Our Analytics 22 may — 15:07

Opposition's mess under Khudaferin bridge (Editorial)

352

EDITORIAL

Opposition's propaganda machine and the anti-government expert community are promoting a new 'treacherous plan' in social networks. Knowing that everything connected with Karabakh inevitably attracts increased attention of the Azerbaijani public, the opposition traditionally singles out the speculative aspect in order to cast a shadow on the policy of the power elite. This time, it's not about such important aspects as the activation of the negotiation process on the Karabakh settlement and the recent statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on a phased plan for resolving the conflict, which is already on the negotiating table today, the latter fact causing extreme discontent of the Armenian opposition and its fierce attacks on Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. The surge in the next online activity of local Fronders was caused not by this decisive situation for our country, but by one of the agreements signed four years ago during the visit of the Azerbaijani delegation to Iran.

Despite the seemingly quite complete explanation of the background of the agreement signed between Iran and Azerbaijan in February 2016 on the construction project of the two hydroelectric facilities Khudaferin and Giz Galasi on the Araz River, which was presented in the media by economists and diplomats, in particular, political analyst Farid Shafiev on our site, an anti-government expert community continues to exaggerate the so-called 'scandalous part' of the project, claiming that the agreement, which the authorities keep secret from the public, opens a direct corridor to Iran for the Armenian occupying forces, now controlling the Azerbaijani section of the project.

Opposition's new sacral word - Khudaferin

Was the document really 'hidden'?

So, how true is the fact of the document being 'hidden' away from the eyes of the public because of its ambiguity, and is it true that the agreement concluded between Azerbaijan and Iran on the implementation of the project on creating reservoirs on the lands adjacent to the Araz River, which our country is currently doesn't control, is an 'act of betrayal' of national interests, as opposition propagandists claim?

Let's start with the thesis that the agreement was not spoken about and was 'hidden from the public.' Let it be known to those suspecting some kind of secret intent that this intergovernmental document has no stamp of either 'secret,' or even less so 'top secret,' and, like other official materials, has been openly accessible in a single electronic database of legal acts since 2016 on the e-qanun portal. And the visit of the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev to Iran in February 2016, and its results were covered in detail by AzerTAc Azerbaijan State News Agency and other media. Not to mention the fact that the Azerbaijani minister of economy gave a detailed interview to AzerTAc on this topic.

Isn't it strange that those who do not leave thoughts about the fate of Karabakh and other occupied lands day and night saw this document only four years later? According to the logic of things, shouldn't those who so care about the legitimacy of the government's actions with respect to Karabakh and wait every minute for a trick, keep track of every statement, every meeting and commentary related to the occupied territories?

Is there direct communication between the occupiers and Iran?

Another thesis of the opposition claims that as a result of this agreement two bridges have already been built across the Araz River in the direction of the occupied Jabrail District, which created direct communication between the occupied territories of Azerbaijan and Iran.

Well, let us consider this 'killer' argument, testifying to the 'hypocrisy of official Baku.' The fact is that the implementation of these projects, whose history spans almost half a century, dates back to the 1970s. Then, in the last century, an agreement was reached between specialists from the USSR and Iran on the construction and operation of two hydroelectric facilities, Khudaferin and Giz Galasi, on the border river Araz (then Araxes). And in December 1988, an agreement was signed between the USSR and Iran on cooperation in their construction and operation, and a year later, with the participation of the leadership of the Azerbaijan SSR, a ceremony was held to lay the foundation for the complex of hydroelectric facilities.

History of negotiations around the construction of bridges goes back to the 1970s

Later, after the collapse of the USSR and the restoration of independence by Azerbaijan, certain work on the implementation of the project was continued. So, in the first years of our independence, and in particular in May 1992, the Cabinet of Ministers of Azerbaijan adopted decision No.267 on the construction of the Khudaferin and Giz Galasi hydro-power plants. In accordance with this decision, the state-owned company Azerenerjitikinti and the Bakıhidrolayihə Institute were instructed to take comprehensive organisational and technical measures to implement the project. In the order of the Cabinet of Ministers, Azərenerjitikinti was indicated both as a customer and as a contractor, and it was entrusted with the development and implementation of comprehensive organisational and technical measures to ensure the timely construction of hydro-power facilities and the timely commissioning of dams.

Year 1992, 10 days after the PFPA–Musavat tandem came to power...

Within the framework of the agreement, a week later, on 25 May 1992, the state company Azerenerjitikinti, authorised by the Government of Azerbaijan, together with the head of the water department of East Azerbaijan of the Iranian Ministry of Energy authorised by Iran, signed an agreement on the identification and construction of primary facilities that will ensure the construction of the Khudaferin and Giz Galasi hydroelectric facilities. The agreement included, among other things, 'the construction of two road bridges across the Araz River, the construction of temporary roads in the construction zone, the construction of permanent asphalt roads in the construction zone.' And as part of the agreement, the construction of two bridges with the function of auxiliary facilities was started. One of them was intended for the Khudaferin hydroelectric complex, the other, respectively, for Gyz Galasi.

The opening ceremony of the auxiliary bridge for the construction of the Khudaferin Dam, which was attended by officials from Azerbaijan and Iran, was held in February 1993.

In parallel with the work at Khudaferin, the Azerbaijani government began the construction of an auxiliary bridge for the Gyz Galasi hydroelectric complex. Due to the occupation of our territories by Armenia, Azerbaijani companies completely stopped their construction of dams, and the construction of the bridge was completed by Iran independently.

The Cabinet of Ministers resolution provided for the conclusion of a framework agreement that would include the rights and obligations of the parties associated with the construction of the Khudaferin and Gyz Galasi hydroelectric facilities, as well as the joint operation and management of dams. Subsequent processes around hydro-power facilities on Araz took place in the absence of a framework agreement.

Negative consequences of the construction, continued without an agreement

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the restoration of independence by Azerbaijan, in order to continue the construction of the Khudaferin and Giz Galasi hydroelectric facilities, the Republic of Azerbaijan was to conclude a bilateral agreement with Iran, which would define the conditions for the construction, use and operation of water and electricity resources.

However, the government representing the independent state of those years gave permission to build without an agreement. When the authorised government structures of Azerbaijan after the occupation of low-land Karabakh suspended their participation in the construction of hydro-power complexes, almost all design estimates and organisational and technical issues were agreed with Iran, and most of the contracts were signed. At the same time, there was no framework agreement between the two countries on joint construction and operation.

It's not just about Khudaferin, but the construction of the Giz Galasi hydroelectric complex too

It must be said, however, that the Iranian region adjacent to Araz had an acute shortage of water resources, and therefore, having the decision of the then authorities of Azerbaijan, the Iranian side unilaterally continued the construction of hydroelectric facilities even after the Armenian armed forces occupied the Azerbaijani territories.

Subsequently, the Azerbaijani side, based on the current situation, insisted on concluding an intergovernmental framework agreement with Iran on construction, sharing and management, provided that the document meets the interests of both parties and determines the rights and obligations of the parties.

After lengthy negotiations with Tehran, an agreement was signed in February 2016, providing conditions such as Azerbaijan's ownership of the future infrastructure, equal use of water and electricity, Azerbaijan's participation and control in the continued construction, use and operation of dams. This agreement is an important international legal instrument.

Is the project one-sided? Are the interests of Azerbaijan taken into account?

If one believes the accusations against the Azerbaijani government, which have already been being distributed for a month with varying intensity, both of the projects on Araz are exclusively unilateral, harming national interests. In reality, the persons who advanced these claims themselves did not really understand the history and essence of the issue. For some reason, accusers forget that Araz is a border river, and the implementation of related projects is determined by the intention to develop relations between two neighbouring states. So, for example, the first article of the agreement states that the parties, based on the sovereignty, territorial integrity and interests of the two countries, will work together to continue the construction and subsequently operate the Khudaferin and Giz Galasi hydro-power plants.

The interests of both parties are protected by the principles of sovereign equality recognised by both parties. The agreement was developed in accordance with international law. Thus, this agreement is a document that fully meets the interests of the Azerbaijani people and the state.On all issues regulated by the agreement, Azerbaijan and Iran carry out activities on the basis of equality, which is also reflected in all provisions of this agreement. The recognition by Iran of the occupied territories only as part of the sovereign Azerbaijan, the territorial integrity of our state, the application of its property rights and jurisdiction in relation to the Khudaferin and Giz Galasi complexes are of exceptional importance for ensuring our state interests.

Here, of course, a remark would be followed by the opponents of the government: 'Iran already recognises the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and emphasises this in joint statements, mutual agreements and documents adopted in various formats. So what was the need for Iran to reaffirm the recognition of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Azerbaijan over the occupied territories in such an agreement?'

Iran unconditionally recognises the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan

In its political declarations, official Tehran has repeatedly stated its support for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. It is important to emphasise once again that the exercise of sovereign rights in the territories, on which hydroelectric facilities are built, and in the occupied territories along the Araz River is the exclusive competence of the Azerbaijani state. In other words, Azerbaijan has managed to exercise its legal rights on the basis of this agreement. This document strengthens the position of Azerbaijan in political processes aimed at ensuring sovereignty in the occupied territories. The agreement also strengthens the position of our country in political processes aimed at ensuring the sovereignty of Azerbaijan in all of our occupied territories. At the same time, this document is a serious signal that the aggressive policy of Armenia will soon be put to an end. We can say with confidence that Azerbaijan will liberate all its occupied territories, and we will see the exceptional significance of this agreement during the restoration of these territories.

The next accusation is that Azerbaijan has repeatedly stated in international documents that it does not control the occupied territories and that these territories are used as a 'grey zone' for drug trafficking. So why then did Azerbaijan sign this agreement?

There is a rational answer to this question as well. Statements, reservations, and even dissenting opinions of Azerbaijan regarding international documents related to functional activities arising from the object of an international treaty should not be construed as a renunciation of sovereignty. In other words, Azerbaijan's sovereignty over these territories remains in any case. And at the same time, statements, reservations and dissenting opinions to international documents imply responsibility of the occupying country Armenia for activities contrary to international norms in the occupied territories.

Occupied Zangilan: Exceptional importance of this agreement will be shown during the restoration of these territories

Location of hydroelectric facilities: Were any villages submerged?

Critics of the Araz project accuse the designers and the government that adopted their project of failing to choose a place for the dam. Like, many villages on the Azerbaijani side may be submerged under water. Opposition experts being very far from the principles of dam construction came to this conclusion only on the basis that the larger part of the hydro-complex will be on our shore.

Note for those unfamiliar with the history of the issue: for complete and effective regulation of the waters of Araz back in Soviet times, cascading waterworks were built. The Khudaferin and Giz Galasi projects, which are the last link in this hydro-complex, were approved 50 years ago after many years of scrupulous hydro-observation.

Expeditions of professional engineers and hydrologists in the 1970-1980s fully studied the potential of the river, the topography of the territories, their geology, ecology and geomorphology. Only after that were the locations of the hydroelectric facilities that were agreed by the USSR and Iran selected. Issues of historical monuments that could remain under water were discussed with the public, and their protection was ensured.

Also, at the level of a special working group, a life-support network of infrastructures falling under the reservoir zone was agreed, and the difference between the amounts of damage caused to the parties is funded on an equal footing.

Has Baku allocated money for this project?

As for the allegations that the Azerbaijani side has incurred the costs of building the dams, they are absolutely untrue. It follows from the text of the agreement that the financial costs of the parties for the construction of hydroelectric facilities and hydro-power plants are determined by the joint technical commission. And until now, there is no decision of the Azerbaijani government in connection with the payment of expenses.

The parties to the cooperation agreement concluded on 23 February 2016 to continue the construction of the Khudaferin and Giz Galasi hydroelectric facilities on the Araz River and their operation are the governments of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Islamic Republic of Iran. According to the document, cooperation is based on the principles of equality, non-interference in internal affairs and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the two states. It is worth noting that these principles are repeated several times in the text of the agreement and are specifically reflected both in the preamble and in Article 1 of the document.

The document also notes the importance of restoring the territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan, in accordance with the requirements of the respective UN resolutions. Thus, the legal framework for the construction and operation of hydroelectric power stations and the Khudaferin and Gas Galasi hydroelectric power plants has been formed within the framework of the sovereignty and jurisdiction of the two countries.

Critics of the Araz project blame the designers: they say, the choice of the place under the dam is unsuccessful. Is it so?

Commentary on the clauses of the agreement

The format for the construction and operation of hydro-power plants and hydroelectric power stations is reflected in Article 1 of the agreement. This format contains the following two elements.

- Construction and operation are based on the interests, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and Iran. The issue is within the framework of the sovereign rights of the two countries. The territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and Iran cannot be harmed, and there can be no question of the interests of any third country.

The agreement more than clearly states that it is forbidden to transfer to individuals or legal entities of a third country the protection and operation of the water and energy resources of the hydroelectric power stations and the Khudaferin and Giz Galasi hydroelectric power plants (Article 6).

Based on the agreement, the current state border line after filling the hydroelectric facilities with water will be determined and marked on the water surface by the agreed method and will be the state border of the two countries (Article 14). In other words, the coordinates of the state borders remain unchanged, and the line of the state border will already pass along the corresponding water surface.

- The document implies joint participation of Azerbaijan and Iran in construction and operational activities. That is, no party should take unilateral decisions without the consent of the other party.

The first article of the agreement also discusses the obligations of the Iranian side to continue construction work, taking into account the current situation in the territories where hydroelectric facilities and hydroelectric power plants are located, the occupation of Azerbaijani territories, and the actual possibilities of the Azerbaijani side in connection with this circumstance precisely on the basis of this agreement. According to Article 9 of the agreement, the obligation of the Iranian side is to ensure the participation of Azerbaijani specialists to monitor the construction and operation of these hydro-power facilities until the restoration of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan in accordance with UN requirements.

Article 1 also determines that the provisions of this agreement are the only basis for the operation, protection and use of water and energy resources of hydro-power facilities and hydroelectric power stations. That is, all issues are resolved exclusively within the framework of the agreement, which is based on the sovereignty of Azerbaijan and Iran, and the possibility of carrying out this activity on the basis of any other rules is excluded.

The agreement also notes that the integrated construction of hydroelectric facilities continues under the control of Azerbaijani and Iranian specialists. And according to the second article of the document, a joint technical commission consisting of specialists from Azerbaijan and Iran will operate to fulfil these tasks.

In accordance with the fourth article of the agreement, the construction costs of the parties are also determined by the joint technical commission. It is understood that the costs borne by the Azerbaijani side will be paid to Iran in the form of electricity generated at the hydroelectric station or by other means. Damage caused to both parties as a result of construction is taken into account in mutual settlements.

The fifth article of the agreement provides that the responsibility for the protection, use and safety of hydro-power facilities and hydroelectric power plants rests with the parties equally. In the current situation, until the restoration of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, the Iranian side assumes this responsibility, with the exception of force majeure situations.

The agreement also contains specific points on the distribution of water and electricity between the two countries. So, according to the seventh article, the use of water resources of hydroelectric facilities will be carried out according to the principle of equality, and the electricity produced at the hydroelectric power stations of each country will belong to this country.

The volume of water equal to what the Iranian side will take from the Giz Galasi hydroelectric complex, minus the natural losses, Azerbaijan will take from the Mil-Mugan and Bahramtepe hydroelectric power plants. Naturally, before the opportunity to use the above hydroelectric facilities.

According to the eighth article of the agreement, until the restoration of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan in accordance with the requirements of the UN resolution, the electricity generated at the Khudaferin and Giz Galasi hydro-power plants can be used only in Iran.

The Azerbaijan side has the right to transit transmission of electricity generated at these hydroelectric power stations, on the basis of mutual agreement. At the end of each year, the joint technical commission will determine the Azerbaijani share of electricity generated, and appropriate settlements will be made through the coordination of tariffs.

According to Article 11 of the agreement, the parties will prepare an action plan for the restoration and preservation of the historic Khudaferin bridges. In the current conditions, the Iranian side unilaterally, with the exception of force majeure, takes over the implementation of this plan. The costs of the parties for the implementation of this action plan will be determined by the joint technical commission, this amount will be paid by Azerbaijan to Iran. The agreement also states that the parties will jointly prepare the documents necessary for including Khudaferin bridges in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Articles 12 and 13 of the agreement contain questions on environmental protection, the joint use of biological resources, the prevention of natural and man-made disasters and the elimination of their consequences. These issues too are considered on the basis of mutual agreement of the parties or in the framework of a joint technical commission.

In accordance with Article 16 of the agreement, in case of disagreement on the interpretation and application of its provisions, they should be settled through diplomatic negotiations and consultations in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and cooperation between the parties.

It is worth noting that such a clause is quite widely used in the international practice of concluding agreements and treaties. This gives the parties the necessary flexibility to resolve their differences based on their own free will.

Given that the obligations of the agreement are directly related to the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, in the event of an alleged violation of obligations and the impossibility of resolving disagreements through negotiations and consultations, Article 16 does not exclude the possibility of each party turning to universal international mechanisms.

Latest news