Hudaferin Waterworks

Hudaferin Waterworks

It was signed on February 23, 2016 during the official visit of the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev to Iran. Then the agreement was ratified in parliament on June 14, and finally, on June 16 it was approved by decree of the President of Azerbaijan. The Iranian parliament ratified the agreement in December of that year. Officials conducted procedures to stop the closure, without discussions with the public.

The project includes a reservoir on the Araz River, dams and hydroelectric stations Khudaferin and Giz Galasy. The project covers the border areas of Iran and Azerbaijan and is a subject of mutual use. The Azerbaijani part has been under Armenian occupation since 1993.

The first alarm was given by security expert Ilham Ismail, who put forward the idea of ​​the presence of representatives of Azerbaijan - the border service or another representative office - on the Azerbaijani side of the project. Then, lawyer Alesker Mammadli gave a legal opinion to the agreement, from which it follows that the hydroelectric power station and hydroelectric station built on the Araz River are contrary to the national interests of Azerbaijan.

The opposition public believes that the project is contrary to the interests of the Azerbaijani people. Critics accuse the government of betraying and surrendering the territories to Iran, which works closely with Armenia and condones the occupation of Azerbaijani territories.

Various ideas are being put forward regarding the project - from denunciation to the adoption of amendments to the agreement and practical steps securing Azerbaijan’s jurisdiction over this territory. In short, the picture is as follows.

Hudaferin Secrets

The opposition public regards the agreement as secret, not made public. In fact, despite periodic information on the signing of the first memoranda, on the parameters of the project, preparatory work, the signing of the agreement of February 23, 2016, its ratification, yet this project, as well as all the Azerbaijani-Iranian agreements, is not particularly advertised.

Today, most of the expert community and politicians insist on the presence of official representatives on the Azerbaijani part of the projects. Formally, this is possible, given that the Azerbaijani part of the project was encircled by Iran with a 10-kilometer security zone, where the Armenian troops were withdrawn, and the Islamic revolution guards took their place. They moved here in 2007. This was reported on October 10, 2007 by the Yeni Musavat newspaper with reference to Iranian websites. Iranian experts today confirm this. It is unknown how this happened and in exchange for what, again, due to the semi-secret nature of the project. By the way, there is little about him, which took place in the Armenian press.

It is possible that Iran will agree to an Azerbaijani physical presence on the project territory, since according to the agreement, Iran and  Azerbaijan recognize the inviolability of each other’s borders and Iran considers the occupied territories part of Azerbaijan. That is, there is a legal basis. The issue is politics. Will Armenia agree to this, if not, what can it do? Yerevan is not able at this stage to impede Iran’s decision, since it does not have the resources to influence Iran, but, on the contrary, depends on trade and transit with Iran.

The main negotiations on this subject can occur between Iran and Azerbaijan. Will Iran make concessions to Baku in terms of presence? This is quite possible, given that at one time Azerbaijan agreed to the project, and both countries have much closer relations in a number of areas - trade, investment, transit. The degree of relations is evidenced by the fact that Azerbaijan, to the detriment of itself, with a noticeable delay, closed the border with Iran, which was affected by the coronavirus pandemic. This gesture  is evident under the conditions of the blockade of Iran.


The discussing of the Khudaferin project began in the 60s, after the Mingechevir reservoir project was implemented in western Azerbaijan, which includes an irrigation system and hydroelectric power station. The project put an end to floods in the Prikura zone of Azerbaijan during the flood season and created conditions for irrigating farmland in the hot summer when water shortages arise.

In 1971, under the Soviet-Iranian agreement, an Araz reservoir was created in Nakhchivan with a water volume of 1.254 million cubic meters, a dam and Araz hydroelectric power station with a capacity of 22 megawatts. This happened when Heydar Aliyev headed the Azerbaijan SSR.

In the 70s, the Goradiz dam was built, and by the time of the collapse of the USSR, work on the Soviet-Iranian Khudaferin project was completed by 70%. The work was curtailed as a result of the Armenian occupation of the region in 1993.

Khudaferin’s topic was on the agenda after Heydar Aliyev returned to power in 1993. During the first official five-day visit of Aliyev to Iran from June 28 to July 2, 1994, a memorandum on the implementation of the project was signed. It is noteworthy that the Iranian side during the reception of Aliyev created such conditions when none of the documents ready for signing, including the joint declaration, could be signed. Only on the last day of the visit, on July 2, after a three-hour tense conversation between Aliyev and Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani, the signing ceremony took place. It is noteworthy that in Tehran, while speaking at the Foreign Ministry before Iranian diplomats, Aliyev made a sensational statement at that time recognizing the territorial integrity of Iran and renouncing territorial claims.

A report from Turan agency on July 2, 1994: An agreement on the construction of a large hydroelectric facility on the Araz border river near the Khudaferin Bridge (southwestern region of Azerbaijan under the occupation of Armenia) was achieved today in Tehran at the talks between the government delegation of Azerbaijan and the Iranian Ministry of Energy. The future hydro complex will consist of a reservoir and four power plants. The reservoir volume will be equal to 1.6 billion cubic meters of water. Daily capacity of the reservoir regulator - "Giz Galasy" will be 60 million cubic meters of water. Currently, only one billion cube meters of water from the Araz River is used by the reservoir in Nakhichevan. In total, the annual volume of the river reaches nine billion cubic meters of water. By preliminary estimates, the project cost will be 700 million dollars; the construction period is eight years. According to experts, for the same term waterworks will pay for itself.

Ahmed Ahmedzadeh, the chair of the State Committee for Land Reclamation of Azerbaijan, told Turan that the Iranian side expressed its readiness to finance the construction on the condition that after the launch of the facility, Azerbaijan will pay electricity. “This is a good condition,” he noted.

The creation of such a hydropower facility will allow irrigation of 250 thousand hectares of arable land and the development of another 12 thousand hectares. The Iranian side, these figures will be, respectively, 70 thousand and 80 thousand hectares. Two pairs of small hydroelectric power stations will be built on two hydropower plants on both sides: 100 megawatts at Khudaferin and 40 megawatts at Giz Galasy.

According to Ahmedzadeh, the project also has negative sides, so under 6.6 thousand hectares of land will remain water, 15 residents will have to be relocated villages (7 thousand houses). However, the main obstacle to the implementation of the project the occupation of this territory by Armenia remains. "Without the liberation of these lands, all talk of construction is no longer meaningful," Ahmedzade told Turan.

However, it should be noted that Heydar Aliyev from the moment of signing the memorandum until the end of his days set the indispensable condition for the implementation of the project to release the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. He talked about this even at a time when work on the Iranian side had already begun. 

In March 2001, at the statement of Iranian Energy Minister Habibullah Bitaraf about Tehran’s intention to start the implementation of this project, Heydar Aliyev expressed a sharp protest, saying that any work on Khudaferin was illegal until the liberation of the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.

However, Iran’s work was already underway. As part of the general project, they could not begin without the consent to the implementation of the project as a whole from Azerbaijan. Moreover, the preparatory work was started in order to complete the main part of the project in 6 years.

From a Turan report dated November 17, 2001: Reports that the Iranian side began construction of the Khudaferin hydroelectric complex on the border of the Araz River are not true. The director of the Bakhydroproject Institute (one of the developers of the project) Aydin Piriyev said to Turan agency.

He noted that this project was initially the Iranian-Azerbaijani, but its implementation was being delayed due to the ongoing occupation of the region by the Armenian side. At the same time, the Iranian side, with the consent of Baku, is carrying out certain preparatory work on its side, but not on the Azerbaijani side. An employee of Bakhydroproject, Enver Hajibalaev, is at the place of work and informs Baku about what is happening. "Therefore, reports of the start of construction, and even with the participation of the Armenian side, are absolutely unfounded, » said the director of the institute.

Piriev also said that for the full implementation of the Khudaferin hydroelectric project, six years will be required, and the current preparatory work is being done so that this period does not stretch even further.

This statement by Piriev testifies how difficult the project was. It seems illogical: 1) the implementation is being delayed due to the ongoing occupation of the region by the Armenian side, 2) with the consent of Baku, Iran is carrying out certain preparatory work on its side, 3) the current preparatory work is being carried out to implement the Khudaferin project over 6 years.

From this statement, it follows that negotiations on the de-occupation of the region and work went in parallel and the parties were able to reach mutual understanding, including Armenia.

This confirms that the main part of the project was implemented by 2007, just when the Iranian security forces took control of the Khudaferin complex on the Azerbaijani side, pushing the Armenian forces behind the 10-kilometer security zone. That is, the complex is built; de-occupation is carried out in a limited area.

Thus, we can state that the construction work on the project started under Heydar Aliyev, and is being completed under Ilham Aliyev. Many people mistakenly believe that the project was carried out by Ilham Aliyev against the will of his father, who, as you know, set the condition for the start of construction to release the occupied territories.

Khudaferin project and de-occupation

What did President Aliyev mean when he pointedly said that the construction of hydropower facilities could begin only after the liberation of the occupied territories? Did he mean all territories or the part where the construction is carried out? Maybe both?

Based on what we have, in reality, waterworks and the adjacent ten-kilometer security zone were liberated by the Iranian side from Armenian occupation, because of agreements between Tehran and Yerevan. The speech, most likely, was in this plane. In any case, we can talk about a certain phased release of the occupied territories.

From a Turan report dated January 11, 2003: The construction of the Khudaferin reservoir is effective for both Iran and Azerbaijan. It can be used by both countries for irrigation. This was announced at a press conference by the Ambassador of Iran to Azerbaijan Ahad Ghazai.

The ambassador said that Iran is holding consultations with Azerbaijan on the construction of a reservoir, the territory of which is under Armenian occupation. According to the diplomat, if consent is obtained, Iran will demand release from the occupation of the territory on which construction will be carried out. "However, Azerbaijan has its own, special position on this issue," the ambassador said.

What position the ambassador did not explain. Apparently, Heydar Aliyev raised the issue of the liberation of the occupied territories along 130 km of the Iran-Azerbaijan border. During a meeting with Secretary of the Supreme Council of National Security of Iran Hassan Rouhani on July 22, 2001, Aliyev emphasized that the aggression of Armenia against Azerbaijan impeded the development of economic cooperation between the two countries. In particular, 130 kilometers of the border between Azerbaijan and Iran are under occupation. Aggression also impedes the implementation of projects such as the construction of the Khudaferin hydroelectric complex.

As for Tehran’s participation in the conflict settlement, Azerbaijan has never refused Iran’s help. At the same time, Aliyev pointed to the great potential of Tehran, taking into account the economic dependence of Armenia on Iran.

From the information leaked to the press, it is clear that the Khudaferin reservoir and hydroelectric facility were built by the spring of 2010 before the well-known large-scale flood of the Prikura zone. During a flood in May, Azerbaijani experts inspected the Khudaferin waterworks.

The project is at the completion stage

The completion of the project is scheduled for the end of 2020, when the Gyz Galasy hydroelectric facility will also be commissioned.

From a Turan report dated March 1, 2019: The construction of the Giz Galasy dam on the Araz River on the Azerbaijani-Iranian border will complete in 2020, the Ministry of Energy of Azerbaijan reports.

“The progress of the construction of the Khudaferin and Giz Galasy hydroelectric power stations and hydropower plants on the Araz River was discussed at a meeting of the Azerbaijani part of the Joint Technical Commission with Iran on the implementation of this project. In particular, the current state of construction work, further steps and obligations of the parties responsible for the projects," the information says.

Deputy Minister of Energy Elnur Soltanov noted that the Azerbaijani-Iranian agreement on the continuation of the construction of the Khudaferin and Giz Galasy hydroelectric power stations and hydroelectric power stations on the Araz River and on the joint use of energy and water resources "is of a strategic nature." According to him, "in this regard, acceleration of the project and the interchange of information is of great importance."

"To date, the construction of the Khudaferin dam has been 95% completed, the construction of the Gyz Galasy dam will be completed in 2020," said the Ministry of Energy.

Returning to the public concern and calls: from radical (denunciation of the Khudafer agreements) to a compromise (presence of an authorized representative on the Azerbaijani part of the project).  The talk can be about the logic of this approach both from the point of view of territorial affiliation to Azerbaijan, and from the point of view of security, and finally, in terms of politics and morality.

In this regard, the position of the Armenian side uncompromising, since it agreed to implement the Azerbaijani-Iranian project in the territories, it occupied and transferred the project territory, including the security zone, to Iran’s temporary jurisdiction with the consent of Azerbaijan.

In fact, for the entire time the Karabakh conflict has been settled, this is the first case of a voluntary withdrawal of Armenia from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. This multi-way process can be called the only positive example, which has become a confluence of the concentration of interests of Iran, Azerbaijan and Armenia in this sector of the conflict, where Iran carries out an intermediary mission due to special relations with Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Iran from the very beginning of the conflict offered its mediation in the settlement of the conflict, but its efforts were repeatedly torpedoed by a third party. On February 25, 1992, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati arrived in Baku and then had to go to Nagorno-Karabakh to stop the escalation of the conflict, which was previously agreed by Baku-Tehran-Yerevan.  However, the mission was interrupted by the Khojaly tragedy on February 26, when Armenian militants and the 366th Russian motorized rifle regiment attacked the city of Khojaly, populated by Azerbaijanis, in Nagorno-Karabakh, committing genocide over civilians. The day after the signing of a memorandum on Khudaferin in Tehran on July 2, 1994, a terrorist attack in the Baku metro killed seven people.

The near future will show whether the Khudaferin project will be continued in terms of de-occupation of the territories of Azerbaijan and the achievement of subsequent compromises.

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