Water: source of life and conflict in the Land of Rivers

(by Joris Leverink, via ROARMag)

Iraq: Kurmashia Marsh: February 18, 2004: A Marsh Arab poles his canoe through Kirmashiya Marsh in southern Iraq.
Iraq: Kurmashia Marsh: February 18, 2004: A Marsh Arab poles his canoe through Kirmashiya Marsh in southern Iraq.

Where oil is widely considered to be one of the main causes for the region’s instability — mainly because it drew imperialist powers to the region that eagerly supported local dictators to ensure continued and unlimited access to the precious liquid — another potential source of conflict is often overlooked. Water, the first and foremost source of life in the barren desert regions of the Middle East, which allowed for the world’s first civilizations to develop on the fertile floodplains between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, is becoming ever more scarce, and the struggles to safeguard a fair share are growing fiercer by the day. […]

On several occasions over the past decades local development projects on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers have brought the three neighboring states Turkey, Syria and Iraq to the brink of war. When in 1990 Turkey blocked the flow of the Euphrates for nine days to fill the reservoir of the Atatürk dam, Iraq massed troops on its border and threatened to bomb the dam. Nowadays, tensions remain high as yet another Turkish mega-dam is about to be completed — the Ilisu dam on the Tigris river — which will severely reduce the water flow to Iraq and destroy thousands of years of cultural and historical heritage at home. […]

Topping the list of concerns of many local and international campaigns against the construction of the Ilisu dam is the fate of the town of Hasankeyf. The town and its surroundings are home to numerous archaeological sites — some of which remain unexplored — that date back more than 12,000 years. The ruins of an 11th century bridge mark the spot where the Silk Road once crossed the river Tigris and the thousands of human-made caves that dot the mountains bare witness to the unique culture of the region. All of this is set to disappear below the surface of the water once the inundation of the dam reservoir begins.

Immediately after the announcement of the project in 1997, a social movement emerged. Civil society groups, local professionals and international NGOs joined forces to oppose the project and raise awareness about the potential destruction of the natural environment, the cultural heritage and the displacement of up to 78,000 people from their homes in and around Hasankeyf.

A successful international campaign temporarily halted the project in 2009, when a number of European financiers withdrew their support after it was exposed that Turkey failed to meet the international standards of dam-building set by the World Bank to protect the environment, affected people, riparian states and cultural heritage. However, after Turkey turned to its national banks to provide the necessary funding, the project is now back on track and is set for completion this year. […]

The Ilisu dam is part of the giant Southeast Anatolia Regional Development Project (GAP, after its Turkish acronym) which was launched in 1977 and aims to built a total of 22 dams and 19 hydroelectric power plants by 2015, covering nine provinces in southeastern Turkey. The GAP project is presented by the government as bringing development to the traditionally impoverished and underdeveloped regions where poor living standards have caused the local Kurds to rise up against the central state for many decades.

For years, the Turkish central government, led by the former prime minister and current president Erdogan, has claimed that there is no such thing as a “Kurdish problem”, denying the fact that the country’s Kurdish population has been discriminated against on the basis of its ethnic background, and arguing that the Kurds’ hardships stem from the underdevelopment of their traditional homelands in southeastern Turkey. […]

The finished GAP project will reduce water flows to Syria by 40 percent, and to Iraq by a shocking 80 percent. This, in combination with the severe droughts that have hit the region over the past few years, the ongoing conflict between the Iraqi state and it allies and the militants of the so-called Islamic State, and the millions of (internally) displaced people in the region, has the potential to unleash an environmental and humanitarian catastrophe that could cause a serious food security problem, destabilizing the region for years to come. […]

From the Marsh Arabs in southern Iraq to the Kurds in Turkey, the struggle for equal access to the Earth’s resources is connected across ethnic, religious and national boundaries. As such, it provides a unique opportunity to raise awareness about the interdependence of the region’s communities, forging bonds that transcend the interests of central governments and international powers.

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Read the full article at ROARMag: http://roarmag.org/2015/08/water-conflict-turkey-middle-east/

 

Raising Hope Across the Borders: Transnational Social Movements and Power

Q: Gerardo, when you said “raise peoples’ hopes,” what did you mean by that?

I meant to really believe that transformation is possible. We are in a very tight spot – we’re screwed, you could say. There’s a great deal of poverty, a lot of exclusion, a lot of violence, a lot of injustice in our countries. Working people and our natural resources are being terribly exploited. We’re up against a huge monster, an economic, political machine of monstrous proportions. It would be very easy for us to lose hope, to lose heart, to just give up the struggle entirely and say “To hell with it. There’s no way we can overcome these massive forces, so let’s just go about our lives and forget about it.”

But we know that if we’re here today, it’s because our grandparents, our ancestors, didn’t give up the fight. They raised our hopes.

And we know that, sooner or later, things will start to change. Not just for us, but for humanity as a whole. This system that we all live in may continue to dominate us for a couple more centuries – who knows how long – but we believe in the transformative power that humans possess. Things weren’t always how they are today and things won’t always be this way in the future. Things change, they transform. Empires are born and they eventually die. Political and economic systems eventually fade away.

For now, we’re the ones in the thick of it. But then it will be up to our children, including those who aren’t born yet, to continue in the struggle. And if we don’t raise their hopes, give them hope, then what will happen in the future? Are we all just going to give up this struggle? No, we have to keep fighting, even if we aren’t the ones who are able to see the dawn break through the darkness. Economic systems take a lot longer to be transformed [than our lifespans]. It might be our children’s children who see it come about – who knows? But it will happen. We have to keep struggling and wait.

Q: But the powers that be, like the United States, are enormous. Why do you believe that people with no money, without institutionalized power of any sort, can change all of this?

First, like any other empire, the US is going to disappear because that’s just how history works. Sooner or later, all of the contradictions that exist in this economic-political system will cause it to fall. In the past, there were enormous empires that looked like they would last for all eternity. And all of them – all of them, with no exceptions – were transformed. Their economic and political foundations were transformed, their demographics were transformed. It’s just a matter of time.

A sector of people in the US are dyed-in-the-wool imperialists and capitalists, yes. But there is also a huge group of people there who are humanitarians, who are generous, good people, and full of love. You, for instance: you are from the US, and you are a person who has a different way of living, of thinking and feeling. The system wasn’t strong enough to overtake you. I’m sure there are many others in the US who are critical thinkers, who understand that there’s something wrong with the state of things in our world.

People in the US are victims of that same system that’s oppressing us here. It’s just that the way it oppresses us is different. I feel even more compassion for the people living in the US, because they’re even worse off than we are. They don’t have a lot of things that we have here, like our sense of community and our ancestral culture. We have a lot of things that they’ve already forgotten.

And it hurts me to see all those people working ridiculous hours to pay their grocery bills, to pay their rent. They don’t have access to good education, and they don’t have health insurance, if they get sick they don’t have access to health care, or they have to sell their house and lose all their savings and lose their dignity. And they want to tell me that this is the best possible system on earth?

So-called powerless people have the ability to make our bodies visible, so others will see what we stand for. I say so-called because all of us have power. If we decide to take over a highway in protest, for instance, we have the power of our speech.

We have achieved a lot. Working from the bottom up, the poor of this earth have brought about great change. And they didn’t have money, they didn’t have machinery or property or finances, and so on.

The powerless of the world have always been the ones to change it. The powerful of the world don’t change a single thing.

The [economic] system we’re living in right now has only been around for 300 or 400 years, whereas our species has been around for longer than 300,000 years. So we shouldn’t believe that this tiny 300-year stint we’re living in right now represents what humanity is really all about, that it represents our future. That’s a way of thinking that lacks historical perspective. We have to look behind us and ahead of us to not lose hope, to not lose perspective. And that’s the perspective we’re creating our movement from.

Excerpt from an interview with Gerardo Cerdas, a coordinator of the Latin American- and Caribbean-wide social movement Grito de los Excluidos (“Cry of the Excluded”) … You can read the full interview at Truthout.org here: Raising Hope Across the Borders: Transnational Social Movements and Power

Of Landlords and Counterinsurgency

Via NACLA:

[…] the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee’s congressional hearing “Has Merida Evolved? Part One: The Evolution of Drug Cartels and the Threat to Mexico’s Governance.” The opening statement by Connie Mack (R-FL) reads like a call to military action against a “well funded criminal insurgency raging along our southern border, threatening the lives of U.S. citizens and harming the U.S. economy by undermining legal business,” such as, of course, real estate in Nogales. “It is time that our determination to eradicate the cartels matches the cartels’ determination to undermine the freedom, security, and prosperity of the United States, Mexico, and the entire hemisphere,” Mack writes. According to Mack, U.S. drug war efforts, in the form of the $1.5 billion counter-drug package called the Merida Initiative, are not succeeding and are like, “showing up to a burning house, late, with a half assembled hose is a waste of time and tax payer dollars.”

Connie MackMack does not share the analysis of other Merida Initiative critics who say that the demand for drugs needs to be reduced, or that trade agreements that provoke poverty need to be renegotiated or revoked, because they help the illicit drug industry flourish.

Instead, Mack concurs with McCaffrey and insists that the United States has to develop a counterinsurgency strategy that includes doubling Border Patrol agents, “fully funding needed border protection equipment such as additional unmanned aerial vehicles and the completion of double layered security fencing in urban, hard to enforce areas of the border.” Don’t worry, there is also an educational part of the plan, a “culture of lawfulness program” that will insure that local populations “support the government, the rule of law, over the cartels.”

When the State Department responded to Mack’s statements saying that the Merida Initiative was working just fine, Mack accused them of “not closely tracking threat of Mexican drug cartels.” In the September 16 response, Mack even refers to the testimony of Dr. Gary M. Shiffman, managing director of the Chertoff Group, who identified  “drug cartels as businesses that must utilize political manipulation to ensure profit: this is an insurgency.” What Mack doesn’t mention is that the for-profit Chertoff Group has a vested interest in the homeland security market, and a counterinsurgency effort would be profitable for them and other like-minded businesses. While local landlords might feel the economic fist of the border reality, other bigger fish are poised to profit from it.

As always, this proposed increased militarization would more likely impact unauthorized migrants crossing into the United States than drug traffickers, or “narco-terrorism,” as McCaffrey puts it, and make them go to greater lengths to evade the border enforcement apparatus.

Though used for other reasons, the very existence of the Nogales tunnels are also a good indication of the many creative and resourceful ideas people have to get past the boundary, regardless of the U.S. anti-drug, counterinsurgency, or immigration deterrence plan. As scholar David Spener says in his ground-breaking book Clandestine Crossings,”Every obstacle placed thus far in their path . . . has been probed, evaluated, and ultimately evaded or overcome by millions of migrants whose principal ‘weapons’ in their struggle against their involuntary territorial confinement are their collective inventiveness, persistence, and traditions of mutual aid in the face of adversity.”

In terms of drugs, considering that most illicit narcotics come through the official ports of entry, and major U.S. banks in the United States launder drug money, there surely is a better answer than counterinsurgency.

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Read the full article at: http://nacla.org/blog/2011/9/28/landlords-and-counterinsurgency