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.
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.
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.