In the framework of the regional campaign LANDMINE FREE SOUTH CAUCASUS, the Azerbaijani non-governmental -organisation “Azerbaijan Campaign to Ban Landmines”, held an event in the town of Horadiz in the Fizuli Region during which the humanitarian consequences of landmine contamination was emphasised. The Fizuli Region, as with other nearby regions of Azerbaijan such as Aghdam, is just starting to recover from the ravishes of decades of war.
The event in Horadiz, in the form of a dialogue meeting entitled Landmine contamination and its impact on the return of Azerbaijani internally displaced persons to their home towns and villages brought together officials from local executive authorities, national institutions such as ANAMA and the Ombudsman Office, representatives of international organisations including UNDP and ICRC, and victims of landmine incidents. The event was organised by the Azerbaijan Campaign to ban landmines in association with LINKS Europe and with the support of the British Embassy in Baku and UNDP.
Addressing the gathering, the Director of LINKS Europe, Dennis Sammut emphasised the need to highlight the humanitarian dimension of the landmine problem in the South Caucasus, which together with the political and the technical/operational dimensions, encompass a great challenge for the local populations, the governments, and the international community. He said that there was a landmine problem in all three South Caucasus countries, but the scale of the problem in Azerbaijan was massive.
In Azerbaijan the problem of landmines and other remnants of war was now the main reason preventing hundreds of thousands of people displaced by war from returning to their towns, villages and settlements. Mr Sammut emphasised that the right of displaced persons to voluntary return in safety to their homes or places of habitual residence as soon as the reasons for their displacement cease to exist was enshrined in international humanitarian law and practice, and the problem of landmines in Azerbaijan needs to be seen in this context. Mr Sammut said that it was significant that this event was taking place in the Fizuli region, an area that was part of the epicentre of the problem. He said it was important for the international community to listen carefully to the views of local authorities, victims and others directly affected by the landmine problem. A regional approach would help in the realisation of the objective of securing a South Caucasus free from landmines by 2030. Mr Sammut said that it was also necessary for the international community to step up its efforts in support of demining efforts in the South Caucasus.
During the event, Mr Hafiz Safikhanov, Director of the "Azerbaijan Campaign to Ban Landmines" spoke about the dimension of the landmine problem in Azerbaijan. The problem had two aspects – landmines and unexploded remnants of war resulting from decades of conflict with Armenia, and the residue of landmines and unexploded ordnance from the presence of the Soviet 4th Army on Azerbaijani territory, and the minefields planted in Soviet times close to the borders with Turkey and Iran.
He said that prior to 2020 Azerbaijan was already in the top ten countries with landmine problems in the world. After the 2020 war, once the scale of the landmine problem in the territories that reverted back from Azerbaijan after decades of Armenian control was assessed – where it is estimated that a million landmines had been planted - it became clear that Azerbaijan was in the top five, perhaps even top three in terms of landmine contamination in the world. Mr Safikhanov warned that the landmine problem in Azerbaijan was not going to be solved quickly, and that communities had to learn to live with the landmine problem and this required heightened awareness and vigilance. Azerbaijan needed to learn from the experiences in the Balkans and the in South East Asia that have faced similar situations.
The regional campaign LANDMINE FREE SOUTH CAUCASUS
The regional campaign, LANDMINE FREE SOUTH CAUCASUS was launched in October 2018 after a meeting in Tbilisi of stakeholders from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, and representatives of international governmental and non-governmental organisations.
Campaign activities were held across the region in 2019, 2021 and 2022, aimed at highlighting the heavy cost that the South Caucasus region pays as a result of heavy contamination by landmines and other unexploded remnants of war. The campaign has over the last five years engaged with different constituencies in all the three countries. At a policy level, it engages with governments, state demining agencies and relevant official bodies in discussions on issues related to landmines, and their eradication across the region; the campaign also engages with opinion shapers, to increase awareness both amongst decision-makers and the general public of the problem of landmines in the region. And last but not least, the campaign engages with segments of society to educate about the risk of landmines, and also mobilise public will towards their eradication. Particularly successful have been education events held with school children.
LANDMINE FREE SOUTH CAUCASUS is a regional campaign, taking its message across the region in five languages: Armenian, Azerbaijani, Georgian, Russian and English. Different publicity material has been produced, including leaflets, posters, cartoon videos and infographics for use on social media.
The campaign LANDMINE FREE SOUTH CAUCASUS is co-ordinated by LINKS Europe working with partners from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia and beyond, with the support of the European Union.
Read more about the campaign LANDMINE FREE SOUTH CAUCASUS here.