Our Society 16 july — 15:38

Israeli analyst Rachel Avraham: Indigenous inhabitants of Karabakh - Azerbaijanis - are victims of ecocide



The problem of transboundary pollution of the Okhchuchay River, flowing through the territory of Armenia and Azerbaijan, continues to be in the focus of attention not only of Azerbaijan, but also of the world community. Yesterday, TheJ.CA, an authoritative Jewish publication from Canada, published an article about this environmental disaster.

It should be noted that despite the fact that the law enforcement agencies of Armenia began searches at the Zangezur copper-molybdenum combine in the Syunik region (historical Zangezur), this enterprise has been polluting the environment for 20 years, continuing to cause irreparable damage to the recently liberated territories of Azerbaijan.

The article titled 'Karabakh's Water Pollution Problem Part Of Global South's Struggle' is authored by Rachel Avraham, a political analyst working at the Safadi Centre for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights.

In her article, Abraham writes, that mineral waste released by Armenia into Okhchuchai River is turning from a regional to a global problem.

In a paper titled ‘Environmental Justice, Human Rights and the Global South’, Carmen Gonzales wrote: “The adverse impacts of global environmental degradation are borne disproportionately by the planet’s most vulnerable human beings, including the rural and urban poor, racial and ethnic minorities, women, and the indigenous.”  

She continued, “In both the North and the South, the communities most burdened by crushing poverty, ill health, political disempowerment, and social exclusion are the ones most exposed to air and water pollution and most affected by climate change and other global environmental problems.” 

Anyone who visits the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, which was under Armenian occupation for thirty years, can confirm this point. 

Indeed, the Azerbaijanis, who are ethnically indigenous to the Karabakh region, have been plagued by ecocide and environmental terrorism that includes water pollution, while France, the Biden administration, Germany, and other important actors in the international community are supporting the Armenians, who colonized the area in violation of international law.    

The evidence of Armenia’s environmental terrorism is there for all to witness.  Firstly, for mile after mile in the Karabakh region, agricultural fields have been burnt to the ground and numerous trees have been uprooted. The fires and destruction of trees are so massive that even months later, not all the fires ignited by the Armenians have been put out. 

Furthermore, an official from the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry who visited the Okhchucay River with a group of Russian and Azerbaijani journalists confirmed that “chemicals and unclean irons from a factory in Armenia have left the river unclean.”

Environmentalists working for the Azerbaijani government have reported that the Okhchuchay River contains “a high content of heavy metals, specifically, copper, molybdenum, manganese, iron, zinc and chromium.” According to the report by the Ministry of Ecology of Azerbaijan, “the content of copper-molybdenum compound – 2 times, iron – 4 times and nickel – was even 7 times higher than the norm. Periodically the 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.”

For the Azerbaijani people, this is a major tragedy.  Mammadov Ilgar Mashalla, an Azerbaijani IDP who used to live in a village in the Zangilan district alongside the Okhchuchay River, reported in a recent YouTube Video: “I spent the best days of my life here alongside this beautiful river. I spent my youth here.  I remember that we used to rest by the river and fish here. We used the river as a water source.  In short, Okhuchay River meant life for us.” According to him, some of the fish that used to live in this river were rare.    

However, today, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Ecology has reported that the pollution in the water has “reached a dangerous level and this leads to an ecological crisis.” 

According to various reports, the source of pollution is the Zangezur Copper Mulybdenum Combine operating out of Armenia, which releases wastewater into the source of the Okhchechav River without any sort of treatment. The result of this pollution renders the water unusable for Azerbaijani irrigation and agriculture, much less drinking water. If Azerbaijanis drink this water today, it will cause cardiovascular diseases, diseases of the nervous system and other similar diseases. Aside from that, this pollution caused the mass killing of endangered fish, who used to live in this river.

Anastasia Lavrina, an independent geopolitical and foreign policy researcher, added in an exclusive interview: “Armenia’s pollution of the Okhchuchai River with mining waste is gradually turning from a regional to a global problem.  The level of pollution is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.  A large amount of heavy metals in the water, the mass death of fish, the impossibility of using water for domestic and agricultural needs attract the attention of regional countries, given that the pollution of the Akchuchay River directly affects the quality of the Araz River, the second largest in the South Caucasus.”

“The situation should be of concern to all Caspian countries that are parties to the Helsinki Convention,” she added.  “Through the Kura and Arak rivers, the Ockchuchai River flows into the Caspian Sea, and therefore, the problem is of an international nature, affecting the Caspian ecosystem as a whole.”   

According to Lavrina, “It has already been officially proven that until 2019, most of the shares of the Zangezur Copper Mulybdenum Combine in Armenia, which was responsible for dumping the industrial waste directly into the Okchuchay River, were owned by the Cronimet company, which is German.  Officials in Germany say the company is no longer a shareholder in the mill.  But does this remove Germany’s responsibility?  Of course not.”

“Azerbaijan, like Germany, is part of the UN Conference on Environment and Development (1992) and is under the relevant legal obligations,” she noted. “Despite the fact that this environmental terror was committed outside of Germany, German civil law stipulates that environmental damage by a company registered in Germany does not exclude it from liability. Azerbaijan expects a strict and tough response from the international community since the protection of the environment and natural ecosystems is one of the most important priorities in the community of nations.”

Daniel Salomon, an author, environmental activist and PHD student in urban studies at Portland State University, concurred with Lavrina, telling The J.CA: “This mountainous region is the headwaters for rivers which flow downstream into the neighboring country of Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijan people are dependent on clean rivers with their origin in Armenia for their physical and mental health. The Azerbaijan people need clean river water to drink, bathe and irrigate without causing life-threatening health problems.” He referred to Armenia depriving Azerbaijan of this as “an environmental injustice.”   

“A rich and powerful industry upstream in their process of trying to make money and provide goods and services, end up also causing pollution downstream in an historically underrepresented human community,” he added.  “This conflict is complicated by the fact that watersheds do not know human-created nation-state boundaries. Meaning, that a naturally occurring watershed by its very nature carries both natural resources and pollution alike from one country to another. In other words, this just means that a local environmental conflict has now become a transnational environmental conflict.”

Salomon emphasized that this issue is not just a conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but also attests to a conflict with Germany, who mined in cooperation with Armenia: “There might also be subconscious tribal nationalistic biases involved both on the Armenian and German end. Armenia is ethnically Aryan, the same ethnicity as Germany. Azerbaijanis are ethnically Turkish. This means that Armenians and Germans share the same ethnicity, yet Azerbaijanis are from another ethnic group.”

“This means that the German corporation could be favoring the lives of Aryan Armenians over the lives of Turkish Azerbaijanis in their judgements, decision making, practices and defensive response,” Salomon noted.  “Also, the German Green Party’s silence could also have been unconsciously co-opted by the Aryan tribal bias.” 

Thus, concludes the article, all of this implies that Azerbaijan’s struggle to save the environment in the Karabakh region is very much part of the Global South’s struggle to protect their environment against former colonial powers, who abuse the environment in lesser developed countries.

Recall that recently, Azeri Daily published a series of articles on transboundary pollution of the Okhchuchay River, which flows from Armenia to Azerbaijan and into the Araz River. As noted in the articles, the source of pollution that has reached a critical level are two Armenian mining enterprises located in the Syunik region (historical Zangezur) - the Zangezur Copper-Molybdenum Combine (ZCMC) and the Kafan Mining and Processing Combine.

According to reports, the Zangezur Copper-Molybdenum Combine is a subsidiary of the German company CRONIMET Holding GmbH.

The Okhchuchay River is a left tributary of the Araz River. Its length is 83 km, the catchment area is 1175 sq. km. It originates from the Gapijig mountain (3,285 m) of the Zangezur ridge. Most of it is located in the Syunik region of Armenia, as the historical region of Zangezur is now called in this country. The lower course of the river flows through Zangilan, recently liberated from the Armenian occupation, and then into the Araz River. And it is into this river that wastewater from two deposits located in the channel of this river on the Armenian side is discharged, which creates a problem of pollution not only of this river itself, but also of the Araz, where it flows into. It is generally known that most of the salts of heavy metals enter the environment as a result of the activities of mining and processing enterprises. This gives reason to believe that one of the largest mining enterprises in Armenia, located in the Syunik region at the source of the Okhchuchay River (called the Voghchi River in Armenia), dumps production waste directly into the river without any preliminary treatment, which does not meet any environmental standards.

According to an investigation by the Armenian Civilnet publication published in November 2019, one of the shadow co-owners of the Zangezur Copper-Molybdenum Combine is the son-in-law of former Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, ex-Armenian Ambassador to the Vatican Mikael Minasyan. And although the director of the plant, Mher Poloskov, officially announced at the end of 2019 that Mikael Minasyan had no stake in the Zangezur copper-molybdenum plant, the announced information raises serious doubts, especially in light of the subsequent revelations of the new authorities of Armenia. Thus, Pashinyan's press secretary Mane Gevorgyan stated in April 2020 that Minasyan used 'dummy shareholders' to control such companies as PanArmenian, Spayka [shipping company], Yerevan Mall, Shant TV station, Zangezur copper-molybdenum combine, mobile communications company UCOM and others.

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