Landmines in Karabakh persist to be a problem along the border villages.
Exploding Landmines in Karabakh Continue to Maim
On October 18th, 11 year-old Arkady Khachatryan was taken from the village of Zaglik to the hospital at Martakert. Fragments from an exploding piece of ordinance had damaged the young boy’s abdomen, left hand and fingers.
We had a chance to talk to the boy before he was wheeled into the surgical unit. “I was poking around in some garbage when I found it. I didn’t know what it was. There was a small indentation on it but I couldn’t make it out. I went and got a hammer and holding the thing down with my left hand I struck it with my right. It blew up.” said Arkady, tears rolling down his cheeks. The doctors said that it was too early to say if any shrapnel had lodged on the boy’s stomach but given the visible wounds they assumed that there might be.
From what Arkady described it’s safe to assume that what he found was either a grenade or a land mine. We can’t be sure. The Martakert Police have initiated a criminal investigation into the affair.
Similar incidents especially occur in the border regions of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and in those populated areas once under continuous Azeri control during the war. This was the case of Zaglik, which remained under Azeri military control for several months.
On the day of the incident we were in the village of Verin Horatagh. The local school Principal, Naira Arstamyan, told us that years ago two students were killed after a shell they had been fooling around with exploded.
In the border village of Berdashen 21 individuals have been injured since the cessation of military operations due to mines and fragment shells placed by the enemy in vineyards and fields. 8 of the 21 individuals died due the injuries they suffered.
In Karabakh the work of landmine clearing is mostly performed by the English organization Halo Trust. Yuri Shahramanyan, who heads the organization’s field unit, informed “Hetq” that Halo Trust has registered 6 incidents involving ordinance explosions so far this year, resulting in 9 injured and 2 fatalities.
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British Group To Widen Nagorno-Karabakh Demining
A British humanitarian organization said on Monday that it has cleared the bulk of Nagorno-Karabakh’s war-affected territory of landmines and unexploded ordnance and will soon start demining Armenian-controlled areas outside the disputed region.
Representatives of the HALO Trust made the announcement as they marked the 10th anniversary of its permanent presence in Karabakh at an official ceremony attended by the Karabakh Armenian leadership.
Karabakh President Bako Sahakian praised the group’s decade-long demining efforts in his unrecognized republic that have been financed by the U.S. government and non-governmental Western charities. “We regard saved lives as the biggest result and value of the work done by them,” he said in a speech at the ceremony held in Khachen, a village in Karabakh’s eastern Askeran district.
The HALO Trust says that ever since 2000 its has destroyed over 50,000 landmines, cluster munitions and other items of unexploded ordnance in 125 square kilometers of land. According to its regional director, Andrew Moore, that means more than 80 percent of Karabakh territory mined by Armenian and Azerbaijani forces during the 1991-1994 is now considered safe.
Aknaghbyur, a village in southern Karabakh close to the now Armenian-occupied Fizuli district in Azerbaijan proper, has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of HALO’s demining efforts. “Six hundred hectares of our agricultural land have been cleared,” Artur Babayan, the village mayor also attending the ceremony, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “We had suffered many casualties until then. Thank God, our people are now able to safely cultivate the land.”
Karabakh has continued to regularly report civilian casualties even after 2000. According to government data, 74 local residents have been killed and 254 others wounded in landmine explosions over the past decade.
“The most typical result of a mine explosion is limb amputation,” said Vartan Tadevosian, director of the Stepanakert-based Rehabilitation Center for landmine victims. The center’s main objective is to make the maimed victims “as independent as possible in their life,” Tadevosian told RFE/RL.
Moore revealed that HALO, which operates in nine countries and has nearly 8,000 mine-clearers, now plans to expand its operations into some of the Azerbaijani districts around Karabakh that were fully or partly occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces during the war. He said that work will be financed by a fresh grant from the Julia Burke Foundation, a California-based charity that has already supported HALO’s activities in Karabakh since 2007.
“We are extremely grateful for the support of the Julia Burke Foundation and their funding our clearance in the green areas,” Moore told RFE/RL.
“I hope very much that Azerbaijan will not try to influence other potential donors willing to support demining efforts in Nagorno-Karabakh,” said Caroline Cox, a pro-Armenian vice-speaker of the British House of Lords who has frequently visited Karabakh since the early 1990s. He argued that those efforts have a “humanitarian, rather than political” character.
Azerbaijan has repeatedly condemned HALO for engaging in landmine clearance in Karabakh without its permission. Its reaction to the charity’s continued operations there will likely remain the same.