Azerbaijan Campaign to Ban Landmines

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Landmines in Azerbaijan

Historical Background

Between 1988 and 1994 Azerbaijan and Armenia were engaged in an armed conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region of western Azerbaijan.  A cease-fire agreement was signed in May 1994, but negotiations for a final peace settlement are ongoing under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.  The delays in reaching a final peaceful settlement, including the liberation of occupied territories and the repatriation of refugees, is a problem in a country facing social and economic collapse.  According to the Government of Azerbaijan, 20,000 people died, and approximately 50,000 were injured during the warThere are believed to be more than 850,000 refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs), which amount to approximately 10 percent of the total population, many of whom have since lived in extreme conditions: in tents, railway cars, hostels and public buildings not designed for residency.  20 percent of the republic’s territories are occupied by Armenian forces.  Besides Nagorno-Karabakh, another seven administrative districts are occupied.  The economic loss to Azerbaijan since the start of the war has reached a total of approximately US$53.5 billion.

Among the many legacies of the war are the mines which remain in the ground and continue to harm and destroy to this day.  Landmines were used by all parties during the conflict.  In addition to this, unexploded ordnance (UXO) remaining from abandoned former Soviet military storehouses also threaten the lives of many Azeri citizens.  

The Current Situation

Azerbaijan continues to have a problem with landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO).  Following an initial survey of eleven regions completed by the International Eurasia Press Fund in 2001, the Survey Action Center completed a full Landmine Impact Survey of 27 regions in June 2003 (see SAC).  There are believed to be about 100,000 mines laid in Azerbaijan.  An estimated 92 million square meters of land is contaminated by landmines with 643 communities affected.  Another 44 million square meters is affected by UXO.  (See Landmine Impact Survey Map of Azerbaijan.)  These estimates do not include territories currently occupied by Armenian armed forces.  It is not possible at this point to determine the scale of the landmine and UXO problem in these occupied areas, but it is suspected that the extent of contamination is high.  Estimates of the total area affected by landmines and UXO in these territories vary between 500 and 830 million square meters and there are believed to be between fifty and one hundred thousand mines.

More than half of the mine/UXO affected communities are located in Fizuli region in the west of Azerbaijan near Nagorno-Karabakh and in the region of Aghstafa in the northwest, where a Soviet army base was formerly located.  In total, the mine/UXO affected areas directly impact on the safety and livelihood of approximately 514, 000 people.