13 Jan 2024
It’s High Time for Eco-Cooperation
“Who respects the river will respect their neighbour.”
Gyorgy Konrád, Hungarian novelist, essayist and sociologist
When joining international conventions, states obtain obligations that they must implement for the well-being of their citizens, the environment, and their positive reputation. While implementation of some conventions is limited within the borders of the state, other conventions, especially those related to environmental protection and climate change, go beyond borders—envisaging cross-border cooperation to overcome the transboundary effects of pollution or other negative outcomes of human activities. However, such cooperation can be particularly challenging if neighbouring countries have conflicts due to disputed territories or other circumstances. Any instance of environmental degradation, i.e. pollution of transboundary rivers or the transmission of pests, can trigger further escalation of the conflict. Thus, environmental conventions can also function as a mediation tool for states seriously motivated to overcome the conflict and establish grounds for initiating cooperation. The overview below was drafted for this reason, to illustrate the common ground provided by reverence for environmental protection, which can establish points of cooperation for two conflicting countries—Armenia and Azerbaijan. This overview presents the environmental components of a potential peace agreement compiled from international conventions and agreements. This could be a step towards improving the environmental protection, and therefore well-being, of communities in both countries, as well as a starting point for work towards lasting peace. This overview enlists several international legal tools that could help to build cooperation, even in cases when only one of the countries has joined the convention, opening the floor for the other to join as well. Yet this overview doesn’t fail to notice that both countries also have serious problems implementing their obligations within these conventions. Therefore, the main argument of this overview is that a peace agreement with an environmental component would both contribute to peace as well as benefit the people and the region’s environment.
The authors researched international conventions on different areas of environmental protection, used existing research on environmental cooperation published on Caucasus Edition, and conducted further research on the ecofeminist perspective as well as private sector responsibilities vis-a-vis the environment in Armenia and Azerbaijan, to draft a would-be environmentally themed peace agreement.
International Environmental Obligations of Armenia and Azerbaijan
The nature of environmental obligations dictates not only that Armenia and Azerbaijan have duties regarding their respective environments and peoples but also that inter-state cooperation is necessary to ensure the implementation of these duties, considering the boundaryless character of nature and human-made environmental problems. Following this, we have outlined environmental laws divided into two categories: those that both countries have signed, and therefore have created grounds for further cooperation in environmental matters, and second, those signed by only one of the countries. Yet dual signatures are necessary for comprehensive nature protection and to ensure that cross-border environmental deterioration does not become an (additional) pretext for disputes.
Legal documents signed by both countries with cross-border effect
The Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (or the Espoo Convention) entered into force in 1997 in Armenia and in 1999 in Azerbaijan. It sets out the obligations of parties to assess the environmental impact of certain activities at an early stage of planning and to notify and consult each other on all major projects that are likely to have a significant adverse environmental impact across boundaries. Armenia has also ratified the Protocol to the Convention.
The Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making, and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters is a convention in force since 2001 in both Armenia and Azerbaijan. This Convention links environmental rights to human rights and imposes obligations on parties regarding access to information, public participation, and access to justice in environmental issues.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have also joined the Convention on Transboundary Effect of Industrial Accidents (in force since 1997 in Armenia and 2004 in Azerbaijan), the aim of which is to help its members to cooperate and prevent industrial accidents that can have transboundary effects and prepare for such accidents in case they should occur. This Convention also encourages cooperation and joint research as well as information exchange.
The EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) has been the main law for water protection in Europe. It applies to inland, transitional, coastal surface waters, and groundwaters. It ensures an integrated approach to water management, respecting the integrity of whole ecosystems, including regulating individual pollutants and setting corresponding regulatory standards. It is based on a river basin district approach to make sure that neighboring countries cooperate to manage the rivers and other bodies of water they share (European Commission, n.d.). This directive’s application in Eastern Europe, South Caucasus, and Central Asia aims to improve the institutional and regulatory framework to approximate the WFD and related legislation, manage water in a way that contributes to water, food, and energy security and economic development, ensure the poor’s access to essential water services as a basic human right, safeguard public health, and contribute to peace by developing inter-state cooperative structures for water management (OECD, n.d.).
All these legal documents, signed by both Armenia and Azerbaijan, denote a commitment to protecting the environment and human rights, the breach of which should be followed by measures such as warnings, sanctions, etc. on behalf of the international actors. Previous analysis of legal documents signed by both Armenia and Azerbaijan has been conducted by Veliyev, Manukyan, and Gvasalia (2019). Their analysis mainly focused on issues of transboundary water management in the Kura-Araks basin and shows how internal mismanagement, politicization of water management issues, and failure to commit to signed agreements bring about regional ecological issues.
Other legal documents not covered in the above analysis, yet related to environmental protection and thus the opportunity for regional cooperation, are presented below:
Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution
In force since 1997 in Armenia and 2002 in Azerbaijan, this Convention is intended to protect the environment through preventing and reducing air pollution, including long-range transboundary air pollution. The latter is defined as the release of substances into the air that have adverse effects on human health and the environment in another country, from which the contribution of individual emission sources cannot be distinguished (European Union 2020). The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) directs the implementation of the Convention through the European Monitoring and Evaluation Program; parties should develop policies and strategies to combat the release of air pollutants through exchanges of information, consultation, research, and monitoring.
Convention On Persistent Organic Pollutants
Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) are toxic and resistant chemicals used in agriculture (pesticides) and various industries that can adversely impact human health and the environment. Moreover, since they can be transported through wind and water, they can also reach neighboring and distant countries, affecting communities and the environment there (Environmental Protection Agency 2002). This Convention, in force since 2004 in both Armenia and Azerbaijan, requires member countries to adopt control measures to reduce and eliminate the release of POPs, restrict their trade, and develop national action plans to address their unintentional release and control (UNEP 2020). Cooperation among various institutions and countries is also viewed as necessary for the effective implementation of this Convention (UNIDO, n.d.).
Convention On Biological Diversity
This Convention has been in force since 1993 in Armenia and 2000 in Azerbaijan. Its goals include the conservation of biological diversity (or biodiversity); the sustainable use of its components; and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic resources. Its objective is to develop national strategies for these goals and is often seen as the key document regarding sustainable development. This Convention also envisages technical and scientific cooperation, coordination of a global directory of taxonomic expertise, impact assessments, education and public awareness, and national reporting on efforts to implement treaty commitments (UNEP 2011).
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (including Paris agreement)
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, in force since 1994 in Armenia and 1995 in Azerbaijan, does not establish concrete targets as it was intended to provide a framework for future agreements and policies, as did the Paris Agreement (in force since 2017 both in Armenia and Azerbaijan). The latter, in addition to including several articles on tackling climate change, also requires that parties to the agreement cooperate in taking measures to enhance climate change education, training, public awareness, and participation, as well as public access to information (The London School of Economics).
Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements օf Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal (Basel Convention)
This is another convention with a transboundary effect, in force since 1999 in Armenia and 2001 in Azerbaijan. It is designed to reduce the movements of hazardous waste between nations and regulate transboundary movements of hazardous and other wastes, obliging parties to ensure that such wastes are managed and disposed of in an environmentally sound manner. The Convention covers toxic, poisonous, explosive, corrosive, flammable, ecotoxic, and infectious wastes, including plastic waste (UNEP 2011).
Whether or not environmental conventions openly highlight their cross-border character—or require cooperation among immediate neighbors and other states—the fact remains that these conventions have cross-border effects that must be facilitated through international cooperation; such is the transboundary essence of nature itself. There are many more environment-related conventions in force in Armenia and Azerbaijan that also beseech cooperation for the protection of nature and ensuring a healthy quality of life for all: Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, International Plant Protection Convention (which foresees prevention and control of the spread of pests of plants—extending beyond the protection of cultivated plants to the protection of natural flora), Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat, Convention to Combat Desertification, Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction.
Additionally, there is a notable convention in force in both countries since 2004, though not directly related to environmental protection, it includes components envisaged as part of cooperation – European Outline Convention on Transfrontier Cooperation Between Territorial Communities or Authorities.
This Convention obliges signatory states to facilitate cross-border cooperation (CBC) between territorial authorities and promote the conclusion of agreements for this purpose. Yet such cross-border cooperation shall not alter the existing powers of the territorial authorities as defined in domestic laws (thus limited by national laws) (Council of Europe 1980). Such cross-border cooperation between territorial authorities aims to foster neighborly relations between territorial communities and/or authorities within two or more states party to this convention (Council of Europe 1980). Among other areas, cooperation covers environmental protection, as well as regional, urban, and rural development, improvement of public facilities and services, mutual assistance in emergencies, etc (Council of Europe 1980).
Implementing this convention also contains the opportunity to act as a tool for conflict mediation. In our previous research, ideas for such cross-border community cooperation were discussed within the framework of a pilot project, such as cooperative management of water resources and water exchange between farmers (e.g. in Tavush and Tovuz regions) provided there is proper moderation (Isayev, Manukyan 2022).
Legal documents signed by one of the countries, needing both signatures to facilitate cooperation
Signed by Azerbaijan: Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes adopted in 1992 in Helsinki and entered into force in 1996 (in force in Azerbaijan since 2000), aims to strengthen transboundary water cooperation and measures for ecologically sound management, as well as to foster the implementation of integrated water resources management. Furthermore, this Convention requires parties to prevent, control, and reduce transboundary impact; parties bordering the same transboundary waters must cooperate by entering into specific agreements and establishing joint bodies. In the region, only Azerbaijan has thus far joined the Water Convention and the Water and Health Protocol. Yet cooperation among countries is particularly important for the protection of transboundary waters.
Signed by Armenia: Convention on the Prohibition of Military or any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques adopted in 1977 in Geneva and entered into force in Armenia since 2002. It prohibits state parties from engaging in military or any other hostile use of environmental modification techniques with widespread, long-lasting, or severe effects as a means of destruction, damage, or injury to another state party. Environmental modification techniques refer to any techniques for changing–through the deliberate manipulation of natural processes–the dynamics, composition, or structure of the earth, including its biota, lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, or outer space (UNOAD, n.d.).
Weaponizing the environment includes such actions as the weaponization of water infrastructure, when dams, treatment plants, or pipelines become the object of a deliberate attack to subdue the civilian population, or when infrastructure is captured and actively weaponized against the opponent. Diverting or disrupting water routes is one such example. Cases of environmental warfare have been applied in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Israel intentionally targeting water pipelines and sewage systems in Gaza (Kolpak 2020). Armenia also experienced such cases of weaponization when Azerbaijan targeted the Kechut reservoir in the Vayots Dzor region of Armenia during the 2022 September attacks (News.am 2020) or when it was reported that due to the changes in the riverbed feeding the Meghri River, populations in the Meghri and Agarak communities were facing drinking and irrigation water shortages (Asbarez 2021).
 The full list of International Environmental Agreements signed by Armenia and Azerbaijan is available online through the University of Oregon.
Conventions to collaborate as a starting point
Out of all the conventions signed by Armenia and Azerbaijan, there are several that stand out as significant to lay a foundation to make would-be environmental cooperation between the two countries possible. The Espoo Convention is one, as it establishes obligations between the two, requiring communication while either plans projects that could potentially affect the environment of the other. Informing the potentially affected sides is the least parties can do for the sake of the environment, as well as to cultivate confidence building.
The Aarhus Convention is equally important as a groundwork to establish trust between the conflicting parties. Similar to Espoo, one of the rights the Aarhus Convention grants is the access to information. In our case, as both signed the Convention, Armenia and Azerbaijan bear the responsibility to grant not only their citizens access to information but also one another, regarding major projects that could result in damaging crossboundary effects.
Granting all parties’ rights to access information creates ground for sound cooperation. One of the most relevant documents to bind cooperation between Armenia and Azerbaijan is the Convention on Biological Diversity, as ecosystems and crossboundary rivers in particular have been damaged significantly, stemming from lack of cooperation between the two over the decades. The Basel Convention similarly emphasizes cooperation in that the parties must work together to prevent crossboundary disposal of wastes and further environmental fallouts.
Private sector responsibilities in environmental protection with local and cross-border effects
In addition to the above-mentioned international legislation, states have obligations defined within the UN Covenants, specifically the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, where the right to health is enshrined in Article 12. It provides that states must take measures to improve the environment, among other factors, to ensure the implementation of this right. Additionally, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights not only provide that states must protect against human rights abuses by all actors in society, including businesses, but also specifies that the private sector in turn has the obligation to respect all human rights, prevent human rights abuses, and remedy any adverse human rights impacts they cause or contribute to (OHCHR 2012).
In other words, when a state joins an international legal treaty that has the goal to protect human rights and the environment, in which humans can have adequate and healthy standards of living, businesses must respect those rights and not prevent the state from implementing its obligations.
Moreover, in conflict contexts businesses—with the support of the state—should identify, prevent and mitigate the human rights-related risks of their activities and business relationships. They have to assess and address the heightened risks of abuses during conflicts. In situations of armed conflict, businesses should respect the standards of international humanitarian law.
As mentioned, the responsibility of businesses includes abstaining from contributing to harm. Businesses should therefore avoid contributing to environmental degradation, not only to avoid negative impacts on the right to health—thus preventing the implementation of state duties—but also to avoid creating a pretext for conflicts particularly in areas already experiencing one, as in the case of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Yet in addition to serious problems with states’ implementation of environmental protection conventions, businesses operating in both countries in turn fail to follow the UNGP pillar on responsibility to respect rights.
A copper-molybdenum mining company in southern Armenia has been continuously accused of polluting the environment with heavy metals, negatively impacting the biodiversity, health, and livelihoods of the local communities (Business and Human Rights Resource Centre 2021), and potentially creating an ‘explosive’ situation for the conflict-torn region, considering the pollution of the cross-border river. Another case – a gold mining company with operations in Azerbaijan never hid its interest in mining opportunities in Nagorno-Karabakh, even though the region was under de facto Armenian rule. Yet the conflict never stopped it from planning mine operations (Mejlumyan and Natiqqizi 2021), even in times of uncertainty and human rights violations, as the people of Nagorno-Karabakh suffered food and other important supply shortages due to the blockade by Azerbaijan. Some other businesses went further, signing an agreement with Azerbaijan to build a 240-megawatt solar power plant in Jabrayil in the Karabakh region, just months after Azerbaijan’s military takeover of the territory in 2020. (Mardirossian and Bloomer, n.d.)
Environmental Justice for All: The situation with the application of international laws on the ground
Environmental impact on the social-economic situation of communities
Implementing the obligations laid out by environmental conventions do not benefit the flora and fauna alone. Both local communities and the overall population benefit from a clean and healthy environment. By implementing environmental laws, other laws related to human rights are being implemented as well, such as rights enshrined in International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ratified by both Armenia and Azerbaijan), the right to adequate standards of living (Article 11 of CESCR) that includes the right to adequate food (and water) and continuous improvement of living conditions, the right to health (Article 12 of CESCR), and the right to work (Article 6 of CESCR) that includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain their living by work of their choice, including agriculture (ICESCR 1966).
Yet at the beginning of 2023, we witnessed environmentalists in Azerbaijan sounding the alarm on the Kura River’s low volume—not so much due to climate change or mismanagement of the river by neighboring countries—but rather businesses in Azerbaijan, often linked to officials themselves, creating agricultural parks on formerly pasture lands, forcibly expelling shepherds, and overusing the river water for irrigation purposes (Jam News 2023).
Moreover, local farmers have been protesting due to critical shortages of both drinking and irrigation water—ongoing for years—that force the locals to buy water, while businesses profit from the rivers. Yet these protests have been met with police violence, including the use of tear gas and rubber bullets shot at protesters (Isayev 2023).
These incidents illustrate state—and private sector—violation of many conventions that exist to benefit the well-being of communities and protect the region’s flora and fauna.
The importance of public participation in decision-making
International conventions are violated in Armenia as well, for example, when hydropower plants are built on rivers without proper consultation with the locals and only a small group of businesses benefit from these plants, while communities and nature are deprived of water. More often than not, the operation of hydropower plants in Armenia does not comply with various Armenian laws, including Armenia’s Environmental Impact Assessment requirements, Water Code, Forest Code, Law on Specially Protected Nature Areas, and additional laws regarding flora and fauna. This attitude also leads to the worsening of communities’ well-being, as they lose their access to water for irrigation and agricultural purposes. Communities’ participation in decision-making processes is often absent (Business and Human Rights Research Centre 2022).
Monitoring the operation of ~135 small hydropower plants in Armenia between 2014 and 2017 showed that their operation often leads to ecosystem disruption, biodiversity loss in and around rivers, deterioration of physical and chemical indicators of water, and deforestation. The lack of water for irrigation purposes coupled with the noise generated by these plants has created obstacles for the well-being of local communities by hindering the development of agriculture and ecotourism. The absence of public participation in decision-making regarding the plants’ construction, as well as problems with adequate compensation during land acquisition or infrastructure accidents were some of the other issues faced by the communities. As a result, the livelihoods of local communities were negatively impacted, and environmental rights were violated (Grigorian et al. 2018).
The Environmental Impact on Women and Communities: Ecofeminist Perspective
Women are at the forefront of environmental protection activism, evidenced by their active engagement in various protests and movements in both Armenia and Azerbaijan (yet sadly, rarely in decision-making). The reasons for women’s prominence in environmental advocacy are multifaceted; research has shown women are more likely to care about and advocate for nature and environments due to socialization processes that generate a stronger sense of environmental empathy and social responsibility (Hunt 2020). Additionally, countries such as those in the South Caucasus include rural populations that greatly depend on agriculture; as women in the South Caucasus are mostly involved in gardening as the sole source of their income, the link between the importance of a clean environment and the health and well-being of entire families is felt more deeply (UN Women, 2023).
The June protests in the village of Soyudlu in the Gadabay District of Azerbaijan are a clear example of this kind of engagement. The demonstration consisted of mostly elderly women speaking against the area’s pollution due to an artificial lake created by a mining company that dumped its waste there. They also protested the creation of a second artificial lake for the mine’s waste. The protests centered on the negative impact of these tailing dams on the local’s health and nature in the region. Protestors were met by law enforcement officers spraying tear gas and firing rubber bullets (Aghayev 2023). According to locals, Gadabay’s executive allegedly instructed the police to forcefully silence any women who dared to speak out, ordering them to “pack them all in jail” (Adilgizi 2023).
In response, three Azerbaijani feminist activists organized a solidarity action at a US Embassy event to show their support for the village protestors. They were “expelled by the embassy employees, handed over to the police, and temporarily detained” (Adilgizi 2023).
Yet these unsustainable activities—operating of hydroelectric plants and mines—threaten not only the environment and community health but directly impact the socio-economic situation of locals (Burnazyan et al. 2014).
Moreover, the gendered impact of environmental degradation is not limited to the loss of income from relatively traditional economic activities such as agriculture or hospitality. In 2016 Armenian environmentalists sounded the alarm about potential negative changes caused by a gold mine project planned in Amulsar, changes highlighted in the Environmental & Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) of the company itself. The ESIA mentioned that the gold mine project would likely decrease the standard of living of the locals “due to increased pressure on local resources and existing infrastructure. Such pressure can impact community resources like schools and health facilities or exceed the capacity of community infrastructure. […] Similar projects in other parts of Armenia and the world have experienced increased alcohol consumption, new or widening commercial sex networks and prostitution, closely associated to problems with sexually transmitted diseases and an increase in crime and violence in communities proximal to their operations. These impacts will disproportionately affect women and girls within the local communities either directly or indirectly” (PAEF 2016).
It may therefore seem contradictory or perhaps vice versa—quite logical—as to why women, being disproportionately affected by environmental degradation, are the more active segment of society in the region, and worldwide, when it comes to protecting the environment and the wellbeing of communities overall. Taking this into consideration, a paper prepared by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Achieving Human Rights and Gender Equality in the Context of Environmental Crises calls on States to establish gender-responsive climate change, environmental, and disaster risk reduction policies. The paper mentions that “States and other actors have obligations and responsibilities under both international human rights law and international environmental law, as well as international policy commitments, to address environmental crises, prevent their negative, gendered impacts on the enjoyment of human rights and ensure that actions to address environmental degradation are gender-responsive, equitable, non-retrogressive, non-discriminatory, and sustainable” (OHCHR 2021). Among obligations for states the paper includes ensuring women’s equal, free, active, meaningful, and informed participation in decision-making processes related to the environment; respecting, protecting, and fulfilling the rights of women environmental human rights defenders; and protecting against the gendered impacts of business-related human rights harms, etc (OHCHR 2021).
Implementing the above recommendations could therefore be yet another medium for establishing peace through environmental protection, an intentionally gendered approach that could create another common platform for cooperation – the (eco)feminist platform.
Environmental Consciousness & Education
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – the Paris Agreement and associated Action for Climate Empowerment Agenda – calls on governments to educate, empower, and engage all stakeholders and major groups on policies and actions relating to climate change (UNESCO, n.d.). Article 12 specifically emphasizes that parties shall cooperate in taking measures to enhance climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation, and public access to information.
In Armenia, environmental education, although relatively superficial, is taught in schools through classes such as “Nature” (covering topics about flora, etc.), “Me and the Environment” (covering topics about responsible attitudes towards nature, endangered species, etc.), “Humanities” (about the importance of environmental protection for human health, etc.) (Ministry of Education of Armenia, 2022).
A relatively more profound education is being organized by non-governmental institutions that foster awareness through establishing programs on environmental matters and associated rights. These trainings are particularly oriented towards communities, which has facilitated the effective mobilization of communities against pollution and environmentally harmful projects. Though these trainings also target youth, the younger generation has been particularly passive in demanding climate action from their government, even during a time when school strikes and organized demonstrations were a global phenomenon (Ghazaryan 2020).
In Azerbaijan, environmental awareness occupies an essential part of the educational curriculum. In pre-school, a certain emphasis is given to acquainting children with nature. A subject called “Life Knowledge” is taught until the 10th grade, and another subject called “Nature” is taught in 5th grade (ARTEN). A significant portion of the concepts taught under “Life Knowledge” covers ecology, the environment and how it falls victim to human-made activities around the world and in the country, and how to protect the environment.
In one article about environmental education in Azerbaijan, authors suggest that information given in Azerbaijani schools must be linked to the conditions of everyday life for students to fully grasp the consequences of not protecting the environment (Zengin and Hüseynov 2002). As an example, they point to a subject named “Human Being and Health,” where the causality between human health and the environment could be explained with practical knowledge about air pollution in Baku and Sumgayit and how it affects residents on a daily and long-term basis.
However, a government-imposed crackdown on independent NGOs in Azerbaijan in 2014 caused civil society to shrink, thus affecting not only political NGOs but also those operating in other areas, including environmental advocacy. Today, one environmental NGO that stands out in Azerbaijan is Ecofront, although they are more known for active participation, such as monitoring areas where the environment is threatened and cleaning up polluted areas, rather than raising environmental awareness via citizen education (Ecofront, n.d.). Today, the majority of NGOs in Azerbaijan specializing in environment and ecology are government-organized NGOs (GONGOs). They are little known for their actual work among the wider society, and most recently gained attention in the media when their representatives blocked the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia allegedly for environmental concerns in December 2022 (Isayev and Shahverdyan 2022).
Existing eco-cooperation within peacemaking frameworks (including our previous research)
In our previous articles, we have covered initiatives aimed at environmental cooperation and mediated by international organisations, as well as initiatives organised by local activists. These studies showed that even in uncertain times there have been attempts to find common ground for communication. Now, considering the developments in the region and negotiations over a peace agreement, the possibility to cooperate seems to have increased; and environmental cooperation in particular could be the least sensitive (or least politicised) and most effective common ground for this purpose.
Some previous attempts at cooperation supported by donor organisations were the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), the USAID, the EU Technical Assistance to the Commonwealth of Independent States (TACIS), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which were aimed at legal, policy, and planning activities. For instance, USAID, in collaboration with Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI), implemented the South Caucasus Water Management project in 2000-2002, which aimed to strengthen cooperation among water agencies at local, national, and regional levels and demonstrate integrated water resources management. Between 2002 and 2007, NATO and the OSCE realised the South Caucasus River Monitoring Project, which is considered the only reliable data in the field and is highly valued by experts from all three countries. Its general objectives were to establish the social and technical infrastructure for a joint international transboundary river water quality and quantity monitoring, data sharing, and watershed management system among Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. These and other cooperation programs have been explored in previous research published in Caucasus Edition (Veliyev, Manukyan, and Gvasalia 2019).
Several experts have stressed the importance of joining international legal frameworks to enable further cooperation. Lusine Taslakyan, a water management expert and doctoral research assistant in the Department of Soil and Water Systems at the University of Idaho in the USA, professed that ratifying the Water and Health Protocol under the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and Lakes by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE Water Convention), even without signing the convention, would facilitate funding for projects related to the quality and supply of drinking and irrigation water (Isayev and Manukyan 2022). Meanwhile, ratification would additionally allow for regional cooperation and dialogue. Recognizing the important role of international organizations in transboundary water management projects, Taslakyan advocates for collaboration mediated by international actors on such issues as access to cross-border river basins and monitoring water quality and quantity of the rivers that flow across the borders.
In another paper we further discussed cooperation attempts among civil initiatives in the South Caucasus, research through which we discovered that despite times of tremendous informational flow, societies and even environmentalists in the region remain relatively uninformed about environmental challenges in the neighboring countries. Yet there have been some fragmented actions of solidarity in the past, when activists from Georgia and Armenia made joint statements regarding their opposition to mining in Teghout in Armenia (which could have a potential transboundary effect considering its proximity to the transboundary river Debed), as well as opposition to seizing public green spaces in cities, giving primacy to the interests of the private sector as was the case of Mashtots Park in Yerevan and Vake Park in Tbilisi. (Veliyev, Manukyan, and Gvasalia 2020)
What we can conclude from these papers and initiatives is that past environmental cooperation has been either rather spontaneous and fragmented, or unsustainable considering the nature of non-continuous support from international organizations both in terms of funding as well as willingness or readiness to continuously mediate such cooperation efforts. Yet a lot has changed in the region. And considering the peace agreement negotiation process currently underway, an environmental component in such an agreement would allow for finding common, transboundary, grounds for cooperation for the well-being of local communities as well as nature.
It is not just rivers, but all components of nature that have a transboundary essence. Thus, it is no surprise most of the conventions mentioned above include clauses on transboundary effects or call for cooperation among neighbors to prevent further deterioration of the environment and livelihoods of people. Yet, as this overview illustrates, international conventions may be signed by either one or both countries, but implementation does not necessarily follow. While this could lead to warnings and even sanctions by international actors, a peace agreement that includes environmental components could offer a fresh start for the dedicated implementation of these conventions, and could potentially lead to joining those not yet signed or ratified by one or both countries. Another key point of this overview is that the private sector in its turn should not hinder states from fulfilling their international obligations. They must mitigate any harm that has and could be caused due to their operations. Our final point is grounded in the recommendation paper of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights—both states should work towards formulating gender-responsive climate change, environmental, and disaster-risk reduction policies. Environmental components such as these in a peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan could finally put an end to fragmented joint actions in the sphere of environmental protection and spur new and profound environmental cooperation with actual benefits for the local communities, women, nature, businesses, and states, and in this way contributing to lasting peace in the region.
 The University of Oregon Database is available through the following links:
https://iea.uoregon.edu/country-members/Armenia?field_level_2_target_id%5B%5D=288587 and https://iea.uoregon.edu/country-members/Azerbaijan?field_level_2_target_id%5B%5D=288587
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