Environmentalists Decry the use of Chemical Weapons in Nagorno-Karabakh

A Persian leopard cub
A Caucasian leopard cub. Caucasian leopards, also called Persian leopards, are a highly-endangered subspecies of leopard that’s threatened by the use of chemical weapons in Nagorno-Karabakh. Persian Leopard 2016-07-07-0458 by Zweer de Bruin. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A Facebook follower alerted me to an alarming issue that took place while I was in Colorado. War broke out between the nations of Azerbaijan and Armenia on September 27, which concluded in a cease-fire in mid November.

During this time, illegal chemical weapons were used that could lead to much human and ecological suffering.

Azerbaijan and Armenia have contested the Nagorno-Karabakh region for decades.

Even though it’s within the internationally-recognized borders of Azerbaijan, Armenia captured the region durning the bloody Karabakh War of 1988-1994. Furthermore, most of the people in the Nagorno-Karabakh region identify as Armenian.

(This video explains the history behind the Karabakh War).

Azerbaijan has never been pleased to have an autonomous region – or a region that Armenia claimed to own – within its borders. This has contributed to significant tension since 1994, which finally erupted into an all-out war.

During the recent war, Azerbaijan used an illegal chemical weapon called white phosphorous on forests in the Nargorno-Karbakh region. Citizens were hiding in these forests, and the intent behind the white phosphorous attacks was likely to kill or maim these citizens.

Apart from being a terrible way to target citizens, white phosphorous could also have long-term environmental consequences.

Rare species such as the Eurasian lynx and Caucasian/Persian leopard utilize the Nagorno-Karabakh region, and white phosphorous is an incendiary chemical that can cause wildfires.

A Eurasian lynx
An incredible photo of a Eurasian lynx. Eurasian Lynx in Summer Coat by Tom Bech. CC BY 2.0

This letter from Armenian environmental organizations also claims that white phosphorous can, “contaminate rivers and underground waters for years.”

To be fair, however, there are also reports that Armenia fired white phosphorous munitions against Azeri citizens – and that the U. S. illegally used white phosphorous in Iraq.

The use of white phosphorous in Nagorno-Karabakh also demonstrates, painfully, the many links between social and environmental problems.

Sometimes environmentalists have to speak out against humanitarian crimes – such as targeting civilians with chemical weapons – because such crimes have ecological consequences.

For my part, I hope that the cease-fire leads to lasting peace in Nagorno-Karabakh. I know that there’s still considerable tension between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and that this tension won’t just go away, but peace is the best option.

The South Caucasus region boasts ancient, ecologically-diverse forests, and it’d be shameful to squander such habitats in war.

Human suffering is also horrible in its own right, and there’s no reason to use chemical weapons against civilians.

4 Thoughts

    1. My guess is that the people using white phosphorus were aware of the potential consequences, but such matters were less important to them than a short-term military ‘victory.’ Worse yet, they may have simply been trying to harm people whom they considered to be their enemies, as if often the case in ethnic conflicts.

      Liked by 3 people

  1. Where did you read that Armenia used chemical weapons? Also your writing is missing something very important. Nagorno Karabagh was given to Azerbaijan by Stalin after Azerbaijan was formed in 1918. The land has sufficient proof, over 90% of population being ethnic Armenians and the countless monasteries and cathedrals that are thousands of years old with Armenian cross stones in their walls

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi there, and thanks for your comment! i read about Armenia possibly using white phosphorus in an article that I linked to in the post:


      The sourced linked to above is obviously biased in favor of Azerbaijan, which is why I said there are “reports” of Armenia using white phosphorus, rather than saying for certain that it happened. I know that the evidence for Armenia using white phosphorus isn’t as strong as the Azeri situation, but I have to try to cover both sides of the issue to try to maintain some objectivity.

      Also, thank you for the information about the history involving Stalin: I wasn’t aware of that.

      However, I’m not going to say who Nagorno-Karabakh properly belongs to, because I’m a neutral party in that conflict. The ownership of Nagorno-Karabakh is for Armenia and Azerbaijan to decide – my only concern is limiting human suffering and ecological damage in the region.

      Liked by 1 person

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