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.
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