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Azerbaijan, UNDP Team Up for Mine Action in Liberated Azerbaijani Lands

By Nigar Bayramli February 8, 2023

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Azerbaijani sappers walk in Aghdam, the Karabakh region, Azerbaijan, November 24, 2020 / Aziz Karimov / Reuters

The Mine Action Agency of Azerbaijan (ANAMA) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) have launched a joint project titled “Support for ANAMA’s capacity building for the safe return of former internally displaced persons (IDPs).”

The document on the implementation of the project was signed Tuesday during a mine action conference in Shusha by the UNDP Acting Resident Representative in Azerbaijan, Nuno Queiroz, and Chairman of the Board of ANAMA, Vugar Suleymanov.

The project is expected to strengthen and expand ANAMA’s institutional capacity in policy and data management. It is aimed at combining efforts to clear mines from the liberated territories of Azerbaijan in order to speed up the process of the return of former internally displaced persons there.

“The duration of the project is 18 months, but we hope to extend it,” Suleymanov told journalists.

According to him, the project will help further improve the ANAMA information system, create new non-governmental demining teams and, for the first time, establish a women’s demining team. Also, special rats and sapper dogs will be brought to Azerbaijan as part of the project.

Queiroz, for his part, said UNDP was pleased to be part of the mine-clearing project on the liberated territories of Azerbaijan. He added that more than 33,000 families would benefit from the project thanks to the financial support of the European Union in the amount of 4.25 million euros.

“It is our common obligation to work together for the return of internally displaced persons here,” said Queiroz.

According to Queiroz, landmines and other explosive ordnances currently impede the safe return of internally displaced Azerbaijanis, making it difficult for them to access their homes and farmland, thereby depriving them of the opportunity to rebuild their lives.

“That's why humanitarian demining is a very important part of UNDP's cooperation with Azerbaijan and one of the main priorities that we share and work on together with the country's government," he noted.

Queiroz added that a women’s demining team in Azerbaijan will act as one of the first of its kind across the world, offering significant opportunities to support the progressive nature of the demining sector in Azerbaijan. It will also help advance the role of women in mine action operations as a significant contribution to the achievement of most of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

In the meantime, Vugar Suleymanov said a total of 64,000 hectares (158,000 acres) of the liberated territories of Azerbaijan had been cleared of mines since November 2020. According to him, 282 Azerbaijanis became victims of mines laid by Armenia over the same period, of whom 46 died. Over 28,000 landmines and more than 39,000 unexploded ordnances have been discovered during demining activities.

The Karabakh (Garabagh) and East Zangazur regions of Azerbaijan had been heavily mined by Armenia’s forces since the 1990s. Following the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991, Armenia launched a full-blown military assault against Azerbaijan. The bloody war lasted until a ceasefire in 1994, and saw Armenia occupying 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally-recognized territories. Over 30,000 Azerbaijanis were killed and one million others 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 with a tripartite statement signed on November 10, 2020, 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 former internally displaced persons.

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 from Armenia minefield maps of the once-occupied Aghdam, Fuzuli, and Zangilan districts, 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. However, ANAMA reported that the maps provided by Armenia were just 2 percent effective in mine action.

International experts estimate that it will take nearly 30 years and $25 billion to solve issues related to demining.