ANAMA, Azerbaijan's Mine Action Agency, has recently been provided with additional mine detection dogs from the Marshall Legacy Institute (MLI) based in the US. These dogs will aid in the continued efforts to clear landmines in territories that were liberated from Armenian occupation in 2020.
The transfer is part of an agreement signed in April 2021 for the supply of a total of 50 specially-trained lifesaving mine detection dogs. After completing relevant preparations and accreditation based on the International Mine Action Standards (IMAS), the newly procured mine detection dogs will be deployed in Azerbaijan’s liberated areas.
Since 2005, MLI supplied a total of 65 lifesaving mine detection dogs to ANAMA. Currently, ANAMA is using 25 dogs to assist the full-fledged mine action campaign.
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 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 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 internally displaced persons.
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. A minesweeper of local production, known as Revival-P1, has also joined 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.
As of early February 2023, a total of 64,000 hectares (158,000 acres) of the liberated territories of Azerbaijan had been cleared of mines since November 2020. Over 28,000 mines and more than 39,000 unexploded ordnances have been detected during demining activities.
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 from Armenia for the Aghdam, Fuzuli, and Zangilan districts, which were previously occupied, and 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 these maps were just 2 percent effective in mine action.
According to Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry, Armenia has been reprehensibly targeting civilian homes and settlements with explosives and landmines, killing or injuring 282 Azerbaijanis in mine explosions since the end of the 44-day war in 2020.
International experts estimate that it will take nearly 30 years and $25 billion to solve issues related to demining.