Armenian Land Mines Prevent Peace with Azerbaijan - OPINION

Analytics 10:03 11.06.2024

Ednews reprints the article "Armenian Land Mines Prevent Peace with Azerbaijan" by Mordechai Kedar.

US President Joe Biden dreams of peace in the South Caucasus. Unfortunately, due to the presence of land mines throughout the Karabakh region, peace remains an elusive dream for many Azerbaijanis.

Speaking at the Third International Conference on Mine Action: Mitigating Environmental Impact of Landmines, Vahijd Hajiyev, Special Representative of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, declared that the presence of land mines has not only harmed the environment in Karabakh; it has prevented the development of tourism, agriculture, and other industries in the wartorn region.

Hikmet Hajiyev, the special adviser to Azerbaijan’s president, delivered a speech on behalf of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, proclaiming that land mines adversely affect the soil. “They also affect climate change. Azerbaijan is one of the most mine-polluted countries in the world, with more than 1.5 million land mines and an unknown number of unexploded ordinances. Since the First Karabakh War, more than 3,000 of our citizens have fallen victim to land mine explosions, where they were either killed or injured. These casualties occurred due to the Armenians’ refusal to provide Azerbaijan with accurate mapping of the land mines,” he said.

Samir Poladov, the deputy chairman of the board of ANAMA, Azerbaijan’s anti-land mine agency, stated that one of the reasons this issue is so acute is because Karabakh is a huge area that is covered in land mines. “This has impeded the reconstruction plans of the government,” he said. “A year ago, Zangilan was a waste land.” Now, Zangilan has a hotel, a convention center, a school, and a small green village. However, he noted that Zangilan is the exception, and there are still many areas of Karabakh that remain undeveloped due to the existence of land mines.

Poladov added, “Our goal now is to bring life back to those territories. Dealing with this challenge will take several decades, since there are still many mines. One of our major problems is the lack of reliable information on the location of those mine fields. The information coming from the Armenian side is very limited and not reliable. We also have found land mines in areas where we did not even expect to find them.”

According to Poladov, “Every square kilometer in Karabakh is potentially dangerous. We have no choice but take that into consideration due to the terrible accidents that have occurred over the past three years.”

A region rife with dangerous land mines

Emil Hasanov, deputy chairman of the Public Council under ANAMA, said, “Azerbaijan is a country between East and West. What happens here impacts other countries. The environmental damage impacts the whole region. Azerbaijan has been influential in the South Caucasus since the collapse of the Soviet Union. What happened will affect us for the next 50 or 60 years. In the Balkans, we still feel the impact of those wars.” He believes that Karabakh will be in a similar situation even if a peace agreement is signed with Armenia.

ONE SHOULD not forget that one of the reasons that Azerbaijan launched a counterterror operation is because Armenian separatist Ruben Vardanyan, who is currently incarcerated in a Baku prison, financed Armenian armed groups that stood behind two terror attacks where the Armenians planted land mines on the roads. Four employees of the Azerbaijani Interior Ministry lost their lives in one of the terror attacks: Jamalzade Asim (30), Shirinov Ramil (37), Mahmudov Seymur (33), and Zamanov Khazar (26). Azerbaijan has accused former Artsakh State Minister Ruben Vardanyan of “financing terrorism,” “creating and participating in illegal armed organizations,” and “illegally crossing the Azerbaijani state border.”

Indeed, not all of the land mines that contaminate Karabakh date from the period when Armenia illegally controlled the region in violation of four UN Security Council resolutions. Some of the land mines in the Karabakh region were placed there during the reign of separatist ruler Ruben Vardanyan, thus hindering Azerbaijan’s efforts to revitalize the region. Therefore, the Azerbaijanis cannot consider releasing Vardanyan from prison.

Due to this land mine issue, many Azerbaijanis do not believe that peace is attainable until Armenia reveals all of the locations of land mines. Without these maps, reconstruction could take decades, and this poisons the atmosphere, making it harder to achieve peace between the two countries even if Armenia’s prime minister is willing to give up all of his territorial claims in Karabakh.

Every land mine victim has a story. Tamam Jafareva, an Azerbaijani land mine survivor, was gravely injured while chasing a cow in the wartorn Karabakh region. As a result, she has a prosthetic leg. Her story is only one of countless others. Land mine victims cannot forgive Vardanyan for financing groups that planted more of them in Karabakh instead of permitting the war to end. For the sake of a durable and lasting peace in the South Caucasus, Armenia must hand over the land mine maps so that there will be no more victims. Until then, Biden’s dream of peace in the region remains elusive.

The writer is a prominent Middle East scholar and commentator.

Note: The views and opinions expressed by guest columnists in their op-eds may differ from and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff.

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