Parallels of Yemen and Karabakh landmine crises; post Soviet arms trade

By | Rachel Brooks

April 7, 2021 

Image: “Land Mine Museum-3” by CMoravec is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Yemen and Karabakh bear striking parallels as two of the world’s most-beleaguered regions for landmines. The mass number of civilian casualties that result from the use of landmines in these territories has caused national security experts to draw comparisons between the landmine crisis in Yemen, which is the result of the Ansar Allah movement, and the Karabakh landmines crisis, which was a “revenge” tactic of the retreating Armenian national forces.

“Landmines are a major impediment to social and economic development efforts, exposing citizens to potentially fatal risks for generations to come. There have been more than 600,000 mines planted in the liberated areas by militias; 130 thousand internationally banned sea mines, 40,000 mines in Marib, and 16,000 mines in the island of Ma” wrote the Saudi government, in a report which was released on June 25, 2018.

In a similar fashion to the MASAM project in Yemen, the HALO Trust works to remove the residue of war from the Karabakh. HALO has been active in the region since 2000, six years after the First Karabakh conflict reached a ceasefire in 1994.

“Since 2000, HALO has cleared almost 500 minefields in Nagorno Karabakh, making land safe and transforming the lives of more than 130,000 people,” wrote HALO Trust, in an official landing page for the organization’s urgent Karabakh mission.

” We visit schools and communities to teach people, especially children, how to stay safe until all the landmines are gone.

But landmines are not the only challenge. When fighting broke out briefly in 2016, homes and gardens were left strewn with yet more explosives—threatening the lives of local people. We reacted immediately, working with the Rescue Service to remove the dangerous items,” since this posting, the Karabakh region has been further plagued by the presence of mines and other war ordinance that carries over from the 44-Day conflict of 2020.

This International Mine Awareness Day, a look back at MASAM

 

Irina Tsukerman weighs in

Irina Tsukerman is a national security analyst and geopolitical expert. She is also the media VP for Timberwolf Phoenix LLC. 

Most of the landmines and IEDs MASAM has removed have been either manufactured locally with the help of Iranian technology or had been imported from Iran and are similar to similar devices used by other Iranian proxies in the Arab world – in Bahrain, Iraq, and Lebanon in particular. Houthis are some of the most prominent users of offensive mines in the world.

They managed to plant over 2 million mines in random places in the civilian territory since the outbreak of the civil war. And like Armenians, many of these mines were planted when the Houthis were forced to leave the territory – to maximize the number of civilian victims in violation of local and international laws and all civil norms.

Just as Armenians refused to provide Azerbaijan with maps of these mines, neither did Houthis. Although the Armenians were confined to limited territories and for that reason alone could not do as much damage as Houthis in Yemen, they very much employed the same strategy and mindset.

Given their level of cooperation with Iran, it would not be surprising if they directly imitated methods used by Hezbullah in Lebanon, where there is a significant Armenian presence politically favorable to that entity, and where Lebanese Armenians were involved in terrorist operations and asymmetrical warfare. Whether or not the iEDs and mines recovered in Azerbaijan following the Iranian model or were manufactured using Iranian technology remains to be investigated, but it is certainly a question worth raising in light of the other similarities.

We also know that in Yemen some of the older mines were likely obtained both by ISIS and Houthis from the same warehouses where they were stored by the Yemeni government. Many of the locally manufactured IEDs are primitive and were locally manufactured but using the Iranian know-how with Iranian and Hezbullah advisers present in strategic areas for the first three years of the current war.

Rabbi Isayev bears witness to mine carnage, mine risk to civilians

 

It’s unclear whether the Armenian mines and IES have the same origin, and Armenia has a closer relationship with Russia than with Iran, but it is worth investigating whether some of the mines had been imported from abroad or share similarities with the devices used by other Iranian proxies. furthermore, Iran has a destabilizing effect wherever it appears; and at one point during the Second Karabakh War was positioned militarily close to strategic territories and corridors near borders which have since been liberated & secured by Azerbaijan, where such exchanges with the local Armenians, such as round Nakhchevan were theoretically possible. More plausible, however, is the exchange of know-how between Lebanese and Syrian Armenian fighters and Armenians in Karabakh as fighters from those areas were aligned with Hezbullah and Assad and are known to have made their way to Karabakh during the war.

Overlap possibility in terms of intelligence, post-Soviet trafficking

While Armenia does have a stronger relationship with Russia than with Iran, the possibility that the landmines of Karabakh and the landmines used by Houthi rebels having come from the same place are not entirely out of context. In the latter years of the Soviet Union, and immediately following its collapse, the nations of the Caucasus, Eurasia, and the Balkans were particularly prone to the trade of former Soviet war ordinance and radioactive materials.

Latter Soviet arms dealing leaves possibly caches for a later use 

Infamous arms dealers such as Viktor Bout, referred to as “the Merchant of Death” by 60 Minutes, hailed from roles of former roles in the Russian military. Bout came to recognition as an arms contractor in West Africa in the late 1980s, which was nearing the end of the Soviet Union era.

Bout sold AK-47s to insurgents in West Africa at that time, manufacturing uniform soldiers from youth guerrilla fighters. Bout was reportedly originally from Tajikistan and served in the Soviet Union’s Air Force.

Viktor Bout’s role in Al Qaeda courier services

Bout was known as a “shadow solicitation” for being able to “take advantage” of Soviet military contacts. Bout was known for selling weapons to a wide selection of mercenaries, arming drug wars and civil wars.

Difesa and Sicurezza news stated that, during the rise of Al Qaeda’s power in Afghanistan, following the Afghan war with the Soviet Union, Osama bin-Laden entrusted the occupied Ariana Afghan Airlines to Viktor Bout. Bout was the manager of the airline, which was later dubbed “the taxi service of terrorism.” The New Yorker’s interview with Viktor Bout in 2014 stated that Bout, whose arm trafficking career began out of Bulgaria through his connection to Bulgarian arms dealer Peter Mirchev, was initially brought on by the Afghani Rabbani government’s defense minister, Ahmed Shah Massoud, to traffic guns to combat the rise of the Taliban. After the Taliban brought down one of Bout’s planes in 1995, he allegedly cut a deal to shift his business ties from Rabbani and Massoud to the Taliban.

In addition to trading arms with Al Qaeda, Bout allegedly traded Russian arms to Hizbullah in Lebanon ahead of the nation’s 2006 war with Israel, Radio Free Europe reported. He likewise funded campaigns in Bosnia in the 1992-1995  conflict in the Balkans.

Through Osama bin-Laden’s ancestral connections to Yemen, Al-Qaeda established strong connections to the region. It is a possibility that, given the background of Soviet arms dealing to Al-Qaeda, storehouses and stockpiles supplying the Houthi rebellion may be residual from the days of Soviet warlord trade.

The New York Times Magazine also reported that Sarkis Soghanalian, the famed Armenian arms dealer, was a major backer of Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war years.Soghanalian denied doing business in the former Soviet Union, citing the belief that the only concern of the Soviet region was money. Rather, Soghanalian was a Syrian Armenian and Lebanese international private arms dealer.

Likewise, Jonathan M. Winer, deputy assistant secretary of state for international law enforcement in the Clinton administration, was quoted by The New York Times Magazine as stating that the Ukrainian government became a purveyor of weapons. Winer confirmed that the Soviet arsenals were in the possession of the former Soviet republics post the fall of the Union. Because these cash-strapped societies were engaged in local conflicts as well as criminalized poverty at the time of the Union’s collapse, the arsenal in Karabakh and that in Yemen could potentially come from the same original storehouses, in addition to those that were confiscated or purchased by former regional governments.