The conference ‘Overcoming the challenges of landmines in Azerbaijan’s quest for peace, development and reconstruction’ was held on Tuesday, 12 October 2021, at the Park Inn Hotel in Baku. The event was organised in the framework of the 2021 campaign, ‘Landmine Free South Caucasus’, by LINKS Europe, in association with the Caucasus Policy Analysis Centre, and with the participation of ANAMA, the State Demining Agency of Azerbaijan. Participants included officials, diplomats and representatives of various embassies and international organisations, members of the Milli Meclis and local civil society organisations.
The focus of the conference was the impact of landmines on the process of the safe, dignified and voluntary return of Azerbaijani IDPs displaced in the first Karabakh war to their homes and communities. In a keynote address, Mr Rovshan Rzayev, Chairman of the State Committee for Refugees and IDP’s of Azerbaijan, outlined the work currently being done by the State Committee and more broadly by the Azerbaijan government to prepare for the return of the IDPs and the grave hazards constituted by the large number of landmines that infest the territories that reverted back to Azerbaijan in the 44-day war. Mr Rzayev reiterated the call for Armenia to provide full and accurate maps and information on the landmines it had planted on Azerbaijani territory.
The Head of the European Union Delegation to Azerbaijan, Ambassador Peter Michalko, outlined the EU policy of calling for the abolishment of landmines in all parts of the world. He said that the EU was actively supporting the demining efforts of the Azerbaijan government. Ambassador Michalka also spoke about the Ottawa Convention banning the use, production or stockpiling of landmines, and said that the EU was a very active and vocal supporter of the convention, which he described a success story for disarmament and diplomacy. 164 countries have already adhered to the convention and he hoped that the three South Caucasus countries will do so as well.
Participants at the event then heard a presentation by the representative of the State Demining Agency of Azerbaijan, Ramil Azizov, who spoke about the work that ANAMA was doing especially in the regained territories since November of last year. He said that 160 people had died from landmine related incidents in the last year, despite the fact that the government had issued strict warning for people not to visit the territories without permission as it was not safe. This was an indication of the scale of the problem faced. The speaker said that ANAMA was actively co-operating with international organisations in the fulfilment of its mission.
Among those present were the French Ambassador, Zacharias Gross, the British Ambassador James Sharp, as well as representatives of the UN, ICRC, the US Embassy and others. Participants held a lively debate on the issues at hand and heard presentations from organisations involved with the welfare of landmine victims and from the Karabakh Revival Fund. A spokesperson for LINKS Europe said that the Landmine Free South Caucasus 2021 campaign was currently taking place across the region and other policy conferences will be held next month in Tbilisi and Yerevan.
The Conference was organised in the framework of the 2021 Landmine Free South Caucasus campaign, with the support of the European Union.