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Armenia’s environmental terror in occupied territories

7 September 2020 14:09 (UTC+04:00)
Armenia’s environmental terror in occupied territories

By Akbar Mammadov

Apart from occupying Azerbaijan’s internationally-recognized territories and expelling civilians from their homes, Armenia is also engaged in environmental terror against Azerbaijan.

Since war in the early 1990s, Armenia has been using Sarsang water reservoir with 560 million cubic meters in occupied territories as a tool against Azerbaijani civilians by depriving them of water.

Head of the separatist regime set up in Nagorno-Karabakah recently Karabakh revealed the details of the project regarding the illegal use of Sarsang reservoir. The regime’s leader said that Sarsang water reservoir will be used for infrastructure, construction and other activities across all occupied territories of Azerbaijan.

The plan envisages irrigation of up to 30 thousand hectares of land and create about 40-50 thousand jobs. The dangerous plan to use the water of Sarsang water to the maximum will further deepen Azerbaijan’s water supply problem and will cause environmental disaster in the Azerbaijan villages.

Built in 1976 on the Terter River in the Agdere district by Azerbaijan, Sarsang reservoir is the fourth largest reservoir in the country after the Mingachevir, Shamkir reservoirs and the Araz hydroelectric complex.

Before the occupation, hundreds of thousands of hectares of agricultural land were irrigated from this reservoir in Tartar, Barda, Yevlakh, Goranboy, Agdam, Agjabedi districts. The height of the reservoir dam is 125 m. The reservoir is located at an altitude of about 700 m above the sea level. However, after the occupation, in the absence of maintenance and monitoring, the reservoir gradually fell into decay and, according to experts, is in an emergency condition, posing a threat to hundreds of thousands of residents of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenia’s illegal use of water resources in Azerbaijan’s occupied territories was raised by the Parliament Assembly of the Council of Europe in 2016 when it adopted the resolution 2085 titled “Inhabitants of frontier regions of Azerbaijan are deliberately deprived of water”.

PACE stated that the deliberate creation of an artificial environmental crisis must be regarded as “environmental aggression” and seen as a hostile act by one State towards another aimed at creating environmental disaster areas and making normal life impossible for the population concerned.

“It deplores the fact that the occupation by Armenia of Nagorno-Karabakh and other adjacent areas of Azerbaijan creates similar humanitarian and environmental problems for the citizens of Azerbaijan living in the Lower Karabakh valley. The Assembly recalls that, in their statement of 20 May 2014, the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs expressed their hope that the sides would reach an agreement to jointly manage these water resources for the benefit of the region.”

The resolution also noted that the lack of regular maintenance work for over twenty years on the Sarsang reservoir, located in one of the areas of Azerbaijan occupied by Armenia, poses a danger to the whole border region. Thus, the PACE emphasized that the state of disrepair of the Sarsang dam could result in a major disaster with great loss of human life and possibly a fresh humanitarian crisis.

The Assembly firmly condemned the lack of co-operation of the Armenian parliamentary delegation and the Armenian authorities during the preparation of the report on this issue.

Since the irrigation canals of Sarsang reservoir remain in Azerbaijan’s territory, Armenian decided to build new ones within the occupation territories and redirect water through the system of these canals, said Ilgar Valizade, head of the Political Scientists Club "South Caucasus”, in an interview with Day.az.

“The project of the Sarsang reservoir, built on the Tartar River, provided for a large network of irrigation canals. A corresponding distribution station was built in the lower reaches of Tartar. It distributed water through a system of canals laid in Lower Karabakh - Barda, Terter, Agjabedi, Aghdam regions. These canals were the main source of irrigation for agriculture. In this region, after the construction of canals, cotton growing and viticulture began to develop rapidly,” the political scientist noted.

Valizade highlighted that after the occupation of Karabakh by Armenia, the hydroelectric complex ended up in the occupied territories, but the network of canals remained on the Azerbaijani side.

He added that the hydraulic unit was built to regulate the water level in the reservoir. The political scientist pointed out that therefore, the risk of overpressure on the dam was reduced. “Water discharge, moreover, the target discharge (the surplus entered the irrigation canals) was used for agricultural needs. The operational properties of the unit remained effective until the occupation,” Valizade said.

“What are we seeing now? Since the system does not work, the Armenian side simply dumps excess water that appears during floods and melting snows into the Tartar River, as a result of which floods often occur. In addition, in summer, the water flowing through the canals to Azerbaijani villages is shut off,” he said.

Valizade also noted that as a result, the pressure on the hydroelectric complex increases, which threatens a man-made disaster. “Experts have repeatedly noted the occurrence of cracks on the hydroelectric complex itself.”

It should be noted that Khachinchay, Arpachai, Agdamkend and other reservoirs also remain in the territories occupied by Armenia, which have also been turned into ecological time mines.

Azerbaijan and Armenia are locked in a conflict over Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh breakaway region, which along with seven adjacent regions was occupied by Armenian forces in a war in the early 1990s. More than 20,000 Azerbaijanis were killed and around one million were displaced as a result of the large-scale hostilities.

The OSCE Minsk Group co-chaired by the United States, Russia and France has been mediating the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict since the signing of the volatile cease-fire agreement in 1994. The Minsk Group’s efforts have resulted in no progress and to this date, Armenia has failed to abide by the UN Security Council resolutions (822, 853, 874 and 884) that demand the withdrawal of Armenian military forces from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.

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Akbar Mammadov is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow him on Twitter: @AkbarMammadov97

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