Mine detonates in Karabakh, civilian risk still high

Rachel Brooks

March 15, 2021 

Above, a map of Khojavand, the territory where the civilian was injured in a mine explosion over the weekend. The precise remains of mine ordinance from the First and Second Karabakh conflict episodes may be higher than initially estimated.

“File:Azerbaijan-Khojavend.png” by User:Golbez is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

A civilian of Azerbaijan, a man born in 1980, was severely wounded in the explosion of a mine in the liberated Khojavend District over the weekend. Iman Bakhshaliyev was struck by the mine, citing the Khojavend District Prosecutor’s Office, and Trend News Agency. The incident occurred when Bakshaliyev was conducting agricultural work. Among numerous injuries, Bakhshaliyev’s leg was blown off “below the shin.” 

In liberated areas of Karabakh, a mass quantity of mines continues to make the territory a severe hazard for civilian repatriation. 

The news service Azerbaijan International adds context to the crisis of landmine planting in the Karabakh territory. In the article “Hidden Killers” by Gulnar Aydamirova, which was written in 2001, the Red Cross estimated 50,000 mines were hidden in the region. The number was, at that time, considered inconsistent because no maps were detailing the precise locations of mines planted in the region. With 20 years and two official conflict episodes later, this number may have increased significantly even above the efforts of demining organizations such as the Azerbaijani governments ANAMA, or international services. 

“The land mines were buried during the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia that lasted from 1988 until May 1994, when a cease-fire was signed. The mines run from the Iranian border (near Fuzuli) in the south to the Georgian border (near Gazakh) in the northwest,” wrote Aydamirova in 2001. 

“There are also some mines in the regions between Nakhchivan and Armenia. Mines that are not dismantled and deactivated can remain active for more than 50 years.” 

Since that time, ANAMA estimates clearing over 186 square kilometers of land in the region. The organization stated that it was in the process of destroying over 665,000 mines and other explosive weapons. This report appeared on the UNDP’s site on March 13, 2021. The number of mines and ordinance detected in the conflict region since the estimation made by Aydamirova in 2001 was a difference of 615,000 mines and ordinances. Without clear maps of the precise number of weapons hidden in the soil in the region from the conflict of the 1988-1994 era to the present, it is difficult to gauge how far off from any current estimations the real number of the hidden ordinance may still be. 

This is a problem that continues to be perpetuated by the partisan records of the mine issues in Karabakh. Open-source outlets such as Wikipedia have published that the mine problem was “not nearly as bad” as the original estimates of the United Nations and the United States portrayed. The U.S. and the U.N. initially estimated that the number of mine ordinance was somewhere near 100,000, which is at least 50,000 more than what was stated by the Azerbaijani International article in 2001. The U.S. and U.N. reduced estimation came a year after a reevaluation of the issue in 1998. Current UNDP statements in collaboration with ANAMA show that the United States and the United Nations’ original estimates were understated and that the actual number of mine ordinance remaining could be much higher than the current media rhetoric suggests. 

In a report published in February 2021, the Conflict and Environment Observatory investigated the environmental dimensions of the Karabakh conflict. The report described any inquiry into the status of the Karabakh as “highly partisan” making it difficult to track, based on direct at-scene accounts, the real impact. CEOBS instead utilized unbiased observation data. The organization conducted an audit of the scene of landscape fires caused by incendiary weapon’s ordinance, and mine ordinance. Incendiary damage was traced, in one instance, to an Armenian weapon’s magazine in the region. 

CEOBS also cited the concerns for the region associated with the decay of the Sarsang Reservoir as many of the region’s infrastructure sites either fell into disrepair or were severely damaged as a direct result of the occupation. 

“The recent, historical, and frozen conditions of the conflict have significantly impacted the landscape and geodiversity. This is clearest along the line of contact, which is now strewn with unexploded ordnance, trenches, conflict debris, and toxic remnants of war – a threat to people, livelihoods, and biodiversity,” wrote CEOBS. 

This conclusion by the CEOBS highlights the compounded issue of a lack of maps and a clear understanding as to how much of the ordinance of the first conflict has truly been removed, and how much new ordinance was added in the interim. The estimation that mine ordinance from the first conflict could remain live for 50 years, then any unfound ordinance of the First Karabakh conflict is still an active threat for approximately 20 years. 

Republic Underground continues to investigate the issue of unaccounted for mine ordinance in the Karabakh region.