Azeris Accuse Karabakh of Denying Them Water

Farmers say they are unable to irrigate substantial area of agricultural land.

Azeris Accuse Karabakh of Denying Them Water

Farmers say they are unable to irrigate substantial area of agricultural land.

Friday, 24 September, 2010

Azeri farmers living near territory held by Armenian troops complain that the authorities in Nagorny Karabakh deliberately deny them water.

In Soviet times, much of western Azerbaijan was dependent for irrigation on reservoirs that are now controlled by Armenian forces loyal to Nagorny Karabakh.

The Karabakh conflict is still unsettled, with Armenians insisting it is independent and Azerbaijan considering it a rogue province. That means the two sides do not coordinate use of water from the crucial Terter river.

“We cannot use all our land, since there is not enough water for watering the fields. We only just have enough for drinking, and that’s because we have learned to economise in the last 20 years, so how can we talk about watering the fields,” said Maqsud Zaalov, a resident of the village of Tapqaraqoyunlu, which is close to the frontline in the Goranboy region.

His problem is typical for the whole region.

“At the moment, of the 33,000 hectares, we are only using 22,000 ha for the yearly harvest. The rest of the land is not being used because of the lack of water,” said Yakub Mammadov, the main adviser to the Goraboy region administration on agricultural issues.

After its construction in 1976, the Sarsang reservoir supplied water to six regions of Azerbaijan. It had the capacity to hold 560 million cubic metres of water. Having lost control of it, the Azeris also lost the ability to irrigate 10,000 ha of land. Apart from Sarsang, Armenians also hold several other reservoirs with capacity of 80 million m3.

Ahmad Ahmadzade, chairman of the Melioration and Water Management company, accused the Karabakh authorities of deliberately denying water to farmers in Azerbaijan, in a game that could have catastrophic consequences.

“In summer and winter, when the demand for water increases in the downstream regions, the Armenian side cuts off the water running out of the reservoir. And as a result of the level of water rising above the allowed level, the dam could rupture and as a minimum six regions could end up under water,” he said.

Catastrophic floods this spring in Azerbaijan affected five regions, destroying much of the country’s harvest. As a result, the Sarsang reservoir has been discussed at the highest level.

“At times of high water, the Armenians exploit the situation and aggravate conditions in downstream regions. At first they cut off the water, fill Sarsang above regulation levels, and then all at once release water to our side,” said Huseyn Bagirov, Azerbaijan’s natural resources and environment minster.

“The Armenians are continuing their total war with ecological methods. Normally the water flow in the river is about 3-5 m3 a second. But then they suddenly release water, it comes to 80-90 m3 a second.”

David Babayan, a water expert in Karabakh and head of the information service of the unrecognised state’s president, denied the authorities there used the Sarsang dam to punish Azeris. He said Karabakh used the dam to meet its own requirements.

“We use it to produce electricity as well as to irrigate the region. During winter we are producing electricity and during this period the water flows, and during the summer we keep the water in the reservoir. No one holds back the water of the Terter intentionally. We use the water and do it for objective reasons, because the water is used for electricity production,” he said.

He said the Karabakh authorities had proposed that they jointly exploit the Sarsang dam together with the Baku government, but that all their offers had been refused.

“They said they have oil and are not interested in the cotton harvest and production in those regions. Thus the Azerbaijan authorities should blame themselves. If they want to take steps for mutual confidence we will avoid this problem,” he said.

The Azeri foreign ministry said it did not negotiate with the self-proclaimed Karabakh government, and thus there had been nothing to discuss.

“A suggestion from a non-existent legal entity does not sound serious. Azerbaijan’s territories are occupied by Armenia. At the moment, talks are going on to regulate the conflict, and the internationally-recognised sides of the talks are Azerbaijan and Armenian, and the mediators are Russia, the United States and France. There is nothing to add to this,” said Elkhan Polukhov, a ministry spokesman.

Bagirov said that, however, that since there was clearly no imminent prospect of the conflict resolving itself or confidence-building measures being taken, Azerbaijan should build new reservoirs to resolve the problems of drought and floods.

A resolution to the problem cannot come too soon for those ordinary villagers.

“This summer I lost my harvest on seven ha. I put my last money into planting wheat. But because of the drought, and a lack of water to irrigate it, my family has been left without a penny, and I don’t know how I’m going to support them,” said Vasif Agacanov, a resident of the village of Qapanli in the Terter region.

Samira Ahmedbeyli is an IWPR staff reporter. Sara Khojoyan, IWPR’s country director in Armenia, contributed to this story.

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