Experts from Baku and Khankendi Cooperate on Forging an Action Plan for the Sarsang Reservoir
The Caspian Post
The Sarsang Reservoir is home to Azerbaijan's largest dam. Image: Sergey Yakovlev/Wikimedia
The 2020 Second Karabakh War allowed Azerbaijan to regain full access to some 30 hydroelectric dams in areas occupied by Armenian forces since the 1990s. However, six others remain in the region under the control of the Karabakh-Armenian administration in Khankendi (known as Stepanakert to Armenians).
Of these, the most significant is on the Tartarchay, one of Azerbaijan’s bigger rivers. Built in 1976, the Sarsang Dam is Azerbaijan’s tallest, rising 125m from base to rim and holding back a reservoir containing 560 million cubic meters of water. The feed waters irrigate a vast agricultural plain below, covering some 96,000 hectares in six regions of the country.
During the era of occupation, water flow through the dam was primarily dictated according to the needs of the Armenian power producers, the releases being reduced in summer when most needed yet increased in winter. This led many Azerbaijanis downstream to complain that water release policies from Sarsang were essentially being used as yet another ‘weapon’ in the 30-year Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. Furthermore, there were significant worries over the quality of maintenance of the dam. If the structure were to suffer a catastrophic collapse, the result could have been a humanitarian disaster, especially in the downstream city of Tartar, home to around 100,000 Azerbaijanis, many of them IDPs from Karabakh.
Given this background and the persistent mistrust between the Armenian and Azerbaijani communities, it comes as very welcome news that on August 22, 2022, a group from Azerbaijan’s water management authority, officially known as the Azerbaijan Reclamation and Water Management OJSC, started working with local Karabakh Armenian experts on devising a workable water management plan. The group carried out technical monitoring in the reservoir and discussed water distribution and irrigation strategies. Press reports describe negotiations as having taken place in “conditions of mutual understanding and constructiveness” with an agreement that further such meetings should become a regular event. Though these might seem like small steps, they feel momentous to many observers in representing what might be the first official manifestation of cooperation between Karabakh Armenians and Azerbaijanis in around three decades.