Reservoir on the border between Armenia and Turkey Akhuryan river

Akhuryan reservoir – under threat of shallowing.

    A year after the end of active hostilities in Artsakh, Iran and Armenia resumed long-standing cooperation on rational water use and conservation of the biosphere of the transboundary Araks River. It is, we recall, the largest river of Armenia and the adjacent region of Iran, which has long been used in hydropower, for agricultural and municipal water supply of the adjacent regions of Armenia, eastern Turkey and northwestern Iran.

    Since the beginning of November 2021, the Iranian-Armenian specialized commission for monitoring compliance with environmental standards in the use of Araks water resources has been working again. In addition, both sides, according to Arminfo, “following the consultations held in Yerevan, a decision was made on cooperation between the prosecutor’s offices and the relevant authorities of the two countries to assess the effectiveness of measures taken to protect water, animal resources and the entire natural environment of this river.”

          Araks in the Meghri Region

    At the same time, similar issues in the relations between Armenia and Turkey, which do not have diplomatic relations, are becoming more and more conflicting. By the mid-2020s, the Turkish authorities plan to create a network of small and medium-sized hydroelectric power plants and associated reservoirs in the upper reaches of the Araks, on its tributaries and near the Akhuryan reservoir (one of the largest in the south of Transcaucasia). Due to the geographical proximity, these projects will directly affect the Araks basin sector bordering Armenia.

These facilities have been created since the mid-2010s and by now the mentioned Turkish program has been implemented by more than half. The plans of the neighbors cause a negative reaction in Armenia, if only because these plans have not been discussed with Yerevan and are not being discussed, being fraught with a crisis in agricultural and municipal water supply in at least a third of the territory of a small Caucasian country.

    Since the mid-2010s, Yerevan has repeatedly (and in vain) drawn Ankara’s attention to the inadmissibility of unilateral hydrological and related projects in the adjacent water basin. “… In the Akhuryan reservoir of Armenia adjacent to Turkey, we have 100 million cubic meters less water than in 2020,” Levon Azizyan, director of the National Research and Development Center for Hydrometeorology and Monitoring, said on March 23. The reason is the construction of a number of reservoirs on the Turkish side of the adjacent section of the Araks and its tributary Akhuryan, since 2012, as a result of which “water resources in this area have decreased by 30-40%.”

Geography of the Akhuryan water district / reservoir

According to the Ministry of Emergency Situations of Armenia (June 2021), the water reserves of the Akhuryan reservoir decreased by 187 million cubic meters altogether. In turn, the decrease in the water filling capacity of Akhuryan negatively affects the water resources of the Arpilich reservoir, formed by the same Akhuryan. In addition, this entire basin has large fish resources, which are also slowly drying up due to the mentioned Turkish projects.

On July 6, 2021, the same issues were clearly outlined in a statement to the media by Inessa Gabayan, head of the Water National Committee of Armenia (in 2016-2020). According to her, “in view of the mentioned Eastern Turkish projects, which are also being implemented with negative climate changes, the creation of reservoirs in the water border of Turkey with Armenia is becoming an increasingly serious problem for Armenia.” According to I. Gabayan, the neighboring state “actually takes the water resources of our country,” which is why it is necessary to increase water intake from Sevan, which worsens the “already negative situation” on the largest freshwater lake in Armenia and Transcaucasia.

It should be noted that the hydrography of Sevan is connected with the Araks basin by a number of surface and underground water flows. Accordingly, the ecological state of the lake is crucial for the biosphere of more than 70% of the territory of Armenia. As noted above, there has been no response from the Turkish side to the above-mentioned assessments so far. Trying to make the most of the total foreign policy failure of the Pashinian regime, Ankara is not without success in dictating its own political and economic agenda to Yerevan. Meanwhile, the transboundary basin of the Araks River includes the regions adjacent to Turkey, not only in Armenia but also in Azerbaijan and Iran. Changes in the water resource base in any national sector cannot but affect the entire basin (including the basin of the Kura, which flows into the Araks).

A little history of the issue. Back in 1927, Turkey and the USSR concluded indefinite conventions in Kars “On the regulation of the use of transboundary waters” and “On the use of transboundary watercourses”. In 1973, on the basis of these documents, it was decided to build a large reservoir on the Akhuryan River (a cross-border tributary of the Araks) for joint use by Turkey and the Armenian SSR (in the proportion of 50:50). The construction of the facility was completed by the early 1980s, with the proviso that projects affecting the filling capacity of the Akhuryan reservoir are subject to mutual agreement. In 2005, despite the absence of official relations and the long-term blockade, the Governments of Armenia and Turkey officially confirmed their commitment to these documents.

However, in 2011-2013, after the failure of the “Zurich process”, in violation of the existing contractual framework, the Turkish government authorized the construction unilaterally of a “cascade” of hydroelectric power plants and reservoirs on the upper Araks and Akhuryan near the border watershed. Already on March 28, 2013, the then co-chairman of the Armenian-Turkish commission on the Araks and the Akhuryan reservoir, Vladimir Movsisyan, stated that “in the upper reaches of the Araks, the Turkish side is building reservoirs that can significantly affect the water level in the river. Two reservoirs have already been built: “Shirimkyu” of 1.9 million cubic meters and “Bayburd” of 52 million cubic meters. The construction of a very large Kars reservoir is being completed – 332 million cubic meters” (completed in 2014 – ed.). In addition, it is planned to build the largest – the Karakurt reservoir with a volume of about 600 million cubic meters – it is planned to put it into operation no later than next year. In addition to generating electricity at the hydroelectric power station of the same name (the height of the dam is 142 meters), water resources are planned to be used for irrigation of the Igdyr Valley.

Karakur Hydroelectric Complex

Thus, Turkey will be able to “stock up” most of the Araks water – 1.4-1.5 billion. cubic meters, which is 60% of its capacity of 2.5 billion cubic meters. cubic meters per year. Such disproportions will negatively affect, among other things, the water filling capacity of Sevan, V. Movsisyan confirmed. In fact, we are talking about a water blockade, with which the Turkish authorities supplement the transport blockade of Armenia, which they have been supporting for almost 30 years (since 1993). But according to international law, the blockade is one of the forms of military action. In the current situation, a comprehensive, moreover, joint examination of the East Turkish water projects and their impact on regional environmental safety is required. After all, according to some reports, the implementation of all the above-mentioned plans of Turkey may lead to a 25%, or even 40% reduction in the flow of the Arax with its tributaries in other countries of this basin. But first of all – in Armenia, geographically adjacent to the aforementioned projects. Therefore, the transboundary geography of the entire Araks and Kura basin requires a comprehensive agreement of all countries adjacent to the basin on the regime of joint use of this basin.

This is also in demand because Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Turkey are the legal successors of the aforementioned water management agreements of 1927. And Iran, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan are also the legal successors of the Soviet-Iranian indefinite treaty (1959). “On the joint use of transboundary waters of the Araks and Atrek rivers for irrigation and electricity generation”

However, Ankara’s geopolitical aspirations hardly contribute to a serious discussion of such a document, and even more so to the coordination of the construction of hydraulic infrastructure with Armenia. The example of the construction of the “Ataturk Dam” within the framework of the “Southeastern Anatolia Project”, with adverse consequences for Syria and Iraq (2), clearly demonstrates the long-term consequences of such projects.

Alexey Baliev

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