Expert panel meets to envision an Azerbaijan without landmines, part I

 Republic Underground, Timberwolf-Phoenix LLC 

April 23, 2021 

On April 23, an esteemed panel met with Republic Underground, Timberwolf-Phoenix LLC to discuss issues of landmines, landmine removal, and post-conflict trauma in the Karabakh, Azerbaijan. The discussion featured a series of analysts and trauma experts, as well as a survivor, and the defense analyst, and Timberwolf-Phoenix president Benjamin Minick. The event was moderated by Irina Tsukerman, media vice president of Timberwolf-Phoenix LLC.

The full list of guests included Esmira Jafarova, Board Member of the Center of Analysis of International Relation, Lala Mustafazade, co-founder of Mine Mark Foundation, Ilkana Goja, a trauma specialist, Amirli Farahim Farman oghlu, a survivor of a landmine blast, and Namik Aghayev, vice president of North American Azerbaijani Youth Association.

Tsukerman opened the panel by stating its focus: the humanitarian aspects of how landmines have affected Azerbaijan.

Tsukerman opened the panel by stating its focus: the humanitarian impact of landmines on Azerbaijan.

“This has been an ongoing issue, in particular, after the Second Karabakh War with Armenia leaving an unknown number of landmines in Azerbaijan,” said Tsukerman, noting that Armenia’s decision to give no estimate of the number of landmines left behind in the liberated Karabakh has had a tragic consequence for returning civilians.


Jafarova’s remarks 

“Thank you for this event, Irina, it is very timely and topical,” said Jafarova, who then detailed the Second Karabakh war, and its conclusion with a trilateral ceasefire between Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the Russian Federation.

“So, obviously, this was a historic event which ended the occupation of Azerbaijani territories which lasted for three decades. Now, currently, what Azerbaijan is doing is focusing on the demining and also rehabilitation of those territories,” said Jafarova, who noted the dangers of the demining process, before giving insight.

“It was discovered that, during the years of occupation, Armenia spent over $300million in order to plant landmines in those territories. It’s a huge number,” said Jafarova, noting that, because Armenia is “not rich” the funds spent toward planting landmines have been held under scrutiny, as it is known that the Armenians often “survive on the allowances” of their Diaspora.

“If they considered those territories their territories, then what was the reason for spending so much planting so many landmines in those territories.”

To put that number in context, Jafarova stated that official estimates for cleaning in some territories stand at three to six years, and in others, it may take as many as 10 years for the mines to be cleared away.

Jafarova noted that Azerbaijan has state resources for the mine-clearing purpose including the ANAMA agency. There was also an elevated, restructured ANAMA that was arranged to elevate the process. There have also been foreign aid from Turkey and Russia for this purpose.

Jafarova also noted that despite goodwill cooperation extensions by Azerbaijan and in the region, including the talks and work related to the possible creation of a Pax-Caucasia cooperation, and the establishment of the Zangezur economic corridor, Armenia has not provided landmine maps. Clear maps of the areas where the mines were planted are essential to the progress of the rate of removal. Jafarova noted that goodwill extensions on Azerbaijan’s part included the repatriation of the remains of 1, 400 Armenian soldiers as well as the release of 70 detainees. Likewise, Armenia has been allowed to continue the use of a major highway that was previously under occupation, is on Azerbaijani territory, but is required for smooth transportation in the region. Azerbaijan has also allowed the transporation of humanitarian aid and Russian natural gas through Azerbaijani territority, in what Jafarova described as “best efforts” on Azerbaijan’s part for the smooth transition from occupation to post-liberation’s rehab and reconstruction.

“We understand that there is only one way and that is to try and cooperate,” said Jafarova, yet she noted that, for this to work, Armenia will have to also lend a “helping hand.” She stated that Armenia had given one map, that, when ANAMA investigated the locations of the mines, they could find nothing, which Azerbaijan concluded was a deliberate attempt to mislead Azerbaijan.

Jafarova stated that Azerbaijan continues to warn civilians not to visit territories where landmines have not yet been checked for or cleared. Emotions are high at this time of liberation, but there is no guarantee of civilian safety in the “contaminated” part of the liberated territory.

Survivor’s comments 

Tsukerman then addressed a survivor of the landmine issue. His comments were transcribed verbatim in English in the article below.

Karabakh survivor statement, landmines panel

Benjamin Minick’s comments

Tsukerman then turned the floor over to Benjamin Minick, who is a defense analyst with extensive combat experience and experience in field medicine.

“I’m happy to be a part of this event, and I’m happy to work with Azerbaijan, and I’m happy to speak on this particular topic,” said Minick, noting that he is the owner of Timberwolf-Phoenix and Republic Underground and was pleased to continue his work with Azerbaijan on press events.

He then described the unique issues of the conflict deescalation in Karabakh’s unique case.

“The use of landmines is horrible, to say the least, I don’t need to speak the obvious there. But, the thing that needs to be looked at, with this particular situation is, when an occupying force is defeated, when the war is over, it is commonplace that that’s the end of it, and maps are handed over, discussions are had, hazard areas are marked off and demarcated. It may take years to make them safe but it’s common practice to make sure that the force that’s taking over is notified so that there’s no further issue,” said Minick.

“In this case, that hasn’t happened, and I’ve been watching this very closely. It’s almost like it’s said to be another attack, it’s said to continuously go on. They want this to continue to happen, they want people to continue to be hurt, they want people to continue to be killed. It’s vengeance.”

He then noted that landmines are forbidden under certain conventional laws.

“These mines should not be used, to begin with. From a United States military perspective, we are limited, as far as munitions go, to what we are allowed to use on the battlefield, as listed by the Geneva Convention. If we were to analyze the actual mines that are being used now, and there’s a mix, it’s not just one particular mine that’s being use or one particular gradient of weapon, they’re a mix. They basically got mines from everywhere they could get them from, and they dispersed them, and they don’t care,” Minick then took a moment to commend the mine blast survivor speaking with the event.

“Farahim, I completely understand what it’s like to lose limbs for various reasons. Mine were not mine-related, but I do understand the pain of amputation and the necessity to learn everything again, so I commend you. For the rest of you who don’t know what these mines do, I’ll give you a brief overview, and if you have any questions after this meeting you can reach out to me directly 101 and I will answer anything you want. As far as the federation goes, if you want help from an American standpoint, the government won’t commit to helping, but I will. If you want help from the United States, I’m here,” he said, and then began to explain what the design purpose is of landmines.

“These are designed to take out vehicles for the most part. They mine roads so that people can’t pass places. It helps to secure parameters. In some cases, there are anti-personnel mines, and they are specifically designed to work against people. The Geneva Convention limits the United States and our abilities to use these things, limits how they can be used, where we can place these things. There’s a set of rules that goes along with it, believe it or not, there are rules to war. Armenia does not subscribe to that. Mines that are designed to destroy vehicles are mixed with anti-personnel mines. They didn’t care, they didn’t keep track. They wanted to inflict the maximum damage that they could and they wanted to leave a lasting impression.”

He stated that the mines were not designed to be “cleaned up after the war.”

“”This was done purposely. There is no way that you can lay a minefield and forget that it’s there. There is no way that you can flip a switch and deactivate them and make them safe. They are very easy to trigger, it doesn’t take much. Some of them, simply walking on them will trigger them. It won’t just impact one person, it can impact large areas,” he said, and then emphasized the importance of landmine field maps.

“Until you have the maps, you have this risk, because if the mines are in close proximity to each other, if you set one off, it will set multiple mines off. We have seen this in Azerbaijan. We have seen this since the end of the war. One will detonate and then the other will detonate and it will go in a sequence. They were designed to kill. There was no precedence given to human rights by Armenia when deploying these, and there wasn’t even a security measure. From the maps that I’ve seen from the mines that were detonated, these were haphazardly placed, ” he said noting that the minefields were deliberately placed to take revenge.

“In the event that they were defeated, they did this on purpose. ‘Okay, you defeated us, now we’re going to continue to kill your population.’ These mines were designed to destroy vehicles, it’s not like being shot with a gun,” he stated, noting that if someone does survive a mine blast they “are lucky,” in the sense of surviving, but noted that the toll exacted upon one’s body is a punishment itself that “no one” should have to go through.

“Unfortunately, this is where humanity is at with the creation of these weapons and their use. I don’t want to be too graphic, like I said if you want 101 specifics, we can do that, but I’d rather not do that on Facebook. They don’t leave puncture wounds, they don’t do things like that, they are designed to impact the body and tear it apart. That’s the nicest way I can put it. There’s no escaping it, you can’t step on it, realize you’ve stepped on it, and run away from it. Once you’ve stepped on it, that fuse is lit in, it’s going to explode.

I understand that people want to go see these lands that they haven’t seen in 30 years, I understand that they want their ancestral homes back, and I want them to have that, but before that can happen, I have to agree with Esmira, these have to be cleaned up. Something has to be done. Armenia must be forced to give over their maps. They need to have some kind of sanctions in place. If Russia is actually assisting all sides in this matter for peace, then they should step up, and make sure that this is provided so that the area can be safe. Because it makes no sense to talk about having economic stability and corridors running through the country when the same people who created this mess are just watching and waiting for the next set to explode. And that’s a personal feeling, but it’s based on experience.”

“I won’t take up too much of your time. The nicest way I can put it is like this. Imagine if somebody set off a bomb in your house. We see it on TV all the time. You see hand grenades go off, you see it on TV and movies, but this is real life. When it happens, the scale of destruction is ridiculous.

I’ll leave you with this just to contemplate. The thought process during the war was to use the weapons that would inflict the most damage. We saw cluster munitions being used, and Smerch missiles, and things of that nature. I have a couple of lengthy videos discussing that. To give you an idea of what a landmine is, you’re essentially holding the explosive piece of that Smerch missile in your lap or under your foot, or under whatever ran it over or tripped it, and it’s going to detonate. Once it’s set, it’s not going to stop.

So it’s definitely something that needs to be looked at by the international community, and as much help as can be provided should be to save lives. Because you can’t patch up mine injuries in the same way that you can a gunshot or a cut. It’s going to require multiple surgeries,” Minick noted that he knew people who had underground 30-40 surgeries due to injuries from landmines.

“I would tell anybody that is watching if you want to help, find a way,” Minick listed that one could speak to their government, work with the Diaspora, or find other ways to spread awareness about the issue. He noted that he has spoken to many people in Washington, D.C. on this issue, though they say their hands are tied.

Tsukerman then turned the floor over to the remaining speakers for their opening comments, with more Q/A to follow. The remaining speaker opening comments continue in part II. Stay tuned.