The Atatürk Dam was constructed on the Euphrates River in Turkey in the 1980s as the central component of a large-scale regional development project for the South-eastern Anatolia region, known as GAP. Since the first development plan for the region was presented in 1970, the objectives for regional development have changed significantly.

This article aims to analyze how the functions, design, and capacities of the Atatürk Dam project have been modified since 1970, paralleling changes in the regional development objectives and ambitions, and to identify accomplishments and constraints in the realization of the dam project.

Since 1970, ambitions to develop the region have grown significantly, resulting in major changes to the original project plans. The most important change occurred in 1978, when the design for the Middle Karababa Dam, recommended in 1970, was abandoned and the Atatürk Dam design was adopted. This change considerably increased the storage and power generation capacities of the dam. Yet, the sparse rainfall throughout the catchment in recent years has hampered full utilization of the dam’s storage and generation capacities and increased the need for tradeoffs between conflicting demands for water use.