Saturday, May 26, 2012

Euphrates and Tigris Rivers: Once Revered, Doomed to Dry Up

The Queen of Cities, have you seen her?
Come, friend, let me show you.

From the mountains of Anatolia spring the life-giving waters of quick-running Tigris and languid Euphrates. Ancient and eternal, they are the gifts of Ea who is builder of the world and king of the watery deep. Down from the heights they stream, god-sent towards their entwining with the distant Pars Sea. Cupped within their twin embrace lies a fertile sweep of earth—a bountiful garden nourished by their waters.

Now the gates of dawn have opened, and Shamash, bright as a molten gold coin, climbs the sky. His radiance falls like unseen rain and awakens the day’s heat to dance across the sprawling plain. Ah, look there! In the distance, behind the shimmering veil… Do you see? Colossal lion-colored walls and crenellated towers. A fortress city rising up like an impossible mirage. It is the splendor that is Babylon, a city like no other; the city of my birth. (The Hounds of Zeus, P. A. Peirson)
The Fertile Crescent
These words from The Hounds of Zeus embody some early Mesopotamian beliefs about the supernatural forces that shaped their world. Wind, fire, storms, rivers, lakes, mountains—all such things possessed supernatural powers and occupied a special place in the divine creation and maintenance of the universe. Later, theses supernatural forces took on human form and became a pantheon of gods. As their cosmic roles evolved, each god assumed distinct powers and executed certain duties.

Ea mentioned above, also known as Enki, was god of the fresh waters. As such, he was often depicted with two streams of water emanating from his shoulders: the Tigris and the Euphrates. Among his many duties were: “To clear the pure mouths of the Tigris and Euphrates, to make verdure plentiful, make dense the clouds, grant water in abundance to all plough lands …” and so on. Should the god fail in his duties, disaster would fall upon the land and its people.

In ancient times, just the water from these two rivers was revered and often gathered for cultic rituals. In Babylonian mythology, one story asserts that their precious flow sprang from the crying eyes of Tiamet, a primordial goddess and chaos monster, after she was defeated and order brought to the universe.

Historically, the twin rivers were vital to the development and survival of civilizations within the Fertile Crescent. Their waters irrigated crops, provided transportation, and sustained the people. While the Euphrates ran through the great city of Babylon, the shores of the Tigris hosted three of the most important successive capitals of Assyria—Asshur, Nimrud, and Nineveh. In short, their water was as important then as it is today.

So, how do great two rivers that have served mankind well for thousands of years begin to die? Which is exactly what is happening. According to recent news stories and a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report, both the Euphrates and Tigris could dry up by 2040.

Apparently, land and water mismanagement, political expediency and tyranny, war, and consequences both intended and unintended are key players in this tragedy. According to a July 1, 2010 story in MEMRI focusing on the Tigris: “This environmental disaster is caused by the construction of multiple dams on the river, both upstream by Turkey and downstream by Syria. Both countries are planning to build even more dams, thus denying Iraq its share of the river waters.”

The impact of rerouting the Euphrates and deliberately drying up vast inhabited marshlands for authoritarian purposes have added enormously to the tragedy. According to UNEP in 2001, the destruction of the marsh ranked as one of the worst environmental disasters in history, thanks to former Iraqi “leader” Saddam Hussein.

Having spent a great of time researching these two great rivers, it saddens me to know that modern humans, who would without doubt view themselves as superior to their ancient kin and would dismiss the old beliefs as foolish, can and will destroy these beautiful sources of life in their land.

For more thorough understanding of this story, please refer to the articles on these sites:

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