The colossally expensive Güneydoğu Anadolu Projesi (GAP), or Southeastern Anatolia Project, was begun in 1974 with the aim of improving economic conditions in Turkey’s impoverished southeast. Centred on the massive Atatürk Dam, the fourth largest in the world, the US$32 billion scheme has diverted waters from the Euphrates and Tigris to irrigate vast swathes of previously barren land and generate much-needed hydroelectric power.
In terms of the local benefits of GAP, the improvement to agriculture is apparent from the main road. Eastwards from Gaziantep, new pistachio and olive plantations flourish, and cotton is being grown around Harran. While this has benefited large landowners able to secure state bank loans to buy fertilizer and machinery, however, smaller farmers have seen few improvements. Many have given up agriculture altogether and migrated to the cities to work as unskilled labourers.
Environmentalists point out the scheme’s other pitfalls, including local climate change caused by evaporation from the reservoirs; depletion of the soil from the overuse of artificial fertilizers; the lowering of the water table; and severe loss of habitat for wildlife.
The region’s archeological heritage has been hit, too. While some artefacts have been painstakingly excavated and relocated – note especially the wonderful finds from Zeugma now on display in Gaziantep – much has vanished forever beneath the waters.