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Mapping environmental conflicts and cooperation

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Turkey-Armenia: Water-Quality Challenges

Type of conflict sub
Intensity 3
Region
Western Asia
Time 1990 ‐ ongoing
Countries Armenia, Turkey
Resources Water
Conflict Summary Turkey and Armenia succeeded in putting aside their tensions to continue cooperation over the Arpacay River on water-sharing issues. However, this...
Turkey-Armenia: Water-Quality Challenges
Turkey and Armenia succeeded in putting aside their tensions to continue cooperation over the Arpacay River on water-sharing issues. However, this cooperation needs to be extended to water quality and protection.
Conceptual Model

Intermediary Mechanisms

The pollution found in the river is significantly reducing the water quality of the reservoir and can have dangerous consequences for the population.

Fragility and Conflict Risks

The political hostility between Armenia and Turkey has prevented them from reaching an agreement over water quality standards and water protection.

Climate ChangeEnvironmental ChangeIntermediary MechanismsFragility and Conflict RisksSocial and Economic DriversEconomic activity causes pollution.Freshwater becomes scarce as an essential resource. Pollution creates public health risks.Pollution reduces available/usable freshwater.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources leads to tensions between states.Public health risks create or aggravate interstate tensions.A broad concept to cover economic growth in general but also specific economic changes or changes of incentives.Economic DevelopmentPollution and degradation of ecosystems, such as coral reefs.Pollution / Environmental DegradationAn increase in the scarcity of clean water and/or an increased variability in water supply.Increased Water ScarcityReduced availability of essential natural resources, such as land and water.Change in Access / Availability of Natural ResourcesRisks to the health of the population.Public Health RisksTensions between states that may but need not escalate into overt violent conflict.Interstate Tensions
Context Factors
  • History of Conflict
Conflict History

Before the collapse of the USSR, the Soviet Union concluded a number of treaties with Turkey regarding cooperation over the Arpacay River, which now constitutes the border between Turkey and Armenia. Both sides continue to implement these treaties, despite their lack of bilateral diplomatic relations. However, the treaties only dealt with the quantity to be shared between the co-riparians. The political hostility between the co-riparians has prevented them from extending this cooperation to also include issues of water quality protection.

Obstacles to good management of the waters
The Kars River – originating in Turkey – and the Ahuryan River – originating in Armenia – merge into the Arpacay (or Akhourian) River, which constitutes the border between Armenia and Turkey. Even though Turkey and Armenia have been able to put aside their tensions to sustain bilateral cooperation over the Arpacay River and enforce the agreements brokered before the collapse of the USSR, the current status of cooperation is not sufficient to achieve good management of the waters (see Turkey-Armenia: water cooperation despite tensions).  In fact, there are significant loopholes in the treaties, such as the absence of agreement on water quality standards and water protection (Cestti et al., 2015; Carius et al., 2005).

Scientists discover serious pollution in the river
This is all the more important as Armenian environmentalists have discovered that the water from the reservoir is polluted with heavy metals and toxic materials, which can have dangerous consequences for the population (IWPR, 2009). The scientists have also highlighted the additional pollution caused by the disposal of domestic garbage flowing into the reservoir from the Armenian side of the River (Ibid.). A further concern is the downstream impacts of intensive agriculture in Turkey upstream from the river. In fact, the use of chemicals and pesticides is likely to cause salinisation of the water downstream (Carius et al., 2005).

Therefore, water-quality issues now require the co-riparians to engage in cooperation beyond the existing agreements. Since cooperation between Armenia and Turkey has been limited to the old water-sharing agreements established between Turkey and the USSR, the emergence of quality issues in the Arpacay River represents new challenges to the current status quo.

Resolution Efforts

Need of cooperation on water protection
Given scientific findings, scholars have emphasised the need for both co-riparians to cooperate on the setting-up of clean-up mechanisms – which would either absorb or remove the excess traces of heavy metals present in the water (IPWR, 2009). However, even though Armenian and Turkish officials have been meeting every year, they have only discussed water quantity issues, leaving out the water-quality issue (Ibid.).

Lack of scientific bilateral cooperation
Moreover, the lack of cooperation between Armenian and Turkish ecologists has been another obstacle to cooperation to address these water-quality issues (IPWR, 2009). Some scientists had hoped that the normalisation of the bilateral relations between Turkey and Armenia could enable deeper environmental cooperation on the Arpacay River (Ibid.). However, the recent failure of the Armenian and Turkish government to ratify an agreement at the beginning of 2015, which would have been a significant step towards the normalization of the countries’ bilateral relations, has dashed this hope (NYtimes, 2015).

Need to raise awareness about water-quality issues
In the light of this deadlock at government level, solutions to the water-quality issues could be initiated at the local level to raise awareness on water-quality issues amongst the population living in the reservoir area (IWPR, 2009). Given the fact that Armenian environmentalists have reported the absence of environmental organisations on the Turkish side of the reservoir (Ibid.), such awareness-raising programmes might be a trigger for some Turkish organisations to mobilise in favour of water protection in the area.

To conclude, the findings of Armenian scientists, who pointed out the presence of hazardous materials in the Arpacay River, indicate that further cooperation in terms of water quality beyond the status quo is needed. Given the current deadlock at the governmental level between Armenia and Turkey, a first solution to the issue might be to foster cooperation through track-2 initiatives.

Intensities & Influences
conflict intensity scale
Intensities
International / Geopolitical Intensity
Human Suffering

Influences
Environmental Influences
Societal Influences

Diplomatic Crisis Diplomatic crisis involving non-violent tools such as economic sanctions
Fatalities
0
Violent Conflict No
Salience within nation National
Mass Displacement None
Cross Border Mass Displacement No
Resources
Water
Resolution Success
Reduction in geographical scope There has been no reduction in geographical scope.
Increased capacity to address grievance in the future There is no increased capacity to address grievances in the future.
Grievance Resolution Grievances have been completely ignored.
Causal Attribution of Decrease in Conflict Intensity There has been no reduction in intensity
General opencollapse
Country Data in Comparison
ConflictNoData Created with Sketch.
Fault Lines Defining Conflict Parties
Purely Environmental | Cultural   ♦   Occupational   ♦   Economic   ♦   Urban / Rural   ♦   National / International conflict   ♦   Sub-national political


Actors
Participation Conflict Party     Conflict Resolution Facilitator
Turkey Government
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Armenia Government
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Armenian environmentalists
Functional GroupCivil Society
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
Joint Commission
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal International
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Government (former USSR)
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Entry Points for Resilience and Peace Building
0 Cooperation Water quality issues now require the co-riparians to engage in cooperation beyond the old water-sharing agreements established between Turkey and the USSR.
0 Promoting social change Solutions could be initiated at the local level to raise awareness on water quality issues amongst the population living in the reservoir area.
Further Details opencollapse
Conflict Characterization
Character of the contested good Common-pool resource: No one can be excluded from use but the good is depleted.
Structure of decision-making power / interdependence Asymmetric: The power to affect the environmental resource is unequal.
Broad conflict characterization Resource capture is not present.
Ecological marginalization is not present.
Data of involved Countries
Resources and Materials opencollapse
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