“I dedicate my novel to those who, upon their submerged heads in the Euphrates Dam, glories were built and fortunes flourished, to the submerged”, this is how Abdul-Salam Ojeili, a Syrian writer from Raqqa, started his novel “al-Maghmoureen” (The Submerged) that was published in 1979. He was referring to those who lost their houses as a result of the building of the Euphrates Dam.
Despite of the economic importance of the dam for Syria, it was build upon the dreams of a generation of the region’s farmers who thought that the construction of the dam will turn their lands into paradises. However, the dam was the cause of their displacement as the lake water flooded their villages, amid promises from the successive Syrian governments to compensate them.
In his novel, Ojeili referred to the “social inundation” in the history of the region. Yet, he did not expect the dam to overwhelm a whole new generation of residents, and this is what Syrian fear the most now.
Euphrates Dam or al-Tabqa Dam headed mass media over the past few days. Its operation room was burned and became out of service, since it was bombed during the military operations led by the International Coalition and the Syrian Democratic Forces against ISIS in its stronghold in Syria, Raqqa city.
Engineers, who worked previously in the dam, warned from the continuation of the military operations around the dam. The operations would lead to a catastrophic collapse “that did not happen before and will not happen after it”, according to what the former director of the dam, Engineer Abdul Jawad Sukran, said in an interview with Enab Baladi.
The Project is Old and was Carried Out During al-Assad’s Presidency
Data related to the “Euphrates Dam” are included in the Syrian educational curricula since it is considered as one of the “greatest achievements” of the “corrective movement” that was led by former President Hafez al-Assad in 1970.
However, the achievement was only at the level of implementation. The idea goes back to the 1955 successive governments . But it was halted by the unity between Syria and Egypt in 1958to be completed after the separation under Bashir al-Azma’s government, who was a Prime Minister from April 16, until September 14, 1963, and Khalid al-Azmwho was also a Prime Minister from September 17, until March 9, of the same year.
Al-Osboa al-Arabi (the Arab Week) magazine, mentioned in its December 3, 1963 issue that the Syrian government sent then Minister of Public Works, Robert Elias, for negotiations with the French Government, especially that the German Government procrastinated to finance the Euphrates Dam.
At that time, the Minister said that “the French Government confirmed West Germany’s determination to cooperate with the French side in building the Euphrates Dam”. He said also that “the French contribution will range between 30% to 40%, i.e. more than 200 million USD”.
According to what Syria News website published on September 25, 2016, the rise of Baath Party to power, after a coup on March 8, 1963, suspended the agreement. Negotiations about the implementation of the project were resumed in 1968, but through an agreement with the Soviet Union, whose engineers benefited from the French and German studies.
The implementation started in 1968 before the beginning of Hafez al-Assad’s presidency in 1970, when he gave orders to proceed in building the project through creating the Ministry of Euphrates Dam, as well as developing and reclaiming the lands of the Euphrates Basin.
Russian Experts are Responsible for the Project
The construction of the dam began in 1970 by experts from the Soviet Union, who were primarily responsible for the project and its effectiveness, according to the Russian engineer Gennady Nividovwho headed the first group of Soviet experts. The engineer, who worked from 1970 to 1973, was also supervising the project sector of the hydroelectric station.
In an interview with Russia Today in 2008, Nividov said that the Soviet Union sent engineers and experts with different specializations, including builders and installation workers. The total number of Soviet specialists and their families in Syria reached 12 thousand, while 1500 Syrian workers and engineers participated in the construction of the dam, according to official figures.
The Russian engineer added that “the first phase was concerned with digging and dredging inside the hole of the hydroelectric station base. This is in addition to welding the steel armament structures before pouring concrete and after linking the steel structures. The construction of the station started until the dam was sealed and the sewer was closed in 1973”.
On July 5, 1973, the Euphrates River ran through the gates of the hydroelectric station, in presence of Hafez al-Assad, who crossed the Euphrates River over the dam.
The Second Largest Arab Dam
The body of the dam was built of cement and steel and was designed to withstand earthquakes. It was completed on March 19, 1978 and became one of the largest dams in the Arab region, after the “High Dam” that was constructed by Egypt on the Nile banks in 1968.
According to official figures, the length of the Euphrates dam is 4,500 meters, its width 512 meters, its height 60 meters and it counts for 19 meters from the top.. Rising 308 meters above the sea level, its body can hold up to 41 million cubic meters of water and contains eight water discharges with electric power generators.
The Euphrates Dam holds behind it a lake that the Syrian regime called “al-Assad’s Lake”, but after the Syrian revolution activists called it the Euphrates Lake.
The length of the lake is 80 km, while its width is eight km. Its perimeter is 200 km and its area is 640 km. Its storage capacity is 14.1 billion cubic meters of water and the maximum storage level (water height in the lake) is 304 meters.
The former director of the dam, Abdul Jawad Sukran, explained to Enab Baladi that if the water reached this level and was not released systematically through the gates, water would begin to flow over the body of the dam and that can lead to a crack.
A Hydroelectric transfer station is annexed to the dam and it is considered as the first of its kind in Syria. It is from this station that the high-voltage lines are transmitted to several areas in Syria.
The station consists of eight hydroelectric groups each with a capacity of about 110 megawatts, which means that the total capacity of the station is 880 megawatts. According to official figures, the amount of electricity produced from the station from the beginning of its investment until December 2010 is about 67 billion and 858 millionkilowatt-hour .
The quantity of electricity produced at the global price is 120 times the cost of constructing the dam and hydropower station, which amounted to 150 million Syrian Pounds and included the cost of building materials, all the equipment, the services and wages of engineers. The electricity has contributed to irrigating large areas of land of more than 640 thousand hectares, in addition to generating electricity capacity of 2 billion kilowatt-hour per year. The dam is also a land bridge between the northern and southern banks of the Euphrates River.
The Most Important Dams along the Euphrates River
The length of the Euphrates River is about 2,940 kilometers from its source in the Taurus Mountains of Turkey until its estuary in Shatt al-Arab in Iraq. 1176 kilometers of the river length is in Turkey, 610 kilometers in Syria and 1160 kilometers in Iraq.
The number of dams along the Euphrates River in the three countries has reached more than 20 dams, the most prominent of which are three in Syria: the Euphrates, Tahir and al-Baath, as well as the Ataturk dam in Turkey and the Haditha dam in Iraq.
The Euphrates Dam
The Euphrates Dam is located in the city of al-Tabqah in Raqqa, north Syria. It is considered as one of the largest dams in the Arab world. It was established between 1968 and 1978 under the supervision of engineers from the Soviet Union. Its importance lies in the electricity generation and irrigation of 640 thousand hectares of planted lands in al-Jazira.
The length of the lake is 80 kilometers, with eight kilometers width, a perimeter of 200 kilometers and an area of 640 kilometers, as well as a storage capacity of 14.1 billion cubic meters.
Al-Ba’ath Dam is located between the cities of al-Thawra and al-Raqqa, to the east of the Euphrates Dam. The dam and its hydroelectric station were finished in December 1988.
The Tishreen Dam was built during the presidency of Hafez al-Assad on the Euphrates River, within the administrative area of Manbij in the eastern Aleppo countryside. It entered into service in 1999 at an estimated cost of 22 billion Syrian Pounds. The area of its lake is 166 square kilometers.
The dam is located on the Euphrates River, 24 km away from the Turkish city of Urfa. The dam was inaugurated in July 1992, in the presence of representatives and heads of government of 29 countries in addition to about 100 diplomats.
The size of the lake is 817 kilometers and the quantity of water collected in the dam is about 48 billion cubic meters.
It is one of the largest dams on the Euphrates River in Iraq. It is located 7 kilometers away from Haditha City, in Al Anbar Governorate. The dam was built in cooperation with the Republic of Yugoslavia between 1978 and 1986.
The Dam in the Grip of the “Islamic State”
After the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in 2011, the Syrian opposition factions managed to control the Euphrates Dam in February 2013.
However, the “Islamic State” managed to take over the dam after the control of Raqqa Governorate at the end of 2013. After battles with the opposition factions the Islamic State made it the capital of its Islamic Caliphate.
At the beginning of this year, the “Syrian Democratic Forces”, which is supported by the US-led Coalition Forces, launched a battle called “Wrath of Euphrates” to expel the “Islamic State” from Raqqa.
In recent weeks, the dam has been subject to frequent air raids and bombardments. This resulted in the breakdown of the hydroelectric station as a result of the burning of the control room and led engineers to ring the alarm bells due to the loss of control over the eight spillways gates on the dam.
On Sunday ,March 26th, Amaq News Agency of the Islamic State published a recording showing the burning of the control room and the destruction of most of the existing equipment.
“Amaq” explained that “Office of Services” is unable to send maintenance workshops to the Euphrates Dam (al-Tabqah), because of intense US bombing on the region.
The dam’s business leader, engineer Ahmad Al-Hussein appeared in the recording and talked about the bombing of the Euphrates Dam by planes and the destruction of most of its equipment.
He clarified that “the dam station lost complete water supply and flood overwhelmed all the equipment,” pointing out that “the dam went fully out of service ” .
Later, the Islamic State announced the killing of Al-Hussein along with his technical assistant, Hussein al-Khalaf, by an aerial bombardment while trying to enter the
dam for maintenance purposes. This was on monday, March 27, coinciding with a truce announced by Syrian Democratic Forces.