“The Ataturk is the largest dam in the Middle East, one of the largest in the world, General,” Seden said gravely. “May I use a telephone?”
“Over there,” Rodgers said. He pointed to the computer at the side of the van. “And you’d better hurry. That chopper is just about a half hour from the first of the dams.”
Seden walked around Mary Rose. He went to the cellular phone, which was cradled on the side of the monitor and hooked directly into the ROC’s uplink. He punched in a number. As he spoke softly in Turkish, he slowly turned his back toward them.
Mary Rose and Mike Rodgers exchanged a brief look. When Seden’s back was completely turned, Rodgers tapped a few keys on the other computer. Then he turned to watch the simultaneous translation of the colonel’s conversation.
Monday, 4:25 p.m.,
The Ataturk Dam on the Euphrates River is named after Kemal Ataturk, the venerated twentieth-century political and military leader. The Armistice that ended World War I also ended nearly six centuries of Ottoman rule over Turkey. But because the Turks had sided with the Germans, the losing side, the Greeks and British felt free to seize portions of the nation for themselves. The Turks felt differently, and in 1922 Kemal and the Turkish Army drove the foreigners out. The following year, the Treaty of Lausanne created the modern-day Republic of Turkey.
Ataturk established the new republic as a democracy rather than as a sultanate. He instituted a Swiss-style legal system to replace the Sheriat or Islamic code, and adopted the Gregorian calendar to replace the Islamic one. Even the turban and fez were banned in favor of European-style headwear. He founded secular schools, gave women basic rights for the first time, and adapted a Latin-based alphabet to replace the old Arabic one.
As a result of his massive transformation of Turkish society, Ataturk caused significant resentment to build among the Muslim majority.
Like all Turks, fifty-five-year-old Mustafa Mecid knew the life and legend of Ataturk. But Mustafa wasn’t preoccupied with the Father of the Turks. As assistant chief engineer of the dam, he thought mostly about keeping kids from playing on the walls of the dam.
Unlike the more spectacular, high-rising concrete gravity dams, or the sweeping, concave arch dams, embankment dams are long and wide and relatively low. Under the waters of the reservoir side is an upstream shoulder that slopes toward a peak like the side of a pyramid. On the top of the dam is a narrow wave wall with a walkway behind it. The walkway falls away as a sloping downstream shoulder. Typically, the downstream side is stepped. There’s a berm halfway down to give the top level of stone a base on which to rest. A drainage layer is located halfway between the berm and the next level, a downstream toe. The effect, viewed from the side, is like a downward-sloping W. The core of the embankment dam is a high column of clay surrounded by sand. A thick layer of stone surrounds the core.
Large embankment dams typically contain fifty million cubic meters of water. The volume of the Ataturk dam is eighty-five million cubic meters. Not that that mattered much to Mustafa. He couldn’t see most of the water. The enormous reservoir twisted away behind artificial promontories and breakwaters. The end of it was lost in the hazy distance.
Twice each day, at eleven in the morning and at four in the afternoon, Mustafa left his two coworkers in the small control room at the base of the dam and went looking for kids. That was when they came there to dive from the wave wall into the cool waters.
“We know it is safe to dive here,” they would always say. “There are no rocks or roots underwater here, Saa-Hib.”
They always called him their Saa-Hib, their friend, though Mustafa suspected that they were laughing at him. And even if they were sincere, he couldn’t allow them to stay here and swim. If he did, the wall would be lined with children. Then the tourists would come. Soon there would be more weight on the dam than it was designed to take.
“And then they would blame the collapse of the dam and the flooding of southern Anatolia on Mustafa Mecid,” he said, running his fingers through his full brown beard.
The fifty-five-year-old Turk was happy that he had two grown daughters. Young men were so physical. He watched his sister’s children and didn’t know how she coped with them. Mustafa’s own poor father had sent him to the Army when he was sixteen because he was always getting into trouble with neighbors and teachers and employers. Even when Mustafa was in the Army—stationed on the Greek border near the Gulf of Saros—he made life more difficult for smugglers and undercover operatives than any Turk since His Eminence Ataturk himself. And when he married, his poor wife could hardly keep up with him. More than once she accused him of having a twin brother who crept into their bed in the middle of the night.
Mustafa turned his face toward the skies. “I think, Blessed Lord, that you made Turkish men for the same reason you made hornets. To go here and there and to work. And in doing all of that, to stir up others and to keep them busy.” Mustafa smiled brimmingly, proud of his gender and his nation.
He walked briskly, his hiking boots crunching loudly on the walkway. Its gravel surface had been designed to deter bare feet—designed by some college engineer whose soles weren’t calloused from a childhood of walking barefoot. The radio hooked to his belt hung against his right hip. From under the brim of his forest-green cap he looked north, across the reservoir. He breathed deeply as the warm breeze washed over him. Then he looked down ten feet at the waves that slapped gently against the dam. The water was choppy, clear, soothing. He stopped for a moment and enjoyed the solitude.
And then, from the south, Mustafa heard what sounded like a motorbike. He turned and, squinted in that direction. There was no dust rising from the dirt roads of the surrounding hillsides. Yet the sound from behind the hillsides grew closer.
Suddenly, the drone became the distinctive beating of a helicopter rotor. He tugged down the brim of his hat and looked toward the rich blue sky. Recreational fliers regularly flew over the reservoir, though of late more and more helicopters had been coming this way. Kurdish terrorists had established a presence around Lake Van and on Mount Ararat to the east, on the border with Iran. According to the radio reports, the military kept track of them by air and sometimes attacked them as well.
Mustafa watched as a small, black helicopter shot up over the treetops. For a moment he was looking at the underbelly. Then he was staring at the front of the craft as it nosed toward him. The helicopter skimmed the green canopy, agitating the leaves as it passed over them.
As the chopper descended, the orb of the sun was reflected in the dark cockpit windshield. Mustafa was blinded for a moment, but he could hear the drone growing louder.
“What are they doing?” he wondered aloud.
When the sunlight finally rolled off the windshield, Mustafa saw what they were doing. He saw, but there was nothing he could do about it.
The helicopter had cleared the trees and was flying directly toward the center of the dam. He saw a man raise the machine gun so that it was pointed in his direction, On the pilot’s side of the helicopter, the rotary cannon was pointed lower.
“They are out of their minds!” Mustafa yelled.
The Turk turned and started running back the way he’d come. The helicopter was less than two hundred yards away and moving in fast. He could feel the gun on him. He felt it the way any battle-seasoned soldier felt danger, by God whispering into his ear and fear tightening his groin.
Without breaking his stride, Mustafa suddenly threw himself to his right, toward the water. He hit it hard and his boots quickly filled with water. But even as he’d jumped he’d heard the machine gun spit death. As he brought his knees toward him and struggled to undo the laces, Mustafa thanked God for having spoken to him.
His lungs ached as he worked on his shoes. His eyes were open, and he saw the bubbly trails of the bullets as they slashed around him. A few came perilously close, and Mustafa gave up on the shoes. He swam to the wall of the dam, dug his fingers into the spaces between the stones, and crept up the sloping side. He stopped just below the surface and lay with his belly against the wall. He heard the muffled roar of the guns as the helicopter bore down. The dam shook beneath him, but at least he felt safe here. He wondered how his coworkers were doing. The fire didn’t seem directed at them, and he hoped they were all right. He also hoped that the men in the helicopter didn’t make a second pass. He didn’t know what they hoped to accomplish with this attack, and he began to fear for the security of the dam.