The Lorax of Nagorno Karabakh

The Lorax is a classic Dr. Suess story that teaches children to take care of the planet and protect its natural resources. Once-ler, a character who’s sole motivation is profit, chops down trees and eventually destroys much of the flora and fauna. The Truffla Trees that provided the core of the ecosystem, the Swomee-Swans that breathed the fresh air, and the Humming-Fish that lived in the ponds all disappeared as a result of Once-ler’s greed-driven destruction of the environment. The newly liberated Nagorno Karabakh area from the recent Armenia-Azerbaijan war resembles the land destroyed by the Once-ler. For all of the statements from Armenia and the nationalistic elements of its diaspora that Nagorno Karabakh and the seven surrounding districts its armed forces illegally occupied the “Republic of Artsakh”, the actions on the ground tell a story of neglect and destruction. Just like the Once-ler, some of the inhabitants cut down trees, burned forests, mined precious resources, and polluted the waterways. A British travel writer George Mitchell called one of Nagorno Karabakh’s districts, Agdam, the “Hiroshima of the Caucasus’’ due to the degradation he noted during his visit.

Photo by Reza, a National Geographic Explorer, showing the destruction of trees in Nagorno Karabakh.
Destruction of nature in Nagorno Karabakh, as captured by a National Georgraphic Explorer Reza.

The total area of the woods in Nagorno Karabakh and the surrounding seven districts was 264,000 hectares. When it was announced that the lands were returning back to Azerbaijan, some Armenian inhabitants were documented chopping down trees in Kelbajar, since restrictions on logging were not enforced. One Armenian exclaimed “why should we leave them [the trees] for those idiots”? (Pulitzer Center). Along with chopping down trees, forest fires were set using white phosphorus. White phosphorus has severe health effects, including sudden death and severe burns once absorbed into the body (OANA).

The Nagorno Karabakh region is rich in minerals, the most widespread of which are nonferrous metal ores, gold, mercury, chromite, pearlite, lime, marble, agate, mineral waters and others (Karabakh). In recent years more than 30 companies were established to plunder those natural resources, since mining is one of the main enterprises in the occupied territories. A company called Base Metals was founded in Kalbajar district and has been so far the largest producer and taxpayer in the area. In another location in Nagorno-Karabakh the Armenians built a coal mine to supply coal to a thermal power plant in Yerevan (Armen Press). Predatory exploitation of Gylzylbulag underground mine in the Kalbajar district led to its almost complete depletion (UN). After the resources are mined, they are then transported to international markets illegally, generating large profits.

The water has also fallen victim to the neglect. Sarsang, a large water reservoir in Nagorno Karabakh that was created in 1976, can no longer be used due to its destruction (REF World). The reservoir was meant to supply the local population with drinking and water and provided irrigation water to nearly 100,000 hectares of land in 7 districts. Regular maintenance was carried out by Azeribaijani specialists. When occupational forces took control of Nagorno Karabakh, instead of repairing the damaged reservoir and providing water to their people, they neglected it and as a result deprived people of clean water and irrigation.

The destruction in Nagorno Karabakh is eerily similar to what the Once-ler had done. The pillaged buildings, including mosques that were turned into stables for pigs and cows, only add to the wreckage.

The message in The Lorax is that “unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” The time has come for Azerbaijanis to revive their beloved land that has been finally returned.




Water Innovation | Social Impact | Sustainability

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