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Severe contamination of Okhchu River by Armenia causing ecological and humanitarian catastrophe for region

(Media Reports):- Armenia’s decades-long policy of occupation and aggression against Azerbaijan continues to constitute a vital threat for Azerbaijanis even after the liberation of Azerbaijan’s territories from occupation last year.

Heavy mining of liberated territories during occupation and during Armenia’s retreat from these territories right after the signing of Trilateral Statement dated November 10, 2021, ecological terror in the form of cutting down the trees, burning the houses, contaminating the rivers with harmful substances are only a few of the actions that Armenia has been taking to cause systematic, consistent, and long-run damages to Azerbaijanis.

Recently, Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Azerbaijan analysed the water samples taken from four transboundary rivers in the area of the liberated territories. The analysis which was carried out in an internationally accredited and certified SGS laboratory in Germany revealed that all four rivers were significantly polluted by Armenia, with the most severe level of pollution registered in the Okhchu River, the left tributary of the Araz River, which takes its source from Armenia and passes through the Zangilan region of Azerbaijan.

Releasing a video of the river in a Tweeter post on July 2, the Ministry stated that the companies and agencies which have direct responsibility in causing the river’s pollution should immediately halt their activities. The apparent acid-yellow colour of the river in the video testifies to its contamination with heavy metals such as copper, molybdenum, manganese, iron, zinc chromium and etc.

Hikmet Hajiyev, Assistant of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Head of Foreign Policy Affairs Department of the Presidential Administration also expressed his concern regarding the issue in a Twitter post on the same day which said: “Water has been called “mining’s most common casualty”.#Okhchu river which flows from Armenia to Azerbaijan is unfolding environmental catastrophy. Heavy chemical contamination as a result of Armenia’s #mining industry. Responsible companies must stop their activities.”

Apparently, two Armenian mining companies in the Syunik region (historical Zangezur) – the Zangezur Copper-Molybdenum and the Kafan Mining and Processing are the source of the river’s pollution. They discharge production wastes directly into the river without any pre-treatment. It is now also discussed that the Zangezur Copper-Molybdenum, which operates the Kajaran mine, is a subsidiary of the German company CRONIMET Holding GmbH.

The heavy contamination of the river way above the norms causes the destruction of the micro flora and fauna. Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Azerbaijan revealed earlier this year that they registered mass die-offs of more than 500 small trouts in the river.

Drinking contaminated water can lead to severe long-term consequences for human health such as disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, kidneys, bone tissue as well as cardiovascular, nervous and hematopoietic systems of the body. That means, contamination of a drinking water as well as mass extinction of fauna and flora in these territories due to chemical and biological pollution of the Okhchu River by Armenia constitutes one more hindrance for safe return of Azerbaijani IDPs into these territories. After committing war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide against Azerbaijanis throughout the last three decades, Armenia is now pursuing against Azerbaijan what scientists call a crime of ECOCIDE – “killing the environment”.

The problem is much more calamitous than it seems and can have disastrous effects not only for Azerbaijan but also for the entire region. Since the Okchu River flows into the Araz River it creates a problem of pollution also for the latter, as well as the Kura River both of which flow into the Caspian Sea. This potentially means that not only Azerbaijan, but all the other four littoral states will suffer from this heavy contamination in the long run.

Armenia – from where the majority of rivers flow into the territories of Azerbaijan –is not a party to the Helsinki Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes which requires Parties to prevent, control and reduce transboundary impact, use transboundary waters in a reasonable and equitable way and ensure their sustainable management. Yet even if Armenia, unlike Azerbaijan, is not a party to the Convention, there are norms of general international law requiring the UN member states to refrain from actions that may damage the territory of neighbouring countries. In 2003, five littoral states of Caspian Sea signed a Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea which can complicate the situation even more for Armenia in case of its inaction.

Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources appealed to international organisations regarding environmental hazards and the critical situation in the river. In this period of post-war reconstruction and rehabilitation of the liberated territories to ensure safe and dignified return of Azerbaijani IDP’s, inaction by Armenia must be regarded as a deliberate move to make Karabakh unsuitable place for living. Continuation of the pollution of the river by Armenia should also be accepted as a deliberate obstacle to the ongoing efforts to achieve sustainable peace in the region in the aftermath of the signing of Trilateral Statement in November last year.

In the context of wider global action against pollution and environmental destruction, now is the time for global community to act against a single country which causes environmental damage for the entire region.

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