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Azerbaijan’s heroic steps to eliminate landmines

UNDP Azerbaijan Resident Representative Ghulam Isaczai expressed his thoughts on the Azerbaijan’s experience in mine clearance. Eurasia Diary publishes the full text of his blog post.

“When I first moved to Azerbaijan to take up my new assignment, I knew the country had gone through a lot, but I never suspected tens of thousands of unrecorded landmines were still making vast swathes of land dangerous and unusable.

With my humanitarian background, I am deeply familiar with the horrendous legacy of landmines in crisis and post-crisis settings.

The mines – some of them no bigger than a can of tuna – have been there since Azerbaijan’s 1988 territorial dispute with Armenia over the autonomous region of Nagorno Karabakh. Today, farmers still can’t access their fields. Families are being warned against venturing too far into the woods, and parents have to watch their children closely.

Related news: Azerbaijan implements its commitments on human rights – Ghulam Isaczai

Twenty years ago, the government set up the Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action (ANAMA), a non-military organisation mandated to conduct humanitarian demining in areas posing the greatest threats.

Initially, UNDP brought in international experts to train ANAMA staff on all aspects of mine action—such as carrying out surveys to identify mine locations, removing explosives and supporting survivors when accidents occurred.

It only took five years for ANAMA to become autonomous. Twenty years on, the agency has cleared over 520 million square metres of Azerbaijani land; destroyed around 800,000 mines and other explosive weapons; and created safe conditions for the resettlement of more than 160,000 displaced Azerbaijani.

For over two years, I have been deeply touched and impressed by ANAMA’s leadership and staff. Because it is dealing with such deeply human issues, the agency has had to develop incredible communication skills. Its information campaigns reach over 50,000 schoolchildren every year. Deminers clear one square meter at a time while community outreach personnel knock on every door.       Continue Reading