Republican Gus Bilirakis told a Washington audience last week. Bilirakis chairs the Congressional Hellenic Caucus, a group of lawmakers who support Greece and its allies.

Christian Sci Mn: Oil company helps make Syrian roads safer
2010-10-14

Damascus, Syria • A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent. An unusual provider is helping to improve driving conditions and road safety in Syria. Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil company, gives lessons to bus drivers and road-safety … 29th highest in world in road fatalities.

Comments (1)


1. Mick said:

So Robert Worth thinks the drought is all the fault of Arab mismanagement.

I guess it so widespread in the Arab world it even covers the Amazon river basin.

Amazon drought emergency widens

http://english.aljazeera.net/news/americas/2010/10/2010101704539981971.html

Or Western US

Lake Mead’s Water Level Plunges as 11-Year Drought Lingers

http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2010/08/12/12greenwire-lake-meads-water-level-plunges-as-11-year-drou-29594.html

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October 17th, 2010, 10:49 am

 

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