Narek Atayan, Mayor of Karmir Shuka, Nagorno Karabakh
Mr. Atayan is now the mayor Karmir Shuka, a village that saw some of the most intense battles in the Second Karabakh War.
The risk education that HALO delivered to Mr. Atayan and his classmates was primarily related to landmines from the First Karabakh War in the early 1990s. While HALO has made significant progress in clearing them, Karabakh was still not mine-free from the First War when the Second War broke out at the end of September.
Now, while landmines are still a threat, an even greater risk lies in the countless unexploded ordnance that litter the streets of the capital, Stepanakert, and other residential areas, like Karmir Shuka. Displaced families are returning to find everything from bullets and Grad rockets to cannon rounds and cluster munitions in their backyards. It is impossible to reestablish a sense of normalcy or safety with the dangers of the war still lurking.
This post-war period is when the risk of accidents is highest, and children, who may be tempted by the toy-like appearance of some munitions, are the most vulnerable. The best way to prevent casualties is to clear the debris left behind after the conflict, but it is painstaking work and it takes time. So HALO staff are providing risk education in tandem with the surveys they are conducting to locate and clear explosive contamination. Survey teams are speaking to residents and handing out leaflets with information about M-85 cluster munitions and other deadly munitions that people returning home may encounter.
Typically, schools are the primary venue for risk education, but a month and a half since the ceasefire, many schools have not reopened yet. In response, HALO has gotten creative in its risk education approaches, arranging for informal gatherings of families in the villages they are visiting, as well as devising a media strategy that they anticipate will make wider use of television and radio.
In Stepanakert, the HALO team has begun visiting schools, as most schools in the capital reopened in the first week of December. In a third grade classroom in School No.2, hands shoot up as students recount seeing cluster munitions around their neighborhood, on their walk to school.
Meanwhile in Karmir Shuka, seven-year-old Gevorg Harutyunyan is cleaning up his neighbors’ yards, which, after months untended, are covered with overgrowth, dead leaves, rotten fruit, and who knows what else. Risk education is of vital importance to the people of Nagorno Karabakh. It is central to HALO’s mission - always - but especially in this crucial moment in the immediate aftermath of war.
Story by Nyree Abrahamian and Photographs by Scout Tufankjian