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Cluster Munitions in Azerbaijan

is among the small group of 30 countries in the world affected by cluster munitions, still haunted to this day by the legacy of a war that ended over a decade ago.  Between 1992 and 1994, armed conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia led to the use of cluster munitions against military and civilian targets in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.  Cluster munitions, or cluster bombs, are military weapons used to disperse numerous smaller submunitions over large areas when attacking an adversary.  Due to the high failure rates of submunitions, many never detonate on impact and pose a serious threat to civilians long after the fighting has ceased.  Although there are many unknowns associated with the issue of cluster munitions in Azerbaijan, the scope of unexploded ordinance (UXO) contamination in Nagorno-Karabakh as a result of cluster munitions is massive.  A survey conducted by HALO Trust in 2007 confirmed 162 areas where cluster submunitions have yet to be cleared, while estimating that this number will increase by an additional 150 areas as surveying continues.  In 2007 alone, HALO Trust cleared over 6,500 submunitions in Nagorno-Karabakh and faces the daunting task of clearing countless thousands more in the future.

The stark reality of cluster submunition contamination in Azerbaijan is its broad-reaching humanitarian impact.  As of April 2007 there have been 13 reported casualties due to submunitions.  One of the most widely disseminated submunitions in Azerbaijanis the ShOAB 0.5 – a small anti-personnel fragmentation explosive that shaped like a ball.  Found in fields, forests, and urban areas alike, this ball-like submunition, along with its egg-shaped cousin, the AO 2.5, is extremely attractive to children, who may pick them up and play with them.  As a result, the majority of recorded casualty incidents have been children.  Cluster submunition victims require significant medical care and physical, psychological and social rehabilitation. Their injuries result in significant economic losses, both to the individuals and their families, and also to the country as a whole.  Even after armed aggression has ended, unexploded cluster munitions act as a weapon of area-denial against innocent civilians by limiting mobility and negating the use of otherwise productive land for economic subsistence.

Much regarding the past use of cluster munitions in Azerbaijan remains unknown.  The Azerbaijani government maintains that it did not use cluster bombs during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, despite reports to the contrary, and thereby is unable/unwilling to provide any empirical data about the quantity or locations of past cluster munitions use. Additionally, as much of the territory around Nagorno-Karabakh remains occupied by the Armenian armed forces, many areas that are suspected of being contaminated with UXO’s remain unavailable for survey.  Despite official denials by the government concerning the existence of cluster munitions on Azerbaijani territory, recent work by the Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action (ANAMA) in the area of Saloglu has indicated the exact opposite. The Azerbaijan Campaign to Ban Landmines (AzCBL) has recently finished surveying the Azerbaijani regions of Fizuli, Tovuz, and Ter-Ter, in order to gather essential empirical data on the size and scope of the humanitarian impact posed by cluster munitions.  It is the goal of our organization to eliminate some of the unknowns concerning this dangerous weapon in Azerbaijan and provide a timely, reliable, and independent body of data on this subject.  Thus, from August 2007 to February 2008, the AzCBL has carried out an extensive cluster munitions impact survey funded by the Norwegian Embassy in Azerbaijan which sought out survivors in Azerbaijan’s rural regions and information about past cluster munitions use.  This project is based on the findings of AzCBL’s research, which has so far independently confirmed that 9 people have been killed due to cluster munitions and gathered information on 41 cluster munitions survivors, indicating that the number of people within Azerbaijan affected by the past use of this weapon is much higher than the government claims.

The AzCBL recognizes that Azerbaijan cannot afford to sit still or remain ignorant on the topic of cluster munitions.  Over the past five years, the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) has failed to address the issue of cluster munitions in any tangible way.  In the absence of any positive movement on the subject, the Oslo Process was started in February of 2007 as a mechanism to formulate an international treaty that bans the production, stockpiling, and use of cluster munitions.  The official line of argumentation that has been adopted by the Azerbaijani government is that Azerbaijan, as a stockpiler of cluster munitions, cannot accede to any such treaty banning cluster munitions as long as the prospect of renewed armed conflict with Armenia remains a possibility.  It is the AzCBL’s goal to increase public awareness on the dangers of cluster munitions within Azerbaijan while continuing to press the government to change its stance on participating in the Oslo Process.  We strongly believe that the political and humanitarian benefits of participating in the Oslo Process far outweigh the limited military utility of a weapon that indiscriminately kills civilians and threatens future generations of Azeris to come.

In the absence of adequate support for cluster munition victims in Azerbaijan, let alone official recognition of the cluster munitions problem within Azerbaijan, the AzCBL believes that much must be done to improve the lives of those who have fallen victim to this terrible weapon.  This project envisions making a real difference in the lives of all those whose lives have become adversely affected by cluster munitions and seeks to provide practical support for those who require it.  While doing so, the AzCBL also seeks to build a greater understanding of the cluster munitions problem in Azerbaijan through the creation of a comprehensive database that will serve to better meet the needs of victims following the project’s completion.