Monday, 11:00 a.m.,
Ibrahim al-Rashid raised his sunglasses. He peered through the dirty window of the 1963 Ford Galaxy.
The young Syrian kept his eyes open, and enjoyed the jolt of sunlight as it bounced off the golden desert. He enjoyed the pain just as he enjoyed the heat on his face, the hot air in his lungs, the warm perspiration on his back. He enjoyed the discomfort as the Prophets must have enjoyed it, the men who came to the desert to be hammered on the anvil of God, made ready for His great purpose.
Anyway, he thought, enjoy it or not, most of Syria is a furnace in the summer. The car’s struggling fan did little to relieve the heat, and the presence of three other men raised it even higher.
Ibrahim’s elder brother Mahmoud was beside him in the driver’s seat. Though Mahmoud was sweating heavily, he was uncharacteristically calm, even when the newer, faster Peugeots and Fiats passed them on the divided highway. Mahmoud didn’t want to get into a fight, not now. But when it was time to fight, there was no one bolder. Even when they were children, Mahmoud had always been ready to take on larger boys in greater numbers. Behind them, in the back seat, Yousef and Ali played cards for a piastre a hand. Each loss was accompanied by a mild oath. Neither man suffered defeat graciously, which was why they were here.
The restored eight cylinder engine moved them smoothly along the modern Route 7. The Galaxy was ten years older than Ibrahim and had been rebuilt many times, most recently by himself. But the trunk was spacious enough to hold what they needed, the chassis was solid, and the car was strong. Like this nation of Arabs, Kurds, Armenians, Circassians, and many others, the Galaxy had been cobbled together from many parts, some old and some new. But still it moved forward.
Ibrahim looked out at the blanched landscape. It wasn’t like the desert in the south, all sand and dust clouds, shimmering mirages and graceful twisters, the black tents of Bedouins and occasional oases. It was an endless stretch of dried and broken dirt, of barren hills and hundreds of tells—mounds of ruins that marked the cites of ancient settlements. There were a few modern additions to the landscape, such as abandoned vehicles and petrol stations as well as sheds where people sold stale food and hot drink. The Syrian desert had always been a lure for adventurers and poets, caravans and archaeologists who embraced and then romanticized its dangers. But this region located between the great Tigris and Euphrates had once been alive. Not like it was now. Not like it was before the Turks began to strangle the water supply.
Ibrahim thought back to this morning, to words his father had said to them all before they set out.
“Water is life. Control one and you control the other.”
Ibrahim knew the history and geography of the region and its water. He had put in two tours of duty in the Air Force. Since his discharge, he’d listened to the old hands talk about drought and famine as he repaired tractors and other machinery on a large farm.
Formerly known as Mesopotamia, Greek for “the land between the rivers,” the Syrian land was now called al-Gezira, “the island.” An island without water.
The Tigris River was once one of the most important transportation routes in the world. It originates in eastern Turkey and flows nearly 1,150 miles southeast through Iraq, where it meets the Euphrates at Basra. The equally mighty Euphrates is formed by the confluence of the Kara and Murad Rivers in Eastern Turkey. It flows mostly southward and then southeast for almost 1,700 miles, surging through great canyons and jagged gorges along its upper course, and a vast flood plain in Syria and Iraq. Where they meet, the Tigris and the Euphrates form the river channel Shatt al Arab, which flows southeast into the Persian Gulf and is part of the border between Iraq and Iran. The two countries have long fought over navigation rights to the 120 mile waterway.
The Tigris and Euphrates in the east and the great Nile River in the west once defined the Fertile Crescent, the cradle of a number of early civilizations stretching back as far as 5000 B.C.
The Cradle of Civilization, Ibrahim thought. His homeland. One third of his great nation, now lifeless and rotting.
Over the centuries, warships came down the Euphrates and tribes were forced to move west. The waterwheels and irrigation canals in the east were neglected as the western part of the country grew—the line of great cities stretching from Aleppo in the north down through Hama, Homs, and eternal Damascus. The Euphrates was abandoned, and then it was murdered. Its once-bright waters were turned brown with industrial and human waste, most of it from Turkey, and not even the melting mountain snows or heavy rains could cleanse it. In the 1980s, Turkey began a massive reclamation project by constructing a series of dams along the upper course of the Euphrates. This effort helped to clean the river and keep Turkey fertile. But it caused the north of Syria and especially al-Gezira to fall further into drought and starvation.
And Syria did nothing to prevent it, Ibrahim thought bitterly. There was Israel to fight in the southwest and Iraq to watch in the southeast. The Syrian government did not want its entire northern border, over four hundred miles, jeopardized by tension with the Turks.
More recently, however, there had been other voices. They had grown increasingly loud in 1996, after repeated, vicious attacks against the Kurds. Thousands of Kurds died in clashes with the Turks in the Hakkari Province near the border with Iraq. Thousands more died when Sadam Hussein used poison gas on Kurds at Halabja. The bloodshed was made worse by infighting among the various Kurdish sects—battles over land, over tradition, over the degree of interaction that would be tolerated with non-Kurds.
Finally, a truce was called by the ailing Mullah Mustafa Mirza, leader of the small but powerful Mirza clan in Iraq. He asked for unity. And the charismatic Walid al-Nasri, leader of the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers Party, agreed to help provide it.
Over the past few months, Ibrahim had spent all of his free time in Haseke, a quiet city to the southwest, working with the local patriots in the PKK of which his brother was an officer. As he made sure printing presses and cars were working as they were supposed to, Ibrahim had listened eagerly to Mahmoud’s views about establishing a homeland. As he helped carry guns and bomb-making material under the cover of night, Ibrahim had listened to their bitter debates about unification with other Kurdish factions. As he relaxed after helping to train small groups of fighting men, he’d listened as arrangements were made to meet with Iraqi and Turkish Kurds, to plan for a homeland, to select a leader.
Ibrahim put his sunglasses back on. The world became dark again.
Today, the only reason most people cross al-Gezira is to travel to Turkey. That was true for Ibrahim, though he wasn’t most people. Most people came with cameras to photograph the bazaars or the World War I trenches or the mosques. They came with maps and picks for archaeological digs, or with American jeans or Japanese electronics to sell on the black market.
Ibrahim and his team came with something else. A purpose. To return the waters to al-Gezira.
Monday, 1:22 p.m.,
Attorney Lowell Coffey II stood on the shaded side of a nondescript, six-wheel white trailer and touched the hem of his red neckerchief. He dabbed away the sweat that was dripping into his eyes. He silently cursed the hum of the battery-powered engine that told him the air-conditioning was running inside the van. Then he stared across barren terrain, which was dotted with dry hills. Three hundred yards away was a deserted asphalt road that rippled beneath the afternoon heat. Beyond that, separated by three barren miles and more than five thousand years, was the city of Sanliurfa.
Thirty-three-year-old biophysicist Dr. Phil Katzen stood to the attorney’s right. The long-haired scientist shielded his eyes as he looked toward the dusty outline of the ancient metropolis.
“Did you know, Lowell,” Katzen said, “that ten thousand years ago, right where we’re standing, is where beasts of burden were first domesticated? They were aurochs—wild ox. They tilled the soil right under our feet.”
“That’s great,” Coffey said. “And you can probably tell me what the soil composition was then too. Right?”
“No.” Katzen smiled. “Only now. All of the nations in this region have to keep records like that to see how long the fanmlands’ll hold out. I’ve got the soil file on diskette. As soon as Mike and Mary Rose are finished, I’ll load it up if you want to read it.”