Autumn 1994 (2.3)
Impact of the War on the Environment
by Svetlana Turyalay and Elchin Hajiyev
Translation by Edison Hajiyev
Land burning policy of the Armenians. Lachin in flames, May 1992. Photo: Oleg Litvin.
Whenever people think of war, they usually reflect on the tragic loss of human life, they rarely consider the loss and damage done to nature. We've had considerable losses of human life during these six long years of war with Armenians. An estimated 20,000 Azeris have died - many of them civilians.
Since the war has been fought entirely on our territory and 20% of it is now occupied by Armenians, all Azerbaijanis who used to live in the occupied regions and who have survived Armenian aggression have fled to other regions of Azerbaijan.
This, in itself, is having an incredible impact on environment as there are 1.1 million displaced persons in Azerbaijan. Deforestation is one of the most severe problems as many trees are being cut down for fuel. It's inevitable that considerable erosion will follow. Deforestation and erosion may well be the most irreversible problems of this war. Who knows if the trees, forests, and soil can ever be completely restored?
Ecological Damage and Loss
Today, Armenians occupy five districts within Nagorno-Karabakh plus an additional seven districts outside of it. As neither Azerbaijanis nor any international groups have access to this area, there is no way of knowing the extent of damage that has been done. Perhaps, no one will ever know the loss to natural plant and animal life in these rich arable and mountainous regions. Many areas have been heavily set with land mines-destruction to life, human, flora and fauna will continue to be felt decades after the war ends.
Rich Mineral Resources
There are considerable minerals and valuable raw materials in the occupied area. Specifically, Azerbaijanis used to mine complex ores in the Kalbajar region including gold, chromite ore, agate, perlite, and mercury. Almost half of the country's stone quarries are in this region, too. Marble is quarried close to Aghdam. Raw materials for the production of cement have been left behind in the Aghdam, Aghdara and the Fizuli districts. Reports indicate that the Armenians are heavily exploiting these rich deposits to benefit as much as possible before they have to return these territories to Azerbaijan.
Natural Spring Water
At Isti-Su near the Kalbajar District there are therapeutic mineral and hot springs where people used to go for treatment of rheumatism and arthritis. Nearby was the major water bottling plant for the Isti-Su mineral water where one million liters were bottled daily. One of the most famous supplies of water came from Nakhchivan, where nearly 80% of Azerbaijan's total mineral water supply of 9.162 thousand liters was extracted daily. Although Nakhchivan is not occupied, Azerbaijanis on the mainland have been cut off from this water supply by a blockade that Armenians have been imposing during the past four years.
Azerbaijanis are deeply concerned about the Sarsang Water Reservoir which is currently held by Armenians. The dam is located on the Tartar river at an altitude of 1,000 meters. Were it to be destroyed, the entire Kur-Araz valley would be flooded. Approximately 3 million people reside in this region many of whom are refugees, living in temporary conditions in tents, and railroad boxcars.
Pastures and Cultivation
Pastures are not available for grazing cattle (both sheep, cows, horses) inside or nearby the occupied area. Prior to the war, nearly 245,000 hectares were used as pastures. Farmers and shepherds living outside this region used to take their animals to higher elevations during the summer. In terms of cultivation, more than 645,000 hectares were grown in cotton, vineyards, wheat, corn, and vegetables.
National Parks and Preserves
Before the Karabakh conflict, the Azerbaijan government had planned to create a Karabakh National Park that would extend from Kalbajar and Lachin to Gubadli. Two other preserves, Gara-Gyul and Bargushad-chay Natural Reserves, are in the occupied area. These areas are lush with green forests, pristine lakes and waterfalls, wildlife used to be so abundant that it was one of the favorite retreats for the highest ranking members of the Soviet Party and Government leaders.
In some of these areas, only state authorities were allowed to hunt. A unique grove of plane trees (sycamores) grow on the southern part of the Bargushad-chay Natural Reserve. Deer and Caucasian bear which are listed in Azerbaijan's Red Book (endangered species) are there along with wild boar. Extremely valuable trees date back more than three centuries. Unique to the entire world is the Azikh cave in the Fizuli region which was one of the first places in the world where evidence has been found for Neanderthal man.
According to reports in the international press, sizable tracts of timber are now being cut in the occupied forests of Azerbaijan and being exported to Armenia for use in building furniture and for export to other countries.
However severe this war may be, however long it may last, sooner or later, it will end. And then re-building will have to begin. Reconstruction will take place even in the midst of economical difficulty. What is impossible to assess right now is how much the environment and ecological balance can be restored.
From Azerbaijan International (2.3) Autumn 1994.
© Azerbaijan International 1994. All rights reserved.