Stifling Summer Heat Brings Water Shortages to the Biggest Ethnic-Armenian City in Azerbaijan
Clothes on washing lines in a residential area of Khankendi (Stepanakert). After a ceasefire agreement was signed by the leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russia on November 9 2020, the city of Khankendi (Stepanakert) came under the jurisdiction of Azerbaijan. Image: Alexander Ryumin/TASS
According to local authorities, a heatwave and increased demand for water are behind water shortages in Karabakh’s biggest city. Until 2020 the city, officially called Khankendi but known to its Armenian inhabitants as Stepanakert, was the capital of the breakaway but un-recognized “Republic of Nagorno Karabakh” (called Artsakh by Armenians). Following the 2nd Karabakh War of 2020, the region reverted to Azerbaijani sovereignty. Although Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev announced that “‘Nagorno Karabakh’ no longer exists” as a political entity, much of the former breakaway entity remains administered by its own bureaucrats, who are struggling to organize relief.
Reportedly between 30% and 40% of homes in Khankendi (Stepanakert) have had water supplies fully or sporadically cut off over the last ten days with most swimming pools closed, car washes idle, and fountains turned off as conservation measures. Local spokesperson Hunan Tadevosyan said that the authorities are “working to solve the problem as soon as possible” but that a change in the hot weather is the only solution in the short term. Meanwhile, the regional Ministry of Emergency Situations has been organizing water transport by truck into the city to alleviate the problems, with communal tanks being installed for short-term storage. The townsfolk of Askeran/Asgeran, 14km away, have been asked to help ship water to families, and even the Russian peacekeepers have been reportedly helping out. While that has prevented the situation from becoming critical, the problems for the city have been exacerbated by its rapid population growth since 2020 in the wake of the war. Many villagers moved here from areas that were retaken by Azerbaijani forces in the conflict. As a longer-term approach to ward off further shortages, the regional government is proposing to fast-track the construction of a river dam to create a new reservoir.
Rumours on social media have attempted to blame Azerbaijan for the water crisis, claiming that Baku had deliberately diverted the Dashalty River. This was firmly denied by Hunan Tadevosyan, according to OC Media, to whom he explained that there was simply not enough rainfall to fill the river to a level that would allow city filtration units to function safely.
In the current situation of post-war tension and inter-communal mistrust, these kinds of problems will remain hard to fix. However, if the people of Khankendi (Stepanakert) start to tap into the infrastructure of the nation they now find themselves in, problems such as water supply should become easier to solve. Perhaps the Republic of Azerbaijan could be more proactive in offering solutions to the city, thereby bridging current levels of mistrust and ensuring that there is sufficient funding and expertise for such projects to be constructed properly.