Originally published: https://ekurd.net/ataturk-dam-ethnic-conflict-2023-02-19

19 February 2023 | Shakhawan Shorash

The earthquake in the northern and western parts of Kurdistan, Turkey, and Syria on February 6, 2023, caused enormous economic and human destruction to the affected areas. The people of the affected regions are shaken, and the criticism and suspicions are growing.

There are two points I will focus on in this article: first, the nature of the earthquake and the impact of the Ataturk Dam in this context according to some experts, and second, the Kurdish question and the Turkish ethnic cleansing policy as relates to the earthquake.

First, as geophysicist Lisa Wald, a spokesperson for the U.S. Geological Survey said, that the area around the Feb. 6 earthquake is “a very seismically active area, since it is in the region of the plate boundaries of three different tectonic plates.” The quake was caused “by the plates moving slowly and their edges getting locked for a long time, and then the forces finally overcoming the friction and the plate edges suddenly slipping.”

In a paper prepared for the World Commission on Dams, Dr. V. P Jauhari wrote the following about this phenomenon, known as Reservoir-Induced Seismicity (RIS): “The most widely accepted explanation of how dams cause earthquakes is related to the extra water pressure created in the micro-cracks and fissures in the ground under and near a reservoir. When the pressure of the water in the rocks increases, it acts to lubricate faults which are already under tectonic strain, but are prevented from slipping by the friction of the rock surfaces.”

Another scholar on this topic, Harsh K. Gupta, summarized his findings on RIS worldwide in 2002: 1. Depth of the reservoir is the most important factor, but the volume of water also plays a significant role in triggering earthquakes. 2. RIS can be immediately noticed during filling periods of reservoirs. 3. RIS can happen immediately after the filling of a reservoir or after a certain time lag. There are over 100 identified cases of earthquakes that scientists believe were triggered by reservoirs.

According to research reported by geologists and experts, the construction of a dam and the resulting collection of a large amount of water can affect the tectonic plates underlying it and lead to earthquakes. For example, the 2008 Sichuan earthquake in China, with a magnitude of 7.9, killed about 80,000 people and has been linked by some geologists to the construction of the Zipingpu Dam.

The second point is the long-term Turkish-Kurdish conflict in Turkey and the Turkish policy of ethnic cleansing, which includes changing the identity and demography, relocating, and mass killing of Kurds. Turkish leaders, beginning with Mustafa Kamal Ataturk in 1923, have followed this policy while refusing to recognize the Kurdish issue in Turkey. The Güneydoğu Anadolu Project (GAP), to consist of 22 dams in a huge area in Kurdish territory (Southeast Turkey), has to date destroyed hundreds of villages and old cities in the region, such as Hasankeyf city in the Batman Province. The GAP project has been seen as a tool to implement the ethnic cleansing policy designed to destroy the Kurds, along with their culture and heritage. The large Ataturk Dam was named after the first Turkish leader, who killed tens of thousands of Kurds, prohibited all their ethnic values, and registered them as Turks.

The construction of dams, of course, can be accompanied by a set of admirable aims, such as the production of electricity and the improvement of agriculture production. But in this case, an important aim is to control the amount and direction of water flow, which directly affects water availability in Iraq and Syria and can be used as a political weapon for Turkey‘s nationalist interests.

Knowing that the Ataturk Dam can collect about 45 billion cubic meters of water and hold them in a place known for its microplates (tiny tectonic plates) and then looking at the earthquake and its strong aftershocks, we can see a similarity with the earthquake in China’s Sichuan region. The earthquake in Türkiye is unusual due to its 7.4 and 7.8 magnitudes, as previously recorded earthquakes in the area had reached only a magnitude of 6. This may be evidence that the huge amount of water in the dam triggered and impacted the earthquake. If this can be confirmed, then the factors behind the earthquake are not completely natural. What was the impact of the Ataturk Dam on this powerful earthquake? Experts can and will certainly talk more about this, but we can compare the two cases based on the information.

While the Turkish extreme nationalist leaders may have only thought of removing the Kurds in the regions and the strategic use of water in the future against neighboring countries as GAP project goals, they probably did not expect that such a large earthquake would result. However, the consequences of this massive earthquake—50,000 victims or more, many of whom were Kurdish—fall under the shadow of the objectives of the ethnic cleansing strategy. For example, the disappearance of tens of thousands of Kurdish community members, the destruction of their homes, and having to move, perhaps non-voluntarily, to other parts of Turkey are all “gifts” from the government’s racist ethnic cleansing policy. Thus, the government’s desired outcomes have been achieved via the earthquake.

This harsh interpretation is not surprising if we look back at the earthquake of Van city in 2011, which killed more than 600 and injured more than 4,000 people. This natural devastation was applauded by racist Turks. For example, broadcasters on a live Turkish television channel were openly very happy about the destruction and wished that more disasters would occur in Kurdish cities. In their view, the deaths of many Kurds/terrorists and the destruction of their homes were necessary for their beloved Turkey. Now, due to this earthquake, the goal of the ethno-nationalist Turks has certainly come true. After the recent earthquake, a Turk cleric said openly that he had prayed to God for this. For such Turks, the only good Kurd is a dead Kurd. One can rightly say that what happened to Kurds in the earthquake has also happened to Turks. But while the Kurds are suffering under Turkey´s anti-Kurdish denial policy and struggling to protect their existence and ethnic values, the Turks are the sovereign vast majority that will not be as affected by the outcomes of this natural disaster.

To address the ethnic conflict concerns described above, Turkey needs to recognize and reconciliate with the Kurds, to bring about a long term peaceful co-existence based on a democratic solution. Otherwise, the current conflicts and internal wars will continue for decades or the next hundred years.

Finally, it is important to emphasize that the earthquake that struck the region knows neither border, race, nation, color, nor religion and that the destruction and damage it caused have impacted the region as a whole. Cooperation and assistance must be equal and must reach everywhere, regardless of nationality, religion, or gender. Unfortunately, the Turkish government is not living up to providing fair and equal treatment of all those affected by the earthquake, as demonstrated by the criticism and anger of the people of the Kurdish cities at the discrimination and absence of help from the government.

– DÆMNINGER:KATASTROFE OG VELSIGNELSE https://fjernenaboer.dk/temapakke/kampen-om-vandet/geografi/tema-2-daemninger/artikel/
– Forskere: Kæmpe dæmning satte gang i jordskælv i Kina, https://ing.dk/artikel/forskere-kaempe-daemning-satte-gang-i-jordskaelv-i-kina-95513
– Ekspert: Tyrkiets placering på tektonisk ‘mikroplade’ giver masser af jordskælv: https://www.dr.dk/nyheder/indland/derfor-er-tyrkiet-og-syrien-saa-haardt-ramt-af-jordskaelv?fbclid=IwAR2JpxGVyHNqGwZm_VSgiUI4xsZ_DgG4JaIM9qbtAJqDMWv8O8e9Rfswmx8
Turkey-Syria earthquakes: a seismologist explains what has happened, Published: February 6, 2023 9.06pm CET Updated: February 7, 2023 7.37am CET
Earthquakes Triggered by Dams, https://archive.internationalrivers.org/earthquakes-triggered-by-dams
Harsh KGupta, 2002, A review of recent studies of triggered earthquakes by artificial water reservoirs with special emphasis on earthquakes in Koyna, India, Earth-Science Reviews,Volume 58, Issues 3–4, October 2002, Pages 279-310, available at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0012825202000636
Tom Kertscher, February 9, 2023,The earthquake in Syria and Turkey was a real natural disaster, and not a political attack, available here.
Matthew Cappucci, February 7, 2023, The Washington Post, “What triggered the Turkey quakes? Why was the second so big? Key questions, answered,” Feb. 7, 2023.
– Shai Oster, Giant Dam May Have Triggered Sichuan Quake, February 6, 2009, Originally published in The Wall Street Journal  available at: https://archive.internationalrivers.org/resources/giant-dam-may-have-triggered-sichuan-quake-2841

Shakhawan Shorash, BA and Master of political science from Southern University of Denmark and University of Copenhagen. A freelance writer concerning human right, genocide, ethnic conflicts, democratization and similar subjects. Shorash is an occasional contributing senior writer for Ekurd.net.