As Nagorno-Karabakh continues to experience gas and electricity cuts in its fifth month under blockade, the region’s largest water reservoir faces depletion, threatening to leave the region without the hydroelectric power it depends on.
Government officials on Saturday announced that the water volume of the Sarsang reservoir in northern Nagorno-Karabakh was at its lowest in 30 years.
The reservoir’s water level has fallen by 25 metres since it became the main source of electricity for over 120,000 people living in the region, which has been under blockade since December 2022.
Nagorno-Karabakh has been relying on domestically produced electricity since January, after wires carrying electricity from Armenia were damaged in areas under Azerbaijani control.
While accusing Azerbaijani authorities of not allowing repair crews to approach the damaged area, the authorities in Stepanakert took action by introducing rolling power cuts and increasing the volume of electricity produced by hydropower.
Nagorno-Karabakh has also faced repeated gas cuts since the sole road connecting the region to Armenia was blocked in mid-December, and residents of the region have had to use electricity for heating.
The latest gas cut to the region is ongoing, having begun around two months ago on 22 March.
According to the director of Sarsang Hydropower Plant, Grigor Grigoryan, the volume of electricity produced by the plant in the past month and a half was more than two and a half times higher than in the same period the previous year.
The head of the Artsakh Water Committee, Georgi Hayriyan, told RFE/RL that, if the issue of falling water levels in the reservoir was not resolved, the region might not have enough electricity for the summer months and that producing electricity in winter would be ‘out of the question’.
Nagorno-Karabakh’s State Minister, Gurgen Nersisyan, stated on 6 May that the region’s electricity was provided by six hydroelectric power plants, ‘of which the Sarsang reservoir power plant alone accounts for about 70% of the total capacity’.
‘Before the interruption of the electricity supply by Azerbaijan, domestic production met about 30% of demand’, wrote Nersisyan. ‘From 9 January, in order to meet the minimum energy needs of the population, the government of Artsakh had to introduce a number of additional measures, including the suspension of the work of all major business enterprises, daily rolling blackouts, operation at maximum capacity of all existing power plants, etc’.
While noting that dry weather had led to the water flow into the reservoir to halve, the State Minister stated that Azerbaijan was responsible for disrupting the electricity supply to Nagorno-Karabakh, and described this as ‘economic, humanitarian, and ecological terrorism’.
He added that the reservoir’s water resources were reaching a ‘critical limit’ of 88 million cubic metres, approaching an ‘unusable’ volume of 70 million cubic metres.
Nersisyan also argued that the depletion of the reservoir would negatively impact people in Azerbaijan, claiming that the reservoir provided water used to irrigate around 96,000 hectares (960 square kilometres) of agricultural land in Azerbaijan.
The announcement came as Alexander Lentsov, the commander of the Russian peacekeeping forces appointed two weeks ago, launched a round of talks with Azerbaijan aimed at lifting the blockade. Shortly before Lentsov’s appointment, Azerbaijan installed a checkpoint on the Lachin corridor.
Speaking in a Sunday cabinet meeting, Nagorno-Karabakh’s State Minister stated that the first round of negotiations had not yielded any results, but that another meeting was set to be held in the near future.
Armenia and Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministers spent four days in Washington last week, negotiating the possible normalisation of relations with the mediation of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. While the US State Department reported that progress had been made in the talks, Yerevan stated that disagreements over key issues remained unresolved.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan later clarified that one of the main disagreements was over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Pashinyan is expected to meet with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev in Brussels this weekend.
For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.