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Azerbaijan Urges Global Assistance to Fight Armenian Mine Threats

By Nargiz Mammadli April 4, 2024

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Employees of the Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action (ANAMA) operate a minesweeper in the liberated lands / ANAMA

On International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action on April 4, the Azerbaijani government emphasized the persistent menace of landmines within its borders and appealed for global support to eradicate these threats.

In a statement released on Thursday, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry highlighted the enduring challenges posed by landmines in the wake of the three-decade-long military occupation of Azerbaijan's Karabakh (Garabagh) region by Armenia.

The ministry recalled that Armenia's deployment of landmines in the Karabakh region is not only a danger but also a significant obstacle to the rehabilitation and rebuilding efforts in the area, as well as to the safe return of Azerbaijani IDPs to their ancestral homes.

The statement shed light on the discovery of 2,700 anti-personnel mines, produced by Armenia in 2021, in the Azerbaijani territories in 2022, in addition to the findings about over half a million landmines planted in the Karabakh region after the end of the 44-day war.

“Throughout the post-conflict period a total of 350 Azerbaijanis became landmine victims in the explosions which happen almost on a daily basis as a result of Armenia’s ongoing landmine threat. Among them 65 persons lost their lives, including 50 civilians and 15 military personnel,” the statement said.

Since the 1990s, the Karabakh and East Zangazur regions of Azerbaijan have seen heavy mine deployment by the Armenian forces, with at least one million mines planted.

Armenia and Azerbaijan had been locked in a decades-old armed conflict over the latter’s Karabakh (Garabagh) region. Following the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991, Armenia launched full-blown military aggression against Azerbaijan. The bloody war ended with a ceasefire in 1994 and saw Armenia forcibly occupying 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territories. Over 30,000 Azerbaijanis were killed, nearly 4,000 went missing, and one million were expelled from those lands in a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign conducted by Armenia.

The conflict reignited on September 27, 2020, with Armenian attacks on Azerbaijani positions and civilian settlements, leading to a 44-day Azerbaijani counter-offensive. Azerbaijani forces liberated over 300 settlements, including the cities of Jabrayil, Fuzuli, Zangilan, Gubadli, and Shusha. The war ended on November 10, 2020, with a tripartite agreement signed by Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia, leading to the return of the Aghdam, Kalbajar, and Lachin districts to Azerbaijan.

Post-war, Azerbaijan has focused on demining the liberated areas to enable the return of displaced persons. However, Armenia's refusal to share the entire compilation of minefield maps has hindered these efforts.

After the 2020 war, Azerbaijan received minefield maps from Armenia for the Aghdam, Fuzuli, Zangilan districts, and other liberated areas, revealing 97,000 mines in Aghdam and 92,000 in Fuzuli and Zangilan. However, the reliability of the information, which was presented as a result of pressure from the international community, covering a small part of the landmine planted areas, was only 25%. The Foreign Ministry reported that over 55% of recent mine explosions occurred outside the areas mapped by Armenia.

In November 2022, Azerbaijan discovered and neutralized 350 PMN-E anti-personnel mines in the Lachin district, manufactured and laid post-2020 war by Armenia.

The persistent threat of landmines poses the significant obstacle to the repopulation of the liberated Azerbaijani lands. According to Azerbaijani government data, international experts estimate that it will take nearly 30 years and $25 billion to address demining-related issues.

In 2023, ANAMA cleared more than 53,000 hectares (130,000 acres) of territory from over 8,500 anti-personnel and anti-tank mines, as well as 23,000 unexploded ordnances (UXO). In March of this year, more than 400 mines and 1,200 UXOs were found and diffused on a nearly 6,100 hectares (15,000 acres) of lands.

“On 4 April – International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, Azerbaijan once again calls on the international community to take consistent measures for condemning the landmine threat of Armenia, providing landmine maps by this country, as well as rendering support to elimination of the landmine threat in Azerbaijan,” the Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan said in the statement.