Staunton, October 6 – The basic features of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Armenian-occupied territories of Azerbaijan are well-known, and they have not changed fundamentally in recent months. That raises the question as to what led to the new explosion of fighting between the two.
Many have pointed to the domestic political needs of the elites. Others have suggested that Moscow’s desire to punish the current Armenian president either prompted him to act or caused Baku to conclude that it could act now with a greater chance of success. And still others have pointed either to miscalculations or mis-readings by one side of the actions of the other.
But there is one possible cause for the timing of the start of this conflict that has not received much attention. That is control of water. And when it is mentioned, it is almost exclusively in terms of the consequences of the destruction of dams that keep the water in reservoirs in Armenia from flowing into Azerbaijan.
But the issues there have not changed much in recent times either, although there have been articles in the media of both combatant countries. However, there is one water issue that is new and that deserves to be considered at least as a proximate cause for the timing: the recent decision by Armenian forces to extract water from a reservoir for Karabakh.
Aleksandr Kots, a journalist for Moscow’s Komsomolskaya pravda, says that if one examines the situation there carefully, it is entirely possible to answer the question “Are Armenia and Azerbaijan fighting over water?” in the affirmative (kp.ru/daily/217190/4299419/).
Four years ago, Baku signed an agreement with Iran opening the way for the construction of two reservoirs on the Arax River. The place where these were to be built was then controlled by Armenian forces; and two months after the Baku-Tehran deal was signed, the four-day April war began, Kots continues.
One of these reservoirs is practically finished, he says, and Armenians in Karabakh could certainly use the water. Azerbaijan naturally would be opposed, but it might also want to avoid fighting in an area where the conflict could damage the construction it has paid for and already carried out.
Most of the fighting in the current round of the war has been to the north, and water issues explain that as well. Until two months ago, Armenia allowed excess water from its Sarsan reservoir to flow downstream into Azerbaijan. But then, Yerevan decided to shift the flow away from Azerbaijan and to Karabakh.
Azerbaijani villages along the river have been harmed, and Armenian forces in Karabakh have been helped. And so, Kots argues, Azerbaijani forces want to prevent the flow of water from Sargsan into Karabakh and force Armenia to allow the water to go as it has in the past into Azerbaijan.
At the very least, Kots implies, these considerations explain how the war is now being prosecuted even if they do not turn out to be the primary explanation for why the fighting resumed ten days ago.