Dams tame wild rivers, they prevent floods, irrigate crops and generate billions of watts of renewable hydroelectric power. But some 25 miles from Raqaa, Syria the Daesh (aka ISIS) don’t see the Tabqa dam as a source of green energy. They see it as a military base, a prison and weapon of war.The Tabqa dam is also known as the al-Thawra dam, in Arabic سد الثورة, meaning dam of the revolution. It was designed to control the flow of the Euphrates river into Iraq and Syria, produce hydroelectric power and irrigate land alongside of the river. Twelve thousand Syrians worked on the dam with financial and engineering support from he Soviet Union. It was completed in 1973. At 200 foot high and nearly three-miles long, it is the largest dam in Syria.
Its construction created lake Assad, the largest reservoir in Syria and hydroelectric turbines eventually allowed it to generate hundreds of Megawatts of electricity for Eastern Syria.
But the Tabqa dam’s construction was not without controversy. A number of antiquities had to be quickly found and relocated. Four thousand Arab families were relocated from the flooded Euphrates valley. The families were resettled into a zone where they were to provide a barrier between the Kurds of Turkey and the Kurds of Iraq. A drought shortly after the dams construction reduced the flow of the Euphrates into Iraq by 1/3rd. Syria argued that dams upstream in Turkey also limited the flow into Syria. At one point Iraq threatened to bomb the dam but the Soviet Union and Saudi helped mediate a water sharing agreement.
To the Daesh, dams are weapons. When they held the Mosel dam, they threatened to drown more than half a million people in Mosel and Baghdad. The Tabqa dam is a shield for their headquarters and a place to keep prisoners of war. By controlling this dam, they also threaten tens of thousands of lives downstream in Iraq. The war between the Daesh and the Syrian government has also caused severe mismanagement and caused the level of lake Assad to drop a record 6 meters.
This is by no means the first time dams have been used as tools of war. In the seventh century B.C.E., queen Semiramis of Assyria wrote that, “I compelled rivers to run where I wanted, and I wanted them to run where it was advantageous.” Semiramis, a Roman commander and manager of aqueducts, diverted the Euphrates river so her troops could march up the Euphrates river straight into Babylon. The same technique was said to have been used by Alexander the great.
While some try to turn swords into plowshares and create a better world, ISIS is weaponizing green technology. But more than sixty nations are working to end this cult of violence and help the good people of Syria take their country back.
Photo of Tabqa dam via Wikipedia by Mohamed7799