Possible Dam Failure Augurs a Dark New Chapter in Nagorno-Karabakh

We have discussed before the continuing, illegal occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and its surrounding regions by Armenian forces, and the ethnic cleansing in which they engaged immediately after. We have looked before at dangers of war breaking out, the human toll exacted by the conflict, and attempts by Armenia to create a de facto state by illegally creating the icons of sovereignty in the area.

Today, another disaster of that frozen conflict is in danger of breaking open. The dam that creates the Sarsang Reservoir in the occupied region is now in danger of giving way.

The reservoir itself holds well over 500 million cubic meters of water, and its failure, according to Turkish engineering firms who have examined the matter, poses a “catastrophic” threat to the 400,000 people who live downstream, well beyond the lack of fresh water on which they rely. Experts estimate that a wall of water up to 65 meters high, traveling at between 100 and 200 kilometers per hour (62-124 miles per hour), would swamp the plains below and completely inundate 20 villages.

The dam, first built in 1976, is a testament to Soviet era construction in the Soviet Socialist Republics, and has not been tended since Armenia’s occupation of the region began over two decades ago. This means that everything from regular maintenance to pressure management to daily observation have been forsaken.

Worse than the lack of recent maintenance, “Soviet era construction” is one of those phrases that should strike terror in the human heart. Solid construction can withstand neglect. Soviet construction is infamous for not being able to withstand existence.

An unresolved war leaves behind corpses that keep rotting. To carry the gruesome metaphor just a bit farther, the danger of rotting corpses is that they spread the death they signify; this is no less true of dying infrastructure than of decomposing human flesh.

This particular corpse could very well spread a great deal of death.

Azerbaijan’s attempts to bring this to the world’s attention have largely been lost in the traditional Armenian diplomatic and public relations blitz. (The Armenians plan to turn the area surrounding, but not in the path of, the reservoir into a tourist destination.) Azerbaijani attempts to introduce resolutions about the reservoir itself have been rejected or ignored as if they are mere acts in a costume drama, rather than attempts to communicate to the whole world the tragedy that has unfolded in the occupied provinces for two decades.

Azerbaijanis are quite understandably upset. “Today, the international support given to us is thinner than a napkin. We use napkins to wipe off our hands. However, resolutions adopted by the UN, OSCE and other international organizations are weaker than napkins and good-for-nothing,” Elkhan Suleymanov, the head of the Azerbaijani delegation to Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, said according to Azerbaijani news sources.

Suleymanov also noted that Armenia benefits from a bizarre double standard in which an arrested blogger in Baku brings international condemnation, but ongoing Armenian atrocities are treated as nothing. “International organizations have never mentioned that thousands of Azerbaijanis were killed and held captive by Armenians. According to them, an Azerbaijani may die, because he/she is a Muslim.”

By itself, the danger of even more innocent lives lost is sadly unlikely to spur international action, at least until the danger becomes a reality. But the danger is even more than the potential loss of thousands of lives; Azerbaijan’s faith in international institutions, European justice, and the value of international law are waning.

Those versed in history know that these are preconditions to war – a war that is not inevitable yet, but will be unless this atrocity is rectified.

The international community must ask itself two questions: why is this frozen conflict, which will erupt in war again if it is not resolved, so unimportant as to be ignored?

And how many lingering corpses of that terrible, unresolved war yet wait to open a terrible tide of death?

Image Copyright Wikimedia Commons