Staunton, October 15 – The conflict between Armenian and Azerbaijan has long been exacerbated by fights over water, with Armenia diverting upstream flows that had historically flowed to Azerbaijan to Karabakh and Azerbaijan seeking to recover those flows for its population (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/10/water-may-explain-why-armenia-and.html).
Those disputes, mostly in the northern part of the conflict area, are zero-sum games in which any gain by one side represents a loss for the other. But there is another water issue where history suggests cooperation may be far more possible, although in recent times, it too has been a source of discord.
That is the Arax River, 25 percent of whose basin is in Turkey, 35 percent in Azerbaijan, 20 percent in Iran and 20 percent in Armenia and which for more than 60 percent of its course forms the borders between Turkey and Armenia, Armenia and Iran, and Iran and Azerbaijan, Alseksey Baliyev says (ritmeurasia.org/news--2020-10-15--araks-iz-obekta-pretknovenija-mozhet-stat-stimulom-dlja-obscheregionalnogo-sotrudnichestva-51416).
One reason for that more optimistic assessment, the Russian commentator suggests, is that the countries of the region have long and recent experience in cooperating on a bilateral agreement, something that could at least in principle become the foundation for a multi-lateral accord.
Armenia and Iran have had the most extensive experience in such cooperation, Baliyev says, while Azerbaijan and Iran have had somewhat less. Turkey has not been involved in such arrangements and consequently its increasing draw on the flow of water upriver is having an negative impact on the situation of all the downstream states.
Armenia and Iran have been cooperating on the use of the Arax since 2012 when they drew up joint plans for the construction of a hydro-electric dam near the Armenian city of Megri. The project was supposed to be completed in five years, but tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan have delayed this project up to now.
But if these joint Armenian-Iranian plans have not been realized, “they also have not been forgotten,” Baliyev says. Both sides hope to benefit from the additional production of power and the expanded irrigation in both countries that the reservoir to be created will make possible.
At the same time, Azerbaijan and Iran have agreed to the development of two hydro-electric dams and irrigation projects further downstream. One at Khudaferin has been realized but the second at Kyz Galasy has not, largely because the latter is situated very close to the contact line between Azerbaijan and Armenian forces.
Each of the countries is interested in promoting its own interests, of course, the Russian commentator says; but all would benefit from an accord on the common use of the Arax, an accord that could serve as a confidence-building measure for a broader political agreement in the region.
Reaching such an agreement should thus be of primary concern to the countries there and outside powers committed to a settlement. Unfortunately, up to now, what the countries on the Arax littoral have been doing has remained largely outside the view of those focused on dealing with the dispute over the occupied territories.