Azerbaijan claims that the Sarsang reservoir and its installations have not been technically served since war erupted between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the early 1990s. This lack of maintenance, Azerbaijan claims, poses a serious risk to the reservoir and to the lives of 400,000 inhabitants in non-occupied peripheral provinces in Azerbaijan. A possible collapse of Sarsang could result mass causalities and a humanitarian catastrophe in the region. Consequently, the reservoir has recently become a topic for debate in Azerbaijan as well as Armenia.
Azerbaijani diplomats have raised this issue as an urgent question on the agendas of different international organizations, like the Council of Europe. In June, the Azerbaijani MP from Shamakhi Elkhan Suleymanov, who is also a member of Azerbaijan’s delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and president of the Azerbaijani Association for Civil Society Development, noted at the Geopolitics of Azerbaijan and European Energy Security conference that the “Sarsang reservoir has currently become a serious source of threat. Obviously, any accident will result in both an ecological crisis and mass casualties of civilians and a humanitarian crisis”.
Nagorno-Karabakh’s Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Aghabekyan issued a response on August 14, 2013. According to Armenian News, he emphasized the de facto republic’s readiness to begin dialogue and discussions with Azerbaijan on joint management of water resources in Nagorno-Karabakh and the additional seven surrounding Azerbaijani districts that are currently under Armenian military control. Underlining the importance of the Sarsang reservoir and water flowing from the Tartar River, Aghabekyan stressed that the “Sarsang reservoir has more capacity than it is currently used. Both the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides will gain from proper use of the water canals that were built during the Soviet era.” He underlined that if Azerbaijan reacts positively to the proposed cooperation, the Armenian side will be responsible for financing large investments in the territories under its control in order to reconstruct the water resources. No answer was delivered to this statement by Azerbaijani officials.
On August 28, Suleymanov put forward a proposal on the Sarsang water reservoir to the PACE leadership on 2 September 2013, signed by 45 MPs from 18 countries, for review at the PACE Bureau meeting in Dubrovka on the same day. He sent letters to PACE’s Secretary General Wojciech Sawicki, PACE President Jean-Claude Mignon, and members of the PACE Bureau.
Suleymanov stated in the letter that especially in the summer when people and agriculture mostly need water, the Armenian side frequently stops the water. However, in winter, the water from Sarsang is opened, flooding agricultural and eroding roads, which has seriously damaged Azerbaijan’s agriculture since the occupation. He stated that the purpose of his proposal was to raise awareness in Azerbaijani society as well as in the international community about the risk of humanitarian, ecological and biological crisis connected to the Sarsang reservoir, and obtain international assistance to prevent the possible catastrophe in advance.
In a comment to Armenian News on Azerbaijani media reporting on the Sarsang issue, a spokesman for Nagorno-Karabakh’s President Davit Babayan claimed that Nagorno-Karabakh’s government expressed its intention to work jointly on the management of water resources, but that Azerbaijan instead applied to PACE about “Armenians whose actions will lead to a humanitarian disaster.” He added that “instead of complaining to various agencies, the majority of which have no mandate to tackle such problems, Azerbaijan should better pick up enough courage to appeal to the Karabakh side.”
Suleymanov’s proposal for statement, called “On the possibility of humanitarian catastrophe of the Sarsang reservoir in the occupied territory of Azerbaijan” was approved by the PACE Presidential Committee at the PACE Bureau meeting in Dubrovka on 2 September 2013.