Vol. 5, No. 22 (November 15, 2012)

Iranian-Armenian hydro station harms Azerbaijan, experts say

Paul Goble
Publications Advisor
Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy

A joint Iranian-Armenian project to build a new hydro-electric station on the Araz River could have serious ecological and political consequences for Azerbaijan, according to experts in Baku.  And those consequences would compound the wounds that Armenia has already inflicted on the Azerbaijani environment through its occupation of more than 20 percent of the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

On November 8, Iranian and Armenian officials installed a ceremonial cornerstone marking the beginning of work on a project that is slated to produce 1,700 gigawatts of electric power annually.  That has prompted real concern in Baku.  On the same day, according to a report in Ekho, Farid Huseynov, the head of the Green Movement of Azerbaijan, noted that the new station, because it relies on a dam that will hold back part of the flow of the Araz, could “increase the probability of flooding in Azerbaijan,” especially when there are periodic releases of water  or if accidents or heavy precipitation force those operating the station to release water quickly to reduce pressure on the dam. [1] 

However, Azerbaijani experts appear even more concerned about the political consequences of this dam.  Fikrat Sadykhov, a leading Baku commentator, told the paper that “at present, relations between Azerbaijan and Iran are relatively stable,” but they have suffered on occasion because of Iran’s assistance to Armenia, “a country which occupied part of the territory of Azerbaijan.”  Between Tehran and Yerevan, there are numerous agreements, including military ones, and now [the two sides] are working on joint projects.  The construction of [this] hydro-electric station is confirmation of this.”

Sadykhov pointed out that, “Iran is doing everything possible in order to end the blockade around Armenia” by “seeking to create a window for Armenia to escape its existing isolation.  And these actions are having a negative impact in the first instance on Iranian-Azerbaijani relations.”  Tehran, he notes, “poses as an Islamic state which recognizes the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, but at the same time, it does everything to hurt our interests.”  Baku has “frequently” pointed this out and noted that, “we cannot have positive relations with a country, which conducts such a policy.”

Concerns about the impact of the Iranian-Armenian hydro-electric station on Azerbaijan contributed to Baku’s increased attention this year to the UN’s International Day of Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment during Wars and Armed Conflicts on November 6. [2] 

As the UN General Assembly noted in creating that day, armed conflicts bring “indescribable” horrors not only to the civilian population, but also to the destruction of the environment around them.  And while these ecological consequences are largely “ignored by contemporary laws,” they inflict lasting damages that continue to harm the population even long after the guns have gone silent and the violence ended by agreement.

The Day.az news agency noted in its commentary on this event that, “the war begun by Armenia against Azerbaijan not only led to the destruction of the cities and villages of Nagorno-Karabakh and the population points surrounding it, but also to the destruction of the plant and animal worlds on this territory, because the ecological balance as a whole was violated.”

As a result of the more than 20 years of Armenian occupation, both agricultural land and the forests of this region have suffered, with many being destroyed along with lakes, parks, geological formations and paleontology sites.  The occupation authorities cut down trees “not only for military needs, but also for the preparation of construction materials used in the furniture industry and for other purposes.”

According to Azerbaijan’s ecology and natural resources ministry, Day.az continued, in the Hojavend district alone, “the Armenians completely destroyed the oak forests which grew along the banks of the Hojashin River.”  And its officials noted that the fate of several reserves of ancient trees remains unknown up to now.

As a result of the occupation, more than a million hectares of agricultural land were taken out of commission, including 127,000 hectares of irrigated lands and 34,000 of vineyards and orchards.  The Armenians “completely destroyed” a 1,200 kilometer network of irrigation works, carting off its machinery to their homeland and leaving the remainder incapable of functioning.

Because the Nagorno-Karabakh irrigation system was part of the unified irrigation infrastructure of Azerbaijan, the destruction of this portion of the system has affected other parts of Azerbaijan as well.  According to Day.az, some 120,000 hectares of land “beyond the borders of the occupied territories” still remains without water” and as a result is no longer useful for agriculture.  That, too, is the result of the ecological damage Armenian occupation has inflicted on the country.

According to estimates, the impact of the Armenian occupation on Azerbaijani agriculture alone has been “approximately 472 million US dollars,” and that figure is certainly low, because many of Azerbaijan’s most productive farming districts are located in areas that the Armenian occupiers have effectively destroyed.  Indeed, the officials say, “70 percent of the summer pasture lands of Azerbaijan” are in the occupied territories.

So serious has been this damage that Azerbaijanis now refer to the Armenian occupation as having inflicted “an ecological genocide” on their country.  And that tragedy, however described, has been compounded by two other factors.  On the one hand, there is extensive evidence that Armenian forces have been negligent in the ways they have disposed of chemicals used by them.  And on the other, there are indications that in the Agdam district, the Armenian occupiers have contaminated about 250,000 hectares with nuclear waste brought from Azerbaijan.


[1] See http://www.echo.az/index.php?aid=29786 (accessed 14 November 2012).

[2] See http://news.day.az/politics/364988.html (accessed 14 November 2012).