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Azerbaijan Addresses Severe Landmine Contamination Challenges in International Conference

By Gunay Hajiyeva May 31, 2024

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An employee of the Mine Action Agency of Azerbaijan during mine clearance operations in the liberated lands / ANAMA

Authorities from Azerbaijan called for global solidarity in mine action to contribute to environmental protection and worldwide sustainable development efforts during the 3rd International Conference on “Mitigating the Environmental Impact of Landmines: Resource Mobilization for a Safe and Green Future,” held on Thursday.

The event, held in Zangilan, one of the Azerbaijani districts liberated from Armenian occupation in 2020, brought together over 300 guests from 75 countries to emphasize the importance of mobilizing efforts to combat the threat of landmines.

The conference aimed to communicate the landmine challenges faced by Azerbaijan to the global community, strengthen international partnerships in humanitarian demining, and discuss ways to mobilize financial resources to reduce the environmental impact of landmines and other explosive remnants of war.

In his address to the conference participants, President Ilham Aliyev highlighted Azerbaijan’s severe landmine contamination resulting from nearly 30 years of conflict and occupation of its territories by Armenia, making it one of the most heavily mined countries globally.

“According to initial estimates, roughly 12 percent of the country’s territory is polluted by 1.5 million mines and an unknown number of unexploded ordnances. Since the end of the war in 2020, 361 of our citizens, mostly civilians, have fallen victim to mine explosion, resulting in 68 deaths and 293 severe injuries. Overall, since the beginning of Armenia’s aggression against Azerbaijan, over 3400 of our citizens have suffered from mines, including 358 children and 38 women,” the letter says.

The Karabakh (Garabagh) and East Zangazur regions of Azerbaijan had been heavily mined by Armenian armed forces since the 1990s. In 1991, Armenia launched a full-blown military assault against Azerbaijan, which lasted until a ceasefire was reached in 1994. The war led to Armenia occupying 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territories, resulting in over 30,000 Azerbaijanis killed and one million others expelled from those lands in a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign.

On September 27, 2020, the decades-old conflict reignited after Armenia’s forces illegally deployed in occupied Azerbaijani lands shelled military positions and civilian settlements of Azerbaijan. During the ensuing counter-attack operations that lasted 44 days, Azerbaijani forces liberated over 300 settlements, including the cities of Jabrayil, Fuzuli, Zangilan, Gubadli, and Shusha, from Armenian occupation. The war ended on November 10, 2020, with a tripartite statement signed by Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia, under which Armenia returned the occupied Aghdam, Kalbajar, and Lachin districts to Azerbaijan.

Since the cessation of hostilities, the Azerbaijani government has been conducting demining operations in the liberated territories to facilitate the return of internally displaced people to their homes.

Despite extensive efforts, demining operations have faced many challenges due to Armenia’s refusal to hand over accurate maps displaying the locations of landmines. Furthermore, from 2020 to 2023, Armenia laid new minefields along 500 kilometers in the territory of Azerbaijan, hindering reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts and significantly delaying the return of former internally displaced persons to their homes.

The Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action (ANAMA) has cleared nearly 140,000 hectares of land from 119,946 mines and unexploded ordnance to date. According to Azerbaijani government data, international experts estimate that Azerbaijan needs nearly 30 years and $25 billion to resolve demining-related issues.

Humanitarian demining remains one of Azerbaijan’s key priorities in its state policy, mobilizing all available domestic resources to mitigate the mine danger. However, Baku considers international political and practical support crucial in preventing the humanitarian impacts of mines.

Azerbaijan has launched numerous initiatives to address the persistent risks of mines internationally. Last year, humanitarian demining was officially declared as the 18th National Sustainable Development Goal. Additionally, Azerbaijan proposed the establishment of a special liaison group on humanitarian demining within the Non-Aligned Movement, which began operations in September of the same year.

At the 15th meeting of the State Parties to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, a resolution on the “Impact of Mines on Cultural Heritage” was adopted at Azerbaijan’s initiative. Following this resolution, a special conference on the “Impact of Mines and Unexploded Ordnance on Cultural Property” was organized in Aghdam, in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, in May of the current year.

Over the past three years, Azerbaijan has co-organized several international conferences to highlight the challenges posed by mines. Currently, Baku is collaborating with the UN to establish a “Center of Excellence” for training in demining practices. An intention document was signed between ANAMA and the UN Development Programme during the recent conference in Zangilan.