A New Turkish Weapon in the Syrian Crisis

“The loss of home and political status become identical with expulsion from humanity altogether.” Hannah Arendt

During the past nine years of the Syrian war, the conflicting parties have used all available and possible weapons in order to impose their conditions and agendas on the ground or at the negotiating table. The Assad regime and its loyal groups, as well as the Islamist opposition factions, have exerted all possible forms of pressure to terrorize the civilian population in particular and to improve their political and security positions. However, the complexities of the Syrian scene did not stop at that point, as many of the main actors (States) and secondary actors (non-State actors) affiliated with them are still trying to impose their political and security rhythm inside Syria.

One of the recent new pressure strategies in Syria is to use water as an additional weapon in the ongoing Syrian conflict since 2011, whereas the Syrian armed groups loyal to Turkey and take their orders from Turkey have resorted to cutting off drinking water in Hasaka Province (northeastern Syria) several times during the previous months, which threatens the human security of nearly one million inhabitants.

The Syrian-Turkish relations passed through critical stages repeatedly before the Syrian uprising of 2011, and the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers were the driving factor for those tensions between them, as the sources of the two rivers are located in Turkish territories, and Turkey has built many dams on the two rivers within the framework of the Turkish Gap project that reduced the share of Syria and Iraq from the two rivers, but there are bilateral or tripartite agreements between the three countries: Turkey, Syria and Iraq, that organize the sharing of the two rivers’ waters.

Water as a pressure weapon, this time, does not fall within the framework of the traditional use of water and controlling its flow between countries, especially the upstream and downstream countries. Rather, it falls within the framework of Turkish pressure on the Autonomous Administration led by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in the Kurdish region of northern Syria. It is important to refer here to the Syrian armed groups that have cut off the water supply to Hasaka Province, because those armed groups run the water pumping station in Allouk (countryside of Ras Al-Ain). On the other hand, this new Turkish pressure can be considered an extension of the Turkish aggression in October 2019, which at that time led to Turkey and its Syrian mercenaries occupying the Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad areas.

The use of water as a ‘weapon’ in the wake of the armed conflicts constitutes a violation of international humanitarian law and Turkey bears full responsibility because those armed groups that run the water pumping station in Allouk cannot act without the approval or permission of the Turkish officers who supervise and lead them. So, Turkey is obliged to maintain water supplies from the occupied areas under its control to Hasaka and other areas.

The violations in Syria by the Syrian regime, the rebels, and recently Turkey are very clear and do not need further clarification and diagnosis, but the big problem is that the major powers such as the U.S. and Russia and regional powers such as Turkey and Iran in addition to the Assad regime that control the rules of the game in Syria do not allow any interference by international organisations in the Syrian affairs. In this context, it can be recalled that the international community has not been able to intervene in Syria based on the principle of humanitarian intervention or the doctrine of the responsibility to protect due to the UN Security Council’s inability to issue a resolution authorizing international intervention in Syria.




Writer/ Analyst/ Award-winning human rights activist (HRW’s Hellman/ Hammett-prize for Freedom of Expression 2010).

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Mustafa B. Ismail

Mustafa B. Ismail

Writer/ Analyst/ Award-winning human rights activist (HRW’s Hellman/ Hammett-prize for Freedom of Expression 2010).

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