Water scarcity is among the main problems faced by the World in the 21st century: the water demands are increasing, whereas the resources are decreasing.
According to the UN, one third of the World’s population (an estimated 2.2 billion people) lacks an access to the safely managed drinking water. In 2040 the global water demand may increase by more than 50%, and by 2050 – up to 5.7 billion people will be living in the territories with a fresh water scarcity at least one month a year.
For Azerbaijan the fresh water issue is of great relevance, since about 70% of the country surface water resources are heavily dependent on the external inflow of waters from neighboring countries. However, neither Georgia nor Armenia – from where the majority of rivers flow into the territories of Azerbaijan – have yet joined the Helsinki Convention on Transboundary Watercourses.
This international document adopted in 1992 in Helsinki (Finland) serves as a mechanism for strengthening the national measures and international cooperation aimed at achieving the environmentally sound management and protection of the transboundary surface and ground waters.
It shall be noted that if the bilateral work on the ecological state of waters in the Kura River is being carried out between Azerbaijan and Georgia, then, with Armenia, due to the 30-year territorial conflict and occupation of the Azerbaijani lands, any regional cooperation on the management of the common water resources of the Araz River does not seem possible.
The Araz River, the largest right tributary of the Kura River, is playing a crucial role in providing the water resources to irrigate the farming lands in Azerbaijan. However, the water quality of this river is far from perfect.
The victory of Azerbaijan in the 44-day Patriotic War ending the previous occupation by Armenia of the Azerbaijani lands has given an access to the Azerbaijani ecologists to the local rivers flowing, in particular, through the territories of the Zangilan district. The results of the water test portions taken in the Okhchuchay River, flowing further into the Araz River, have revealed a high content of heavy metals. Specifically, copper, molybdenum, manganese, iron, zinc and chromium.
«The level of pollution of this river is higher than that of some other border rivers. According to the monitoring carried out in January-March 2021, the content of nickel is 7 times, iron is 4 times, and copper-molybdenum compound is 2 times higher than the norm», – Mehman Nabiyev, a specialist from the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Azerbaijan told the reporters on April 8, 2021.
According to him, in early March 2021, a pollution of the Okhchuchay River could be seen with the naked eye – back then it was reported that some valuable species of a trout were killed.
Brief information about Okhchuchay river
Okhchuchay river is the left tributary of the Araz River (83 km long, catchment area is 1,175 km2), originating from Gapijig mountain (3285 m) of Zangazur range, the bigger part is located within the Syunik/Zangezur region of Armenia. The lower course of the river flows through Zangilan – the recently liberated territories from the Armenian occupation and enters to Araz river.
Its flow is formed by snow (46%), rain (10%) and groundwater (44%) waters. The average annual water flow is 10.0 m3/sec, the average annual volume is 315 million m3. 40% of the annual flow is formed in spring period, 43% in summer, 10% in autumn, 7% at winter season.
The high content of heavy metals in the waters ruins not only the fluvial fauna, but is also extremely dangerous for the human health. Usage of the contaminated water can bring to detrimental consequences – from the disorders of gastrointestinal tracts, destructive processes in kidneys and bone tissue up to the disorders of cardiovascular, nervous and hematopoietic systems of the body.
For instance, a high content of a manganese in the water is critical for kids, since it bears a risk of developing a disease of the kids’ musculoskeletal system called a «manganese rickets». The researches have also revealed a lead’s carcinogenic effect on the human body. The lead poisoning can affect children’s mental development.
It is a common fact that a major number of the salts of heavy metals enter the environment by the anthropogenic way – mainly as a result of emissions from the extractive and processing enterprises. This gives reason to believe that the Zangezur Copper Molybdenum Combine (operating the Kajaran mine), as well as the «Chaarat Kapan» Company (the former Kapan Mining and Processing Combine), are not complying with the environmental standards, dumping their production wastes directly into the Okhchuchay River, without any preliminary treatment.
The Zangezur Copper Molybdenum Combine is one of the key industrial enterprises and the largest taxpayer in Armenia. The company operates the largest in the South Caucasus Kajaran Copper Molybdenum Combine – a producer of the metals’ concentrates, and is owned by the German «Cronimet Holding» company.
The Kapan Mining and Processing Plant also belongs to the Armenian major taxpayers. The enterprise exploits the Shahumyan Gold-Polymetallic deposit and produces concentrates with gold and silver contents. After a number of resales since 2019, it has become a part of the British «Chaarat Gold International Limited» company with its headquarters in London and is now called the «Chaarat Kapan» CJSC.
Both enterprises are located in the Syunik/Zangezur province of Armenia, between the major part of Azerbaijan in the east and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan in the west.
The acknowledgement of the fact that these two enterprises operating in the Syunik/Zangezur province of Armenia do ignore the world eco-standards has been highlighted in the reports by the government agencies of Armenia, as well as in the messages from the Armenian environmental activists published in the Armenian media.
In October 2019 the Press Service of the Ministry of Emergency Situations of Armenia reported that the toxic wastes from the Kajaran Copper Molybdenum Combine, due to a damage of the «tailings» dump, had leaked into the Voghji River (the Armenian name for the Okhchuchay River).
«This morning at 08:40 a.m., our «911» service have received a signal that the Voghji River (The Editor Comment – the Okhchuchay River) in the Syunik area changed its color to a white one. The Emergencies Ministry officials have revealed that it occurred as a result of the river pollution caused by a damage of the plant’s waste storage located near the village of Nerkin Giratah, Syunik province», – the ministry informed.
Pan-Armenian Environmental Front member Levon Galstyan noted that it was a gross failure, which resulted in a leakage of a huge amount of emissions from the combine into the environment. He added that such severe accidents had occurred before. «In the last 6-7 years alone, a score of such cases have been recorded, and each time either the accident or its consequences have been concealed», – the environmental activist said.
Levon Galstyan announced this accident an «ecological crime» and called for bringing to justice both the relevant risk assessors and the risk controllers.
Transboundary water pollution
In Azerbaijan about 70% of the country surface water resources are heavily dependent on the external inflow of waters from neighboring countries. Okhchuchay river water resources are widely used for irrigation purposes, while Okhchuchay is a transboundary river being all time affected by severe pollution by industrial discharges at the Armenian territory, acting as a collector for industrial facilities along the river and making the water resources of it be unusable in the territory of Azerbaijan.
Pollution of Okhchuchay has direct impact the quality of water resources of Araz river as well, considering that it flows into the Araz River – the second largest river in the South Caucasus. The Araz River, also is a shared transboundary river with Armenia which is the largest right tributary of the Kura River. It is playing a crucial role in irrigation of the farming lands of Azerbaijan. However, given the quality of the water in the river, its use for domestic and agricultural needs can lead to extremely negative impacts.
Excessive release of heavy metals into the river by Gajaran Copper-Molybdenum Plant and the Gafan Ore Refinery in Armenia ruins not only the fluvial fauna, but is also extremely dangerous for the human health. Usage of the contaminated water can bring to detrimental consequences – from the disorders of gastrointestinal tracts, destructive processes in kidneys and bone tissue up to the disorders of cardiovascular, nervous and hematopoietic systems of the body.
Another environmental activist from the Syunik province, Boris Sargsyan, has noted that the Voghji River (The Editor Comment – the Okhchuchay River) was polluted along its entire length – at least along 50 km. The waters of the Voghji River flow all the way to the Araz River. «Notwithstanding the fact that it is not for the first time such an accident has happened here, this one is an unprecedented huge catastrophe with enormous pollutions. The bad smells are spreading all around the neighborhood territories» – he said.
Six months before this accident the combine was fined for violating the terms of the agreement signed with the Government, as well as for the combine’s non-compliance with the environmental standards.
In 2017 the combine reportedly mined 27.2 million tons of ore, while, in accordance with a licensing agreement signed with the Government, the combine was to extract and process only up to 22 million tons of ore per year. In addition, the company mined more ore than was agreed, however, it processed less ore at the end. The processing plant received only 19.65 million tons of ore, the remaining several million tons were stored on the territory of the open pit. An excess of the maximum permissible emissions into the environment was also detected.
As for the Kapan mine, it is known that as a result of the accident at the tailing pipe in 2017 the surrounding territories of around 1,800 sq. m. got contaminated. The fact of a harm caused to the environment was officially recognized and the respective company was fined.
In March 2018, the three employees working at the mine were hospitalized with an acute exogenous poisoning diagnosis. One of them, a loader driver (born in 1994) died at the hospital. To the fact of the death there was initiated a criminal case under the Article related to the violation of safety rules during the mining, construction or other works resulting in the wrongful death.
The government agencies of Armenia also recognize a pollution of the Okhchuchay River. In particular, L. Margaryan, a member of the Ecology and Nature Protection Safety Center at the Yerevan State University, confirmed a deterioration of the water quality in the river due to a high content of molybdenum, iron, copper, zinc, chromium and other heavy metals.
In October 2019 the «Azatutyun» Armenian media outlet wrote: «The Voghji River (The Editor Comment – the Okhchuchay River), the second largest one in the Zangezur district, has become unsuitable for irrigation due to the surrounding industrial areas’ activities. All fish have gone extinct».
It is now obvious, that the mining industry of Armenia, which plays a key role in this country’s economy, has been destroying the ecosystems not only of Armenia itself, but also the ecosystems of the neighboring states. Here Azerbaijan is trapped in an assailable position, since the Azerbaijani territories are located downstream of these rivers. Thus, the polluted Okhchuchay River, running into the Araz River, finally enters the Kura River – the main watercourse for Azerbaijan. As a result, the Caspian endorheic basin is under a serious threat.
Results of monitoring in Okhchuchay until present (laboratory anaylsis of water samples and visual observations):
The liberation of the Azerbaijani lands previously occupied by Armenia has given an access for the Azerbaijani ecologists to the local rivers flowing, in particular, through the territories of the Zangilan district. The results of the water test portions from the Okhchuchay River taken within January – March 2021 have revealed a high content of heavy metals, specifically, a copper, a molybdenum, a manganese, an iron, a zinc and a chromium.
According to the report by the Ministry of Ecology of Azerbaijan, the content of copper-molybdenum compound – 2 times, iron – 4 times and nickel – even 7 times was higher than the norm. Periodically a color of the Okhchuchay River was changing either to a white or to an acid-yellow one. A mass trout mortality in the river was recorded in March 2021.
- On 09.01.2021: Nickel was 7.1 times higher than normal.
- On 28.01.2021: Manganese was 3.6 times, iron 4.6 times, nickel 5.7 times, cadmium 3.5 times, ammonium 1.6 times, lead 1.3 times, zink 1.2 times, molybdenum 2.5 times more than the norm.
- On 05.02.2021: Manganese was 2.0 times, iron 3.5 times, nickel 3.6 times, molybdenum 1.7 times more than the norm.
- On 09.02.2021: Iron was 1.8 times, molybdenum 1.4 times, manganese 1.9 times more than the norm.
- On 26.02.2021: Manganese was 3.2 times, iron 5.2 times, nickel 1.4 times, molybdenum 1.3 times more than the norm.
- On 04.03.2021: Iron was 2.8 times, manganese was 3.6 times more than the norm.
- On 10.05.2021: Iron was 1.8 times, cadmium was 1.4 times higher than the norm.
During visual monitoring on 07 March 2021 in the part of Shayifli and Jahangirbeyli villages of Zangilan region of Okhchuchay river, 227 Small Trout (Salmon species) and 330 Perch massive die-off was observed, the species that were included in the “Red Book of the Republic of Azerbaijan”. The reason for the death of fish was the excess of iron, copper, nickel, molybdenum and other heavy metals in the river water.
Latest river water and sedimentation sample analsyis were conducted at inernationaly accredited and certified SGS laboratory in Germany based on order by MENR (due to agreement with “Societe General de Survelliance Azeri Ltd” LLJ) The results of tests of water samples taken from the river Okhchuchay, have revealed a high content of heavy metals, specifically, iron, copper, manganese, molybdenum, zinc, chromium, nickel and others in river surface waters, while the excessive concentration of hazardous substances in sediment sampling shows that contamination level the river is critical.
The German Company CRONIMET, an active player in the Armenian mining sector, ignores any environmental impact caused by their activities, despite their numerous public statements of compliance with the environmental standards.
About CRONIMET Company
The Zangezur Copper and Molybdenum Combine (ZCMC) is owned by several companies. Most of its shares belongs to the German CRONIMET Mining AG (60%). The rest of the ZCMC owners are small Armenian companies with the following shares split: “The Plant of Pure Iron” OJSC (15%), “The Armenian Molybdenum Production Ltd” (12.5%), “The Zangezur Mining Ltd” (12.5%), and some minority shareholders with 0.335% of shares.
Thus, CRONIMET manages the Kajaran copper-molybdenum mine – the largest one in the South Caucasus in terms of copper and molybdenum deposits. According to the experts’ research, the ore reserves in Kajaran are estimated at more than 1 billion tons. They mine per day around 24 thousand tons of ore and 5-6 thousand cubic meters of waste rock. A content of molybdenum and copper in the ore is 0.055% and 0.21% respectively.
The ZCMC is the largest taxpayer in Armenia. According to the results of 2012, it topped the list of the 1,000 largest taxpayers in Armenia – by having paid to the state budget of over 31.7 billion drams ($ 60.9 million) of taxes in January-December 2012 vs 29.8 billion drams ($ 57.2 million) in January-December 2011.
CRONIMET HOLDING Company was founded in Karlsruhe, Germany, in 1980. It is engaged in the extraction, treatment and processing of minerals and metals, the logistics and trade, the supply of raw materials for the production of stainless steel. The company’s annual turnover, as of 2018, was $ 2.8 billion.
The CRONIMET is a Group of Companies owned by a family of Pilarsky – the Germans of Polish origin. The Managing Partner of CRONIMET is 83-year-old Günter Pilarsky, holding this position since the company’s foundation back 40 years ago. Under his leadership, CRONIMET has become one of the leading stainless steel processors in Europe. In 2005, Pilarsky set another landmark in the development of the CRONIMET Group of Companies by founding CRONIMET Mining AG.
CRONIMET has been present in the mining sector of Armenia since 1996. In 2004, during the privatization of the Zangezur and Copper Molybdenum Combine, CRONIMET Mining acquired 60% of the ZCMC’s shares.
CRONIMET’s ties with the political elite of Armenia
Despite the fact that the companies of CRONIMET Group are present in various countries throughout the world, from Africa to Asia, Günter Pilarsky does not hide his close connections and friendship with Armenia. Not only has he been doing business in Armenia for many years being a friend of the Armenian leaders, Pilarsky is also an Honorary Consul of Armenia in the German state of Baden-Württemberg since 2006 for his merits in the development of the economic cooperation between Germany and Armenia. This information is available on the CRONIMET website.
That same year, Pilarsky founded Jocelyn & Günter Pilarsky Foundation with an aim to support the worldwide projects to help children in need. However, it is noteworthy that this foundation is conducting its activities only in the two countries – in the Philippines and … what a surprise, in Armenia.
Günter Pilarsky is also a Vice President and a Sponsor of the Karlsruhe SC Football Club. Until 2020, the President of the Club was Ingo Wellenreuther, a member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) / Christian Social Union (CSU) faction. Pilarsky is believed to be using Wellenreuther’s political contacts.
The name of Günter Pilarsky also appears in the list of Armenia’s bribed lobbyists in Germany, recently published by the authoritative American edition The USA Tribune. Until the autumn of 2020, Germany was one of the main countries where the Armenian lobbying organizations were engaged in attracting corrupt lawmakers, the article says.
It is within the realm of possibility that the Honorary Consuls of Armenia in Germany, being the business leaders, finance other Armenian lobbyists and their instruments.
Such close ties between the leadership of CRONIMET and the political elite of Armenia were also acknowledged in the investigation report by the Armenian edition of Civilnet published in November 2019. The report noted that a concealed co-owner of the Zangezur Copper and Molybdenum Combine, through the third parties, was Mikael Minasyan, a former Ambassador of Armenia to the Vatican and a son-in-law of former Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan – the Serzh Sargsyan, who was standing at the origins of the breakaway movement in Karabakh in the late 1980s, and who, during his 10-year rule of Armenia, from 2008 to 2018, made a fortune on the uncontrolled “gray zone” of Karabakh, bringing his own country to a deplorable economic condition.
No wonder that ZCMC Director Mher Poloskov denied such information, saying to the reporters that Mikael Minasyan did not possess any a stake in his enterprise. However, a privileged position of CRONIMET in Armenia with their abuse to neglect the world’s quality standards together with a wealth accumulation at the expense of the ecology of a region located far from Germany, gives reasons to assume with a high degree of probability that the facts provided by the Armenian edition of Civilnet were true.
The role of international organizations
Unfortunately, Armenia – from where the majority of rivers flow into the territories of Azerbaijan – have not yet joined to the Helsinki Convention on Transboundary Watercourses. This international document adopted in 1992 in Helsinki (Finland) serves as a mechanism for strengthening the national measures and international cooperation aimed at achieving the environmentally sound management and protection of the transboundary surface and ground waters.
Considering this, MENR addressed to international organizations, about the environmental hazards and critical situation of Okhchuchay, including raised public awareness on environmental risks expected for the river and its ecosystem in the margin of continuous pollution by Armenia.
Namely within the letters to UN Environment, to Director Europe Office, Mr. Bruno Pozzi, to Ms. Olga Algayerova, Executive Secretary United Nations Economic Commissions for Europe, they were informed about the significancy of environmental pollution of Okhchuchay river and were called to prevent the transboundary water pollution that leads irrevocable degradation of regions unique ecosystem.
The message of environmental degradation of Okhchuchay and request for urgent action for preventing Armenia from continuous pollution also was conveyed to the UNECE conventions secretaries– to Mr. Sonja Koeppel, Secretary Convention on the Protection of Transboundary Watercourses and International lakes and to Ms. Tea Aulavuo, Secretary Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context.
At the same time, the letter was sent to Mr. Isa Kalantari, Vice President, Head of the Department of Environment of Islamic Republic of Iran, reflecting the necessity of joint actions to prevent this negative transboundary impact that affect to both country’s environment, including proposal to form a joint working group which will focus on tackling this problem together.
Along with international organizations, MENR applied to German Bundestag, its Green Fraction to draw their attention to this matter considering and serious threat for the environment and human health caused by “Zangezur Copper Molybdenum Combine” operating the Kajaran mine, in which German “Cronimet Holding” is the major shareholder.
Letters were sent to Ms. Sylvia Kotting-Uhl, Chair, Environment, nature conservation, construction and reactor safety committee of The German Bundestag, to Ms. Steffi Lemke Speaker at the Committee of The German Bundestag on the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety and to Dr. Bettina Hoffmann Speaker on Environmental Policy of Greens Fraction at the German Bundestag.
In the letter MENR expressed its expectations from German government, civil society, and environmental community reactions to this issue in an urgent manner. They were also informed about several concerns raised by numerous Armenian environmental organizations, including the subsequent facts from Armenian web media sources on environmental pollution were submitted too.
The Greens are to gain power in Germany
Having been operating in various countries around the world, the CRONIMET Company declares on its website its commitment to the standards of quality, efficiency, safety and all other requirements that any respected internationally operating company would incur obligations to meet.
Back in November 2018, at the meeting with Gunther Pilarsky, newly appointed Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan welcomed CRONIMET’s activities in Armenia and stressed out the importance of all companies’ compliance with standard environmental and operating procedures in the mining industry.
Pilarsky, in his turn, concurred with Pashinyan on the importance of these procedures and added that CRONIMET was constantly working on an improvement of the efficiencies of their activities.
However, the latest water test portions taken from the Okhchuchay River are testifying to the opposite…
A gross negligence to the world’s environmental standards by CRONIMET within a long period of their operational activities in the mining sector in Armenia, the country partner of CRONIMET, cannot but disquiet the environmental organizations in Germany, where the Green Party, the nature advocacy, has been gaining popularity.
According to the German media, Annalena Baerbock, the Co-Chair of the Greens, has every chance of winning a position of the new chancellor of Germany. For the elections in the Bundestag in September this year the Greens have named Annalena Baerbock as their candidate for a post of the head of the government.
According to the public-opinion polls in Germany, the Greens consistently score the second place being only 3-5 percentage points behind the leader, the governing conservative bloc CDU / CSU.
We do hope that the Greens in Germany will not only monitor the EU countries for their compliance with the environmental standards, but will also give a serious consideration to the ecological irresponsibility of the German company operating in the South Caucasus region.
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