Borders: Shatt al-Arab

Borders: Shatt al-Arab

The border that had me thinking about borders somehow missed out on the last weblog post.

Shatt al-Arab is the confluence of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, forming the border between Iraq and Iran. The river as border dates from 1639, the division between Persian and the Ottomans. But the border had problems from the start.

A river might seem a natural geographic demarcation. Nope. The region of Shatt al-Arab is home to the Marsh Arabs, who quite naturally used both sides of the river for their livelihood (and hopefully will again as post-Saddam restoration efforts take root).

More directly, a border defined by a river delta is not static. Officially, the border is the lowest point of the river, the Thalweg. The lowest point is prone to differ year by year, as floods shift materials and flow. In a sense, this border is entirely conceptual and has no permanent physical reality. So, earlier this year, a British patrol out of Basra was picked up by the Iran, because they had strayed into Iranian waters .. in other words, someone’s maps were out of date.

I’d really like to hear about other borders without precise geographical definition. Suppose ultimately, all borders will fail as the continents drift.