Establishing borders and boundaries is always both a political and legal process. In most cases, the land through which these arbitrary lines are drawn is itself neglected. The consequences of such blatant disregard for natural habitats can be seen starkly in Mesopotamian Marshes, which was once the largest wetland ecosystem of Western Eurasia. The marshes are divided into three major areas: the Central Marshes and the Hammar Marshes, which lie in Iraq, and the Hawizeh Marshes, also known as Hoor al-Azim, straddling the Iran-Iraq border.
Due to its border status, Hoor al-Azim and its nearby settlements have often been victims of international conflicts. Hoor al-Azim had an area of 750,000 hectares in 1972. Today that figure is down to 100,000. As the Hoor vanishes, so too does its local economy, which is based on fishing, hunting, and planting. As the marshes turn into a closed saline basin, sandstorms wreak havoc and settlements are abandoned.
Wetlands play a crucial role in modifying air quality, controlling floods, storing sediment and maintaining the local ecosystems. For over 5,000 years, the Hoor determined the region’s ecosystem in ways that defined the unique lifestyle of the Mesopotamian people. They built their settlements on water, made their houses out of water reeds and developed a transportation system with narrow boats called Al-Mashoof. Floating through the marshes, they were free to travel; international borders held no meaning for them and people crossed back and forth as they desired.
As the wetlands dry up and ceases to be habitable, the traditional Mesopotamian lifestyle risks being forgotten. The Hoor is fast becoming a remote destination that affords few resources for survival.
Tehran Platform, 2020