Landmines planted by Armenian forces in Azerbaijan’s Karabakh region continue to threaten the lives of civilians and military personnel, as Armenia still has not provided a map of areas contaminated by mines.
“Unfortunately, we do not see Armenia’s goodwill in this issue,” Jala Ahmadova, a member of the Azerbaijani Parliament's human rights committee, said in an interview with Trend on Monday.
“Armenia does not want to provide a map of mined areas. As always, it demonstrates destructiveness. At the same time, the intentions of the Armenians are clear. One of them is to kill as many people as possible, and the other is to slow down the return of Azerbaijanis to the territories liberated by Azerbaijan as much as possible.”
The diplomat further added that Armenia has been violating the Ottawa Treaty, which aims at eliminating anti-personnel landmines (AP-mines) around the world.
Azerbaijan’s lands have been mined heavily during their nearly 30-year-long occupation by Armenia since the early 1990s. Armenia kicked off a full-blown military aggression against Azerbaijan following the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991. The bloody war until a ceasefire in 1994 saw Armenia occupying 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territories – the Nagorno-Karabakh (Daghlig Garabagh) region and seven surrounding districts. Over 30,000 Azerbaijanis were killed and one million were expelled from those lands in a brutal ethnic cleansing policy conducted by Armenia.
Azerbaijani forces managed to liberate over 300 occupied settlements, including the cities of Jabrayil, Fuzuli, Zangilan, Gubadli and Shusha in 44-day-long counter-attack operations from September 27 through November 9, 2020. The war ended in a tripartite ceasefire statement signed by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia on November 9. Armenia returned the occupied Aghdam, Kalbajar and Lachin districts to Azerbaijan as part of the agreement.
A large part of the liberated territories is still dangerous for both civilians and soldiers due to the landmines.
Dozens of Azerbaijanis, mostly those expelled by Armenia’s military forces in the early 1990s, have been wounded or killed by landmines when they visited the area hoping to see their houses. On February 18, Bakhtiyar Mahmudov, who was expelled from Azerbaijan’s Lachin district in 1992, died from a mine explosion in the Tartar’s Sugovushan village. The most recent tragic case occurred on February 22 when Niyamaddin Verdiyev was severely wounded in a mine blast while he was grazing cattle in the Tartar’s Seydimli village.
In this regard, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev urged citizens to refrain from visiting the liberated areas without permission.
Mine clearance of the liberated lands is the number one priority for Azerbaijan, and officials in Baku are working hard to make this happen. Government officials and companies from many countries, including Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Pakistan, have already voiced their intent to help Azerbaijan in this issue.
Two Special Mine Search and Cleaning teams from Turkey numbering 135 personnel are assisting the Azerbaijani combat engineers to search and destroy the mines and handmade explosives in the liberated territories. Moreover, a total of 12 teams and 64 personnel, including three Handmade Explosive Detection and Destruction teams and nine Explosive Detection and Destruction teams of the Turkish Armed Forces are training the Azerbaijani sappers.
At the same time, twenty-three soldiers of the Azerbaijan Army successfully completed a 2-week long Specialist EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) course in the Turkish city of Izmir from January 3-29. They returned to Azerbaijan earlier in February to join the mine-clearing operations in the country's Karabakh region.
Officials at the Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action (ANAMA) say the neutralization of unexploded ammunition, warheads, missiles in the combat zones could take 5-6 years, while it is about 10-13 years for the mined areas. During search operations, for example, from January 30 to February 1, ANAMA specialists found 199 unexploded ordnance, 3 antipersonnel mines, 1 anti-tank mine, 2,782 cartridges of various calibers, 8 detonators, and 9 exploded shell remnants in several territories of Azerbaijan.