Today in the ancient town of Hasankeyf, Turkey, a battle is
brewing. This won’t be all that surprising to anyone who’s been paying
attention to this corner of the world where Syria, Turkey, Iraq, & Iran are
literally a stone’s throw from each other. But it’s the nature of this
particular battle that sets it apart from the regional turmoil we’re used to
seeing on the news. The weapons of choice are not bullets and guns; they are
paddles and oars. Rather than rolling into town on Humvees and tanks, this
coalition is inflating rafts and standup paddleboards, and putting the
finishing touches on traditional watercraft that have plied the waters of the
Tigris River since the dawn of human existence. The mission is to "celebrate
the cultural heritage of Mesopotamia, bring environmental awareness to the
riverside communities, and study the river’s current hydrological condition.”
This may sound innocuous enough, but the Tigris is a river under duress and the Tigris River Flotilla will draw attention to the issues that threaten the
health of the river and the people that live along its banks.
The catalyst for the Tigris River Flotilla is Dr. Azzam Alwash, 2013 winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize. The lead organization
is Nature Iraq, an NGO that Dr. Alwash founded in 2004. Key partners include Waterkeeper Alliance, an international coalition of water quality advocacy
groups, as well as local community groups along the length of the river. The
battle we are fighting is against the status quo and the declining health of
the Tigris. It is a mission for hearts and minds and healthy communities and a
robust river ecosystem. It is a fight for the grandchildren of the kids that
are jumping into our rafts and onto the SUPs and for their right to swim and
fish in the storied waters of the Tigris.
Over the next two months, the paddlers and boatmen of the Tigris River Flotilla will stage a series of events starting here in Hasankeyf,
Turkey and making their way down the Tigris to the delta in the marshes of
Southern Iraq. If our mission is realized, the people of Turkey and Iraq will gain
a greater understanding and appreciation of this river that has nurtured the
Fertile Crescent and witnessed the entirety of human history.
Dave Burden is the
International Paddlesports Ambassador for the ACA and has spent time training
and paddling with the organizers of the Tigris River Flotilla in order to
ensure that the expedition participants are safe on the river and able to
effectively teach basic paddling skills to the regional residents they meet
along their journey. The ACA is supporting Dave's efforts by sending him to train organizers of the Tigris River Flotilla.