Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 135

Stressing how political and economic policies are interrelated, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said on July 15 that economic goals were as important as political objectives (Anadolu Ajansi, July 15). Nowhere is this more evident and important than Turkey’s multi-billion dollar Guneydogu Anadolu Projesi (Southeastern Anatolia Project, or GAP). GAP has been under development since the late 1960s and is designed to develop the water resources of southeastern Anatolia, home to most of Turkey’s Kurds and historically the nation’s most impoverished region (EDM, March 26).

GAP stretches across more than 28,500 square miles of Gaziantep, Diyarbakir, Sanliurfa, Mardin, Adiyaman, Batman, Kilis, Sirnak, and Suirt provinces (www.gap.gov.tr). Seven projects are located in the Euphrates river basin and six are in the Tigris basin. Given their position on the two rivers upstream from Syria and Iraq, the GAP projects, in particular, the Ilisu dam, have provoked concern in Damascus and Baghdad that the project, when completed, will substantially reduce the rivers’ total volume of downstream flow. According to an official in Iraq’s Water Resources Ministry, when Ilisu is completed in 2011, it will reduce the Tigris River waters by 47 per cent a year, depriving Mosul of about 50 percent of its summer water requirements (Al-Sabah, July 3). Iraq annually requires about 50 billion cubic meters of water, with the Tigris providing 60 percent and the Euphrates the remaining 40 percent.

While the GAP project was originally scheduled for completion in 2010, fiscal constraints have intervened, and the deadline for completion of the scheme has been delayed until 2047. GAP is managed by Turkey’s Devlet Su Isleri Genel Mudurlugu (General Directorate of State Hydraulic Works), which has repeatedly been forced to defend the project against rising environmental concerns, posting Ilisu environmental impact reports on its website (www.dsi.gov.tr). Despite such objections, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s administration is providing $15 billion this year in funding for GAP, which will have the effect of reducing Turkey’s budget surplus before interest payments to 3.5 percent of gross domestic product from a previously forecast 4.2 percent (Bloomberg, July 14).

GAP has an avowed political aim, as Erdogan maintains that GAP’s completion will lead to the creation of four million new jobs, undercutting the regional appeal of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in a region with an unemployment rate twice the national average. Development plans for the region as an integral part of the general campaign against Kurdish terrorism were incorporated into “the Action Plan to Combat Terrorism,” first discussed at the National Security Council (MGK) on December 29, 2005 (Zaman, January 3). The action plan, while incorporating a decision to pursue “total war” against terrorism, also included a package of “unarmed measures” to “reduce interregional differences in development” covering education, health care, sports, migration, and religion, with GAP expansion factoring heavily into efforts to boost employment.

The link between the socioeconomic development of southeastern Anatolia and countering PKK terrorism was explicitly stated by Minister of State and Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek, who observed, “We have spent $300 billion fighting terrorism so far. That is equivalent to 10 GAPs.” If this money had not been spent fighting terrorism, it could have been used for internal development and improving the country’s standard of living (Hurriyet, December 11, 2007).

While record high oil prices have given added urgency to the development of GAP’s hydroelectric potential, a second inflationary force may, in fact, favor the Turkish development. As agricultural prices have soared 15 percent since the beginning of the year, GAP’s potential to irrigate additional land for farm cultivation increases its value to Ankara.

In the area covered by GAP development, extended summer droughts have induced regional farmers to cultivate traditional crops needing little water, including wheat, barley, lentils, sesame and chickpeas. Where irrigation has been introduced in the region, cultivation shifts to cotton, tobacco and other commercial cash crops. At present only 7 percent of the potentially arable land in the GAP region is being irrigated, but when GAP is completed, planners project that the land available for farming in the region will rise to 53 percent (www.gap.gov.tr). Government officials remain optimistic about the project’s imminent completion, with Turkish Employment Organization (ISKUR) General Director Namik Ata telling journalists, “As the financing problem is solved, I believe GAP can be completed in five years” (Zaman, July 16).

The issue of Turkey’s long-term financial stability and growth in the larger context of inflationary pressures roiling the world remains unclear. For the moment at least, the government and analysts remain guardedly optimistic. Despite setbacks caused by inflation and rising energy prices, the Economic Policy Research Foundation (TEPAV) recently reported that Turkey’s budget deficit was 38.4 percent lower in the first five months of 2008 than in the same period of 2007. It cautioned, however, that as debt payments accumulate in the second half of the year; signs of stagnation would appear in the second and third quarters, producing a negative effect on tax revenues (Zaman, July 12).

Despite GAP’s price tag, Ankara increasingly views it as a significant “carrot” in resolving the Kurdish issue, since, as Cicek pointed out, the military “stick” up to now has cost 10 times more. While GAP’s implementation will undoubtedly be a major factor in improving living standards in southeastern Anatolia, much work will remain for Babacan and Turkish diplomats to explain the benefits of the project to downstream neighbors Syria and Iraq.