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Euphrates (yo͞ofrāˈtēz), Turkish Frat, Arabic Al Furat, river of SW Asia, c.1,700 mi (2,740 km) long, formed by the confluence of the Kara and the Murad rivers, E central Turkey, and flowing generally S through Turkey into Syria, then SE through Iraq, joining with the Tigris River in SE Iraq to form the Shatt al Arab; the united river flows into the Persian Gulf. The Euphrates is unnavigable except for very shallow-draft vessels; a drainage project was begun in the 1960s involving the construction of a 342 mi (550 km) canal running between the Tigris and Euphrates to serve as a route for river barges.

In its upper course, the Euphrates flows rapidly through deep canyons and narrow gorges, and Turkey has constructed dams on the upper river and its tributaries since the 1970s. In 1990, the Atatürk Dam, the first in the Southeast Anatolia Project in Turkey, was completed. Plans ultimately call for 22 dams on the Tigris and Euphrates that altogether will provide enough water to irrigate over 3,700,000 acres (1.5 million hectares) of land. A series of hydroelectric power stations is also being built; by 2014 more than half the dams had been completed. This huge diversion of water in Turkey has had serious implications for Syria and especially Iraq, which also rely on the river.

The middle Euphrates traverses a wide floodplain in Syria, where it is used extensively for irrigation. Euphrates Dam, 230 ft (70 m) high, constructed with Soviet aid at Tabqa, N Syria, is the main unit of the Tabqa Barrage Scheme. The huge reservoir impounded by the dam provides electrical power but has failed to transform the region into a productive agricultural area. Below the dam the Euphrates receives the Belikh and Khabur rivers, its only major tributaries.

Entering the Syrian Desert and the plains of Iraq, the river loses velocity and becomes a sluggish stream with shifting channels. In N Iraq it is studded with islands, some with remains of old castles. The river's lower course supplies water through a system of dams and canals to allow wheat and barley cultivation, but since the first Turkish and Syrian dams were constructed in the 1970s the amount of water the river carries into Iraq has declined by two thirds. Flooding and overirrigation have resulted in serious problems of soil salinization. Before merging with the Tigris at Basra, Iraq, the Euphrates divided into many channels, forming a marshland and Lake Hammar. The marshes were drained in the early 1990s to increase Iraqi government control over the Shitte Marsh Arabs living there; restoration of the marshes began in 2003, and roughly 75% of the wetlands were restored. Drought and water losses, however, have reduced the size of the marshes.

The modern waterworks along the Euphrates do not equal in scope those of ancient times when Sippar, Uruk, Ur, and Babylon flourished on the banks of the lower Euphrates. Mesopotamia, birthplace of many great civilizations, depended on the waters of the Euphrates and the Tigris for survival. However, as the maintenance of irrigation and drainage networks was neglected, the siltation of canals and the salinization of fields eventually made the land unsuitable for agriculture.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(from Aramaic; literally “sweet water”; in Arabic, Shatt al-Furat), a river in Turkey, Syria, and Iraq; the largest in Western Asia.

The length of the Euphrates is 3,065 km from the source of the Murat River and 2,700 km from the confluence of the Murat and the Kara Su; its basin area is 673,000 sq km. It rises in the mountains of the Armenian Highland; the upper reaches are chiefly mountainous. In a narrow gorge it cuts through the Malatya and Ergani ranges (the outermost part of the Armenian Highland), then in a deep valley traverses the desolate Syrian Plateau and the northern part of Mesopotamia, and in its remaining stretch, below the city of Hit, flows through the flat alluvial Mesopotamian lowlands; here the river varies in width from 150 to 500 m, its depth reaching 10 m. In its lower reaches the Euphrates merges in two branches with the Tigris, forming the Shatt al-Arab, which empties into the Persian Gulf. The principal tributaries of the Euphrates—the Tohma and Goksu (right) and the Belikh and Khabur (left)—discharge into the Euphrates in its upper and middle reaches; within Iraq the Euphrates is approached only by dry washes or wadis, which flow only in rainy seasons.

The Euphrates is fed by rain and snow in the mountainous portion of its basin; on the plain it is mainly rain fed. The river floods in the spring and has its low-water stage in the summer; during freshets the water level rises by 3–4 m. For protection from inundations within the Mesopotamian lowlands, hydraulic structures have been built, and embankments have been erected over a large stretch of the channel. The mean flow velocity near the city of Hit in Iraq is 840 cu m per sec, the maximum 3,000–4,000 cu m, and the minimum at summer’s end 180 cu m; the annual runoff at that site is 26.4 cu km. Toward the mouth, because of the removal of water for irrigation and flow losses to evaporation and seepage, the mean flow velocity drops to 300–400 cu m per sec. The Euphrates carries large quantities of suspended sediment (as much as 13–15 million tons a year in its middle section); toward its mouth this quantity diminishes as a result of settling.

The region between the Euphrates and the Tigris is one of the most ancient centers of civilization on the globe (Sumer, Babylonia, and Assyria); the city of Babylon was situated on the bank of the Euphrates. The waters of the river have long been extensively used for irrigation. A belt of oases along the channel stretches the whole length of the Euphrates after its emergence from the mountains. In Iraq alone irrigation canals water about 1 million hectares (ha). In addition, some 560,000 ha are irrigated by pumping installations and other works. In Turkey a power complex consisting of a hydro-electric power plant and reservoir is being created near the city of Keban, with construction scheduled for completion in 1979. In Syria, in the vicinity of Tabqá, the USSR is helping to build the Sadd al-Furat Hydropower Complex: the design calls for a hydroelectric power plant of about 800,000 kW and a reservoir 730 sq km in area, with 600,000 ha of arid land slated for irrigation. The first part of the complex was put into operation in 1973. In Iraq a number of hydro-power complexes are being constructed for flow regulation and the eventual irrigation of about 400,000 ha. The Euphrates is navigable from its mouth to the city of Hit. Cities on the river are Birecik in Turkey; al-Raqqa and Dayr al-Zawr in Syria; and al-Ramadi, al-Falluja, al-Kufa, al-Samawa, and al-Nasiriya in Iraq.


Muranov, A. P. Reki Evfrat i Tigr. Leningrad, 1959.
Al-Sahaf, Mehdi, and I. S. Zonn. “Sovremennoe sostoianie irrigatsii v basseine r. Evfrata (Irak).” Gidrotekhnika i melioratsia, 1967, no. 2.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a river in SW Asia, rising in E Turkey and flowing south across Syria and Iraq to join the Tigris, forming the Shatt-al-Arab, which flows to the head of the Persian Gulf: important in ancient times for the extensive irrigation of its valley (in Mesopotamia). Length: 3598 km (2235 miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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