Dr. Fuad Humbatov
The issue of environmental protection has been on the agenda of the international community as a global challenge since the early 1960s. The problem has always been in agenda of the international community in various aspects both in peacetime and during conflicts. It is well-known that one of the common features of the international conflicts and wars that have taken place in different periods is that they not only negatively affect the defense capabilities of the parties to the conflicts, life and health, socio-economic, political and military situation, but also seriously damage environment, environmental stability, and the environmental security system of the states involved in the conflict.
During last 30 years Armenia’s occupation of the Nagorno-Karabakh region and the adjacent seven districts of the Republic of Azerbaijan caused serious environmental problems to Azerbaijan’s nature, biological diversity and overall ecological situation of the entire region, leading to consequences that foster environmental degradation. Actually, Armenia realized an extensive exploitation of agricultural and water resources, systematic pillaging, exploitation of and illicit trade in assets, natural resources and other forms of wealth in the occupied territories.
First of all, let’s look at the concept of environmental terrorism (ecoterrorism). It’s well known that environmental terrorism has begun to form since the mid-20th century as a modern, but detrimental in terms of humanitarian consequences type of political terrorism which was widely used since the late 19th century and mastered later on as a main political struggle tool by all Armenian nationalist organizations like that Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), Social Democrat Hunchakian Party (Hnchak) etc. Historically Armenian nationalists and some other organizations, who are well acquainted with political terrorism methods, managed to master this new type of terrorism in a short time as well. It’s is evident by the environmental crimes committed against Azerbaijan during the policy of aggression of the Republic of Armenia that has lasted for more than 30 years. Some of them will be analyzed in the article.
In this sense, during last 30 years the Republic of Armenia keeping occupied the Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding regions and out of the control of the international community, in fact violated international humanitarian law and committed flagrant environmental crimes by looting of natural resources of the occupied regions, pollution of regional water resources, destruction of overall flora and fauna, as well as cultivation and trafficking of drugs in these territories.
First of all, in the occupied territories Armenia has seriously polluted rivers, particularly its sources there and other water resources of the regional importance. By these acts this country violated the right of Azerbaijani peaceful population living in the region to have an access to the water from the relevant reservoirs. Moreover, during the growing seasons, when water demand is higher, the relevant reservoirs were systematically blocked and water use was being hampered by the occupational Armenian military forces, and consequently the acute water shortages there resulted in a serious land degradation and other environmental problems. In the contrary, during the seasons when water was not needed in large quantities, Armenian occupational regime has been spilling out the large volumes of water from reservoirs to farms, grasslands, croplands, soil-lands and severely damaged the surrounding areas . All these acts and others described hereafter by Armenian military forces should be classified as ecological war crimes by the relevant international legal instances since the only aim of the occupational military regime of Armenia in occupied territories was weakening of the economic, military potential of the Republic of Azerbaijan through completely destruction of its environment or even provoking an environmental catastrophe there with hard socio-economic consequences.
At the same time, in the uncontrolled occupied by Armenia territories of Azerbaijan, the Araz River and its tributaries were deliberately polluted, the flora and fauna species were destroyed, consequently very seriously damages to the ecological stability of the region and the lives and health of the population living in these regions were conducted by Armenian military regime. Moreover, illegal expropriation of the mineral resources of the Republic of Azerbaijan took place in the occupied territories.
Another victim of the ecological war by Armenia was the river “Incichay”, which flows near the villages of Gulustan and Talysh of the Republic of Azerbaijan, occupied by Armenia and where Armenian military units were stationed. The river took its source from Mount Murov. Thus, on November 19, 2010, heavy pollution was observed in this river. The residents of Tapgaragoyunlu village, whose only water source is this river, were observing the flow of river water with thick foams on November 19, 2010 from 14:00 to 15:00 and reported it to the Territorial Department of Ecology and Natural Resources No. 13 (providing service for Goranboy, Naftalan, Samukh, Dashkasan, Goygol regions of Azerbaijan) of the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
Alike damages were also recorded in the “Agstafachay” reservoir located in the village of Jafarli of the Gazakh region of the Republic of Azerbaijan. The rivers supplying this reservoir have been still intendedly polluted by the waste from the Bentonite-clay plant situated in the Ijevan region of Armenia, as well as from the Tobacco Fermentation Plant, the Carpet Factory and the military plant in Dilijan region of Armenia. During the monitoring carried out by the National Monitoring Department of the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of the Republic of Azerbaijan on March 6, 2015 in order to study the pollution level of the trans-bordering rivers there were established that the quantity of the phenol as specific pollutant in the waters was 4.2 times higher than the permissible limit at the point “Shikhli-2”, 3.6 times higher in “Agstafachay” and 4 times higher in “Agstafachay” water-reservoir. Taking into account that the phenolic acid which is very caustic and is used only in medicine for disinfection tools in small amounts could damage mucous membranes of a man when inhaled with phenol vapor and make severe burns when contacts with skin, as well as damage the liver and kidneys when was ingested, it’s not difficult to imagine the scale of the environmental and humanitarian damages in Azerbaijan of the intended pollutions from Armenia through the mentioned trans-bordering rivers. All these facts once more prove that Armenia has been waging an environmental war against the Republic of Azerbaijan.
Certainly, upon completion of the investigation of the above-mentioned objectively similar crimes by the relevant law-enforcement authorities of Azerbaijan, all the reports, documents will be submitted to the relevant international judicial instances and the Republic of Armenia, its official representatives who directly organize and conducted these crimes will be brought before the mentioned courts. Historically, Armenian political organizations have repeatedly referred to terrorism as a means of political and military enforcement and it proves once more that the above-mentioned acts might be classified as environmental terrorism or environmental war.
It should be noted that the policy of ecolological war by Armenia against the Republic of Azerbaijan and particularly its water resources had very negatve impacts on the fishing industry of Azebaijan that infliged serious social and economic problems of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic of Azerbajan. Thus, the Araz water reservoir, located on the territory of Nakhchivan, built jointly by the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Islamic Republic of Iran on the Araz River, plays an important role in the overall fishing industry of both states. The intendedly discharge of polluted water and waste directly into the Araz River by the armenian authorities resulted in the intensive development of polysaccharides (ie organic compounds living in the deep layers of water bodies) in the deep parts of this water basin. At the same time heavy metals and toxins discharged there by the Armenian authorities systematically poisoned population through consumed fishes and other foods from this polluted basin.
As a result of the monitoring conducted by the relevant competent authorities of Azerbaijan, it was determined that in the rivers “Agstafachay” and “Khramchay”, flowing from Armenia and joining the Kura River in the territory of Azerbaijan, the amount of various chemical compounds in this river, as well as in the other trans-border river “Okhchuchay” flowing from Armenia, joined the Araz River, the amount of heavy metals waters became 10-30 times higher than the permissible limits.
The level of the Okhchuchay River pollution is extremely important for Azerbaijan, considering that it flows into the Araz River – the second largest river in the South Caucasus. The Araz River, the largest right tributary of the Kura River, is playing a crucial role in irrigation of the farming lands of Azerbaijan. However, given the quality of the water in the river, its use for domestic and agricultural needs can lead to extremely negative impacts.
The liberation of the Azerbaijani lands previously occupied by Armenia has given an access for the Azerbaijani ecologists to the local rivers flowing, in particular, through the territories of the Zangilan district. The results of the water test portion from the Okhchuchay River taken within January – March 2021 have revealed a high content of heavy metals, specifically, a copper, a molybdenum, a manganese, an iron, a zinc and a chromium.
According to the report by the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Azerbaijan, the content of copper-molybdenum compound – 2 times, iron – 4 times and nickel – even 7 times was higher than the norm. Periodically a color of the Okhchuchay River was changing either to a white or to an acid-yellow one. A mass trout mortality in the river was recorded in March 2021.
The high content of heavy metals in the waters ruins not only the fluvial fauna, but is also extremely dangerous for the human health. Usage of the contaminated water can bring to detrimental consequences – from the disorders of gastrointestinal tracts, destructive processes in kidneys and bone tissue up to the disorders of cardiovascular, nervous and hematopoietic systems of the body.
At the same time, one of the serious damages inflicted by the Armenian armed forces on the environmental security system of the Republic of Azerbaijan since 1999 has been the systematic arsons of forests and other biomasses by Armenian militaries in the occupied territories and adjacent lands of the Republic of Azerbaijan. As a result of these intentional fires, a huge amount of the soil layer, as well as the rare species of fauna and flora were destroyed. Concretely, 63,414 hectares in 2006, 31,097 hectares in 2007, 380 hectares in 2008, and 250 hectares in 2009 were completely burnt to ashes as a result of the mentioned arsons by the Armenian military forces. For example, as a result of consequent arsons of the forests in the villages Chaily and Shikharkhy of the Tartar district, approximately a thousand-hectare territory was completely burnt off. The millions of dollars of lost have been inflicted to the economy of the Republic of Azerbaijan as a result of these fires, and unfortunately the number and damages of these fires continue to grow. Moreover, Agdam, Fizuli, Jabrayil, Tartar and Khojavend districts of Azerbaijan that used to be on the contact line of the opposing armed forces during the last 30 years were completely set on fire by Armenian militaries. As a result of this fire covering tens of thousands of hectares and having spread out to another areas of Azerbaijan a serious damage to the environment and wildlife of Azerbaijan was caused. All these acts are obvious ecological war crimes of the Republic of Armenia since the only aim of the occupational military regime of Armenia in occupied territories of Azerbaijan was weakening of the economic, military potential of the Republic of Azerbaijan through completely destruction of its environment or even provoking an environmental catastrophe there with hard socio-economic consequences.
According to official statistics, regular fires by Armenian authorities since 2006 have destroyed more than 110,000 hectares of fertile land and severely damaged agriculture.
In this sense, an international convention prohibiting the conduct of ecological war is the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques (Environmental Modification Convention (ENMOD). By the way, the Republic of Armenia joined this convention on 15.05.2002. This convention was adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1976, signed by 33 countries on May 18, 1977, including the USSR in Geneva, and entered into force on October 5, 1978.
The main subject-matter of this convention that Armenia has been systematically violated last 30 years, despite the fact this country is a part of it, is prohibition of the selection of the environment as a military target or any hostile target during the armed conflicts (wars).
İn this regard, a legal crystallization of the grave international crime such as ecocide originates from the mentioned convention and other international agreements regulating the conduct of armed conflicts (wars). Thus, for example, the Article 35 (3) of the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I, 08.06.77) prohibits to employ methods or means of warfare which are intended, or may be expected, to cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment. In general, the issue of protecting the environment during the armed conflicts, although not directly mentioned, is reflected in a number of sources of international humanitarian law, including the 1949 Geneva Conventions.
Actually, if these kinds of illegal acts of environmental terrorism are proved to be directly related to the overall destructive regional policy of the Republic of Armenia towards its neighbors. İn this regard, the Armenian Military Forces was completely defeated and pushed away from the historical territory of Azerbaijan during the last 44-days counter-offensive operation successfully accomplished by the Azerbaijan Military Forced on November 10, 2020. But there’s still a real threat that the Armenian terror groups supported by the Armenian government will try to organize environmental and other terror acts in the region in the future as well. Even after its military defeat Armenia still refuses to disclose the information about its anti-personnel mines in the Karabakh region of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
(Writer is Associate Professor at the Chair of the Planning and Management of Sustainable Development of the State Academy of Public Administration under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Doctor of Philosophy in Mathematics, Master Degree in Law (LLM)).