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Azerbaijani Mine Action Agency Defuses Over 845,000 Landmines and Unexploded Ordnances Since 1998

By Nargiz Mammadli July 20, 2022

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A few of the landmines unearthed by ANAMA in the liberated lands / ANAMA

Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action (ANAMA) celebrates the 24th anniversary of its creation.

Since its inception in 1998, the agency has been actively engaged in mine action. During 24 years of operation, ANAMA’s specialists and sapper units cleared 70,437.9 hectares or 174,000 acres of Azerbaijani lands from 845,180 landmines and unexploded ordnances.

The agency has stepped up its operations since 2020 when the Azerbaijani territories were liberated from nearly three decades of Armenian occupation.

The Karabakh (Garabagh) and East Zangazur regions of Azerbaijan had been heavily mined since the 1990s. Armenia launched a full-blown military assault against Azerbaijan following the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991. The bloody war lasted until a ceasefire reached in 1994 and saw Armenia occupying 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally-recognized territories. Over 30,000 Azerbaijanis were killed, and one million 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 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 in 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 internally displaced people to their homes.

ANAMA’s mine disposal teams, specialists from the Ministry of Emergency Situations, the Border Services Command, and the Turkish Armed Forces, have been conducting demining operations in the liberated territories. ANAMA deploys cutting-edge Turkish, British, Slovak, and Croatian production machinery to facilitate the process. France is also expected to supply demining equipment to the agency. A minesweeper of local production, known as Revival-P1, is also supposed to be soon used in the mine action.

ANAMA has recently deployed 18 new minesweepers to facilitate the mine action. The agency has also signed a contract with the British Arpies NRC company to conduct aerial research in the liberated territories using drones and various devices.

Several foreign countries and organizations, including the United Kingdom, European Union, and UNESCO, have provided financial aid for the mine clearance operations in Azerbaijan. The US-based Marshall Legacy Institute supplied 20 trained landmine detection dogs to ANAMA and is expected to dispatch five more soon.

According to data published by ANAMA, at least 225 people in Azerbaijan have been trapped by landmines in the liberated lands since November 10, 2020. As a result of the mine explosions, 186 people were injured, and 39 died.

Despite extensive efforts, demining operations faced many challenges due to Armenia’s refusal to hand over maps of the landmines’ locations.

Azerbaijan obtained from Armenia the minefield maps of the once occupied Aghdam, Fuzuli, and Zangilan districts, which reportedly identify the coordinates of a total of 189,000 anti-tank and anti-personnel mines. Armenia has 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 ceasefire. However, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev said the accuracy of these maps did not exceed 25 percent. Officials in Baku are convinced that the maps hidden by Armenia could help neutralize at least one million landmines planted in the once occupied Azerbaijani lands.

According to the most recent data, between July 11-16, 2022, ANAMA specialists found and defused 111 anti-personnel, 10 anti-tank mines, and 178 unexploded ordnances.