98 MPs vote to condemn occupying Armenia over Sarsang Reservoir policy

Press Release: On 26 January, a staggering 98 MPs voted in favour of the adoption of a Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) resolution entitled Inhabitants of the frontier regions of Azerbaijan are deliberately denied access to water, for which the rapporteur was Milica Markovic MP (Bosnia and Herzegovina).

Mrs Markovic clarified her condemnation of the Armenian occupation: “The title of my report concerns the region between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Territorially, it is the region of Azerbaijan, but the fact is it is under the control of Armenia.” She also went on to condemn the ineffectiveness of the OSCE Minsk Group, which has unsuccessfully been attempting to achieve a negotiated peace for nearly 22 years, saying: “The subject of my report has been controversial in the past few months because of the issue of the competence of the OSCE Minsk Group, which is tasked with finding a potential resolution to the conflict. As we know, that group has been doing its work, but 20 years have passed and it has not found a specific solution, or there is no specific solution so far to the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia.”

Speaking of the 40-year-old Sarsang Reservoir ­– at 125m, the highest Azerbaijani water reservoir, located 726m above sea level – she said: “Nagorno-Karabakh is under the control of Armenia, and Lower Karabakh is under the control of Azerbaijan. In Lower Karabakh, there are six districts and six cities that have to use the water resources. They have to be provided with water from the Sarsang Reservoir. The intention in building the reservoir was to provide the local population with drinking water and to irrigate the region.

“The region of Nagorno-Karabakh and Lower Karabakh is made up of plains and arable land which require human intervention – it has to be irrigated. Today, it is not possible to do that. The Sarsang Reservoir’s main channel has two branches, north and south, which provide water for irrigating the whole region, and drinking water for the population, but 80 per cent of this is under Armenian control.”

Mrs Markovic went on to explain that her fact-finding mission had visited the six affected Azerbaijani regions in August 2015, but had been unable to gain access to Armenia or the occupied part of the Sarsang Reservoir, due to the obstreperous behavior of the Armenian authorities.

The adopted resolution text at http://bit.ly/pacesarsang asserts that the region is occupied by Armenia, and that the Armenian authorities are responsible for this humanitarian crisis. Article seven states that PACE requests:

The immediate withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from the region concerned, thus allowing:

  • access by independent engineers and hydrologists to carry out a detailed on-the-spot survey
  • global management, throughout the catchment area, of the use and upkeep of the Sarsang water resources
  • international supervision of the irrigation canals, the state of the Sarsang and Madagiz dams, the schedule of water releases during the autumn and winter, and aquifer overexploitation
  • the Armenian authorities to cease using water resources as tools of political influence or an instrument of pressure benefiting only one of the parties to the conflict. 

The Sarsang reservoir was built during the Soviet period to provide residents with water and irrigate agriculture. However, since the Armenian occupation in 1992, the regions near the ‘contact line’ have deliberately been deprived of water. Armenia also intentionally uses the water reservoir to subject the six regions downstream to flooding by releasing runoff from the reservoir in winter months, thereby causing serious damage to the agriculture of the nearby regions.