Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action (ANAMA) has said more than 63,000 hectares (155,000 acres) of Azerbaijan’s liberated territories were cleared of mines and unexploded ordnances in 2021-2022.
Mine action during this period was carried out through a number of strategic projects, according to Vugar Suleymanov, the Chairman of the Board of the ANAMA.
“In 2021, demining operations were completed on the Victory Road [and] the Aghdam-Barda railway. The cleaning of the main line of the Horadiz-Aghband railway project and the Horadiz-Aghband highway was also completed,” Suleymanov told local media.
“Our job is to accompany projects implemented in the territories liberated from occupation. At the end of each year, the Cabinet of Ministers approves upcoming projects and territories, and in accordance with them, we carry out mine clearance operations,” he added.
During his visit to Hungary this week, President Ilham Aliyev said Azerbaijan has been facing tremendous problems in mine action since the end of the Second Karabakh War. According to him, more than a million mines have to be cleared.
“In two years after the war, about 300 Azerbaijani citizens were killed or seriously injured by mines,” the president stressed.
According to Elnur Mammadov, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan, it may take up to three decades to clear the liberated territories of Azerbaijan of mines and explosives. He added that in the absence of urgent intervention, it would take up to ten years to complete the demining operation sufficiently to allow the majority of Azerbaijani internally displaced persons to return to their homes. However, amidst the discovery of thousands of new mines and explosive devices, updated estimates put it at 30 years, Mammadov explained.
The Karabakh (Garabagh) and East Zangazur regions of Azerbaijan had been heavily mined since the 1990s by Armenian armed forces. In 1991, Armenia launched a full-blown military assault against Azerbaijan, which lasted until a ceasefire reached in 1994. The war resulted in Armenia occupying 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally-recognized territories. Over 30,000 Azerbaijanis were killed and one million others were expelled from those lands in a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign carried out by Armenia.
On September 27, 2020, the decades-old conflict between the two countries reignited after Armenia’s forces illegally deployed in occupied Azerbaijani lands shelled military positions and civilian settlements of Azerbaijan. During the counter-attack operations that lasted 44 days, Azerbaijani forces liberated over 300 settlements, including the cities of Jabrayil, Fuzuli, Zangilan, Gubadli, and Shusha, from the Armenian occupation. The war ended on November 10, 2020, with a tripartite statement signed by Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia, under which Armenia also returned the occupied Aghdam, Kalbajar, and Lachin districts to Azerbaijan.
Since the end of hostilities, the Azerbaijani government has been carrying out demining operations in the liberated territories to expedite the return of internally displaced people to their homes.
Despite extensive efforts, demining operations faced many challenges due to Armenia’s refusal to hand over maps displaying the locations of the landmines.
Azerbaijan obtained minefield maps of the once-occupied Aghdam, Fuzuli, and Zangilan districts from Armenia, which reportedly identify the coordinates of 189,000 anti-tank and anti-personnel mines. Armenia also provided the Azerbaijani side with mine maps of other liberated territories of Azerbaijan. In exchange for maps, Azerbaijan released dozens of Armenian saboteurs detained in Azerbaijani territory after the war. However, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev said the accuracy of these maps did not exceed 25 percent.
ANAMA reported that the maps provided by Armenia were just 2 percent effective in mine action. According to the Azerbaijani government data, international experts estimate that Azerbaijan needs nearly 30 years and $25 billion to solve issues related to demining.