Nagorno Karabakh, in the South Caucasus, is locked in a frozen conflict resulting from the collapse of the Soviet Union. The conflict began in 1988 and intensified into all-out war between 1992 and 1994. Landmines were laid across large swathes of land by both Armenian and Azerbaijani forces and cluster bombs were dropped extensively by the Azerbaijani Air Force. Around 20,000 people died and hundreds of thousands were displaced. A ceasefire was agreed in 1994 but the lack of a formal end to the war has left the Armenian population of Nagorno Karabakh isolated ever since.
Nagorno Karabakh has one of the world's highest per capita mine casualty rates, which is on par with Afghanistan.
Although huge areas have been cleared of mines, its disputed status means that government donor funds can be used only in certain parts of Nagorno Karabakh. Currently, 800 hectares of land remain to be cleared of mines, the majority in areas where government donor funds cannot be used. This poses a grave threat to human and animal welfare and prevents people from using the land.
Since 2000, HALO has been the only organisation conducting mine clearance in Nagorno Karabakh. Our mission is to make the region mine free, reduce the threats from cluster munitions and ordnance, reopen roads and return agricultural, pastoral and forest lands to productive use.
We have now cleared 85% of all minefields in the territory, returning 4,493 hectares of cleared land to the local people for productive use and destroying over 11,000 mines, 12,000 cluster bombs and 47,800 items of ordnance. This has led to significant decline in the number of accidents per year since 1995, and has enabled people to use their land safely.
In 2015, we employed 130 national staff to conduct manual and mechanical mine and cluster bomb clearance. In addition to mine clearance, HALO Nagorno Karabakh conducts explosive ordnance disposal and delivers mine risk education.
HALO's work in Nagorno Karabakh is currently supported by USAID, the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the SJS Charitable Foundation, a private US-based foundation, and the Armenian diaspora through Landmine Free Artsakh.
Our work to date has had a transformational effect on the lives of thousands of families in Nagorno Karabakh and we need now be able to do the same for families living with minefields that we cannot clear with current government funding. We are therefore actively seeking new donors who are prepared to fund clearance in these areas where the humanitarian need is greatest. We are helped in this endeavour by a recent pledge from an anonymous donor to match fund the clearance of Nagorno Karabakh. This extraordinarily generous offer puts a mine free Karabakh within our sights.