Thursday 26 April 2018 Last Update: 05:08 PM

US Assistance to Armenia That Filled Azerbaijani Territories With Landmines: Facts and Figures

Published: 01-23-2018


In 2013 the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) voiced serious concern with the wide deployment of anti-personnel and anti-tank mines in the occupied lands of Azerbaijan by Armenia.
Armenia's use of the means known as 'explosive traps' is proven with facts. In 2013, 13-year-old Aygul Shahmaliyeva fell the victim of such an explosive placed in a doll and flown to the Azerbaijani side by the river, Yeni Musavat reports.

Armenia continues to direct mines and other explosives to Agdam, Tartar and Agjabadi by Tartar, Qarqar and Khachin rivers. For this purpose Armenians use the PMN-1 landmines of their own production. The PMN-1 mines filled with 249 grams of an explosive substance result in amputation of the lower extremities or cause other serious bodily injuries to a human. 

In 2016, ANANA found YM-II-S anti-tank mine on the bank of the Khachin village near Zardab region. That landmine was produced by an Iranian company based on Italian technology in 2012. 

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On November 11, 2017 ANAMA found and neutralized an Armenian-made PNM-E antipersonnel mine on the bank of Qarqar river in Afatli village of Agdam. 

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Armenians use anti-tank and anti-personnel mines in military purposes as well. Armenians actively mine lands on the confrontation line of troops and along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. Armenia's diversive groups repeatedly tried to mine the roads used by Azerbaijani armed forces. In 2015, Arsen Baqdasaryan wearing civil clothes was detained by our armed forces as he was digging down a mine.  Armenia refuses to join the 1997 Ottawa convention banning anti-personnel mines. They do not join the convention and, in contravertion to the philosophy of the convention, produces, imports and transits anti-personnel mines and has a huge number of mines in reserve. In addition, they use mines as a lethal weapon against both militaries and civilians.

While Armenia pursues such a policy, the US support for Armenia and the illegal regime through the Halo Trust organization engaged in mine clearance activities in Azerbaijan's occupied lands raises serious questions. A vast majority of HALO Trust employees are former militaries.

HALO Trust is the only organization, engaged in 'humanitarian' mine clearance in our occupied lands. 
In March of the last year HALO Trust published its report on 2017. The report reflects the areas of activity and some details of this activity. The report devotes a special section to activity in Nagorno-Karabakh. The report does not indicate the states that finance this activity in our occupied lands (the report shows the funds allocated for this activity as 'private').

While HALO Trust is funded by the United States, it does not get permission for its activity in the occupied lands from the Azerbaijani government and does not report about the results of its activity. 

It should especially be noted  that the US side allocates funds for the mine clearance only within the administrative boundaries of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast and today the announced 97.6% completion of mine clearance activities is attributed to this very area. It is now known that HALO Trust, Armenian lobbyists and their supporters in the Congress take serious steps to achieve financing of activities in surrounding areas (the documents show that 62% of mined areas locate here). 

Justifying its stance by the humanitarian purposes, the US side says it demines the areas for the safety of people living in NKAO. There are no people in the lands around the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and the allocation of funds by the United States for the mine clearance activities in these areas may be perceived as a step serving the annexation of the occupied regions. 

Yeni Musavat notes that in order to fill the gap in funding the surrounding areas HALO Trust addresses individual donors and together with Armenian lobbysts holds campaigns to raise funds. For this purpose they organized OneArmenia, Landmine Free Artsakh campaigns in the United States and raised funds through such organizations as Julia Burke Foundation, SJS Charitable Trust, Gould Family Foundation, Harbor Lights Foundation, Izmirlian Foundation, registered in the United States and mostly of Armenian origin. According to the information spread by the organization, active mine clearance is currently underway in Lachin among the surrounding areas. 

It has to be noted that along with the technical information, the HALO Trust report contains untrue statements targeting the territorial integrity of our country. Thus, the report presents Nagorno-Karabakh as a separate subject, in some places even as a 'country', and the surrounding areas as the areas 'controlled by Nagorno-Karabakh but located outside its Soviet boundaries'. 

The backstage moments of US fumanitarian mine assistance policy

The United States is not a party to international treaties on anti-personnel mines and mine dispensing weapons and it justifies its stance by military necessity. All the same, the United States is the main state allocating funds for humanitarian mine clearance activity in the world. It explains this activity by contribution to peace through clearing areas from mines, assistance to returning displaced persons to their homes and improving the population welfare. According to the author of the article, this activity serves both to increasing the influence of the United States as a humanitarian power ('soft power') and balance the negative image resulting from the frequent use of force in operations in the world, including the use of landmines.

US funding of HALO Trust: non-transparent and secret mechanism

Financing of HALO Trust's mine clearance activity in Azerbaijani lands without its consent by a number of states and international organizations is a case that creates serious concern. This action is clear disrespect to the territorial integrity of our country and must be assessed this way.

Interestingly enough, although there are clear public reporting requirements for public sector allocations in the United States, substantial information about the funding of this organization is kept secret (in particular, many questions about its funding sources and overseas activities in the financial statements of the organization are kept unanswered). In general, despite the fact that the United States actively promotes public awareness of mine action in separate countries and broadly informs them on international meetings and publications, it prefers to keep this activity in our occupied territories closed. For example, the "Walk the Earth in Safety" report published by the Department of State in support of mine clearance worldwide (See: //www.state.gov/t/pm/rls/rpt/walkearth/2016/index.htm ) contains no provision for action in Nagorno-Karabakh. Also, in recent years, this region of our country is not mentioned in the grant tenders announced for mine clearance. It can be assumed that the secret implementation of this activity by the United States is caused by its intention not to affect relations with our country and by  contradiction of this activity to international norms as it is carried out without the consent of the owner of the area. It is likely that the US does not want to publicize the allocation of financial support to the territory called separatist in its official documents.

It is unclear what goals the US government really seeks in allocating funding for mine clearance at the expense of its taxpayers without making these allocations public. Naturally, the role of the Armenian lobbyists and their supporters in the Congress in this issue is undeniable, and the continuation of this activity by the United States is aimed to please the Armenian lobbyists financing those congressmen. On the other hand, mine action in these areas is an infinite process where the conflict continues and in which Armenia actively uses mines. For example, in April 2016, there was a need for additional clearance activities and supplies due to the creation of areas with unexploded ammunition as a result of military operations. Naturally, the United States understands that the end of this process is unseen and, in this case, is the main motive for the continuation of funding. We believe that this activity does not just come from "humanitarian" intentions as it is explained and it does not seem convincing that the United States allocates a sustainable financial aid to a particular activity without additional national interest (especially in the current administration, which substantially reduces foreign aid).

There are some open sources on public expenditure control available for US public (www.usaspending.gov, www.grants.gov). On the basis of these resources, "Yeni Musavat" obtained some of the following information and analyses on the US funds and future plans:

- According to HALO Trust (USA) financial reports, most of its budget is made up of governmental grants. Most of them are funded by the Weapons Removal and Abatement - PM/WRA program of the US Department of State and a smaller part by USAID. The funds allocated to HALO Trust (USA) during this period and their distribution are shown in the attached table.

Expectations from future activity

As noted by US officials, the current mine clearance program between HALO Trust and USAID ended in September. US Secretary of State R. Tillerson said that the US Department of State and USAID have supported this program and that HALO Trust's request for allocation of additional funds is being considered and that the State Department has been focusing on the soonest and comprehensive completion of mine clearance work. US officials refuse to provide direct information about their future plans. Nevertheless, the budget discussions in the Congress as well as some analyses hint that USAID intends to renew the agreement with HALO Trust.

USAID has recently posted its Environmental Impact Assessment document to update this project on its website. According to this document, USAID intends to extend the humanitarian mine clearance project in Nagorno-Karabakh by September 30, 2019 and to attract additional $ 3.4 million for the project. The document states that this project aims to clear mines in 24 mined areas in Nagorno-Karabakh and hand them for agriculture (wheat and grape harvest) and livestock thus creating opportunities for the population to get a profit. All the same, the focus is laid on the importance of the project in terms of security.

At the next stage USAID may announce a tender and sign a new grant or partnership agreement.

The US, which is involved in wasting US taxpayers' money and justifying the violation of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and the occupation of its lands, should draw conclusions from the following points:

- Contrary to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Azerbaijan, being a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, the United States conducts mine clearance operations in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan in a non-transparent form and without coordinating it with the US government;

- Armenia aims to attract the United States and other partners to the occupied territories of Azerbaijan under the name of mine clearance and to legitimize the so-called "occupation" regime;

- Armenia refuses to join the convention banning anti-personnel mines;

- Armenian uses mines for deadly purposes to target military and civilian Azerbaijani objects. It even uses explosive traps in the form of children's toys, the most dangerous form of mines;

- Armenia is a massive manufacturer of personnel and anti-tank mines and cassette bombs;

- Armenia imports various types of anti-personnel mines from Iran. From Russia, it receives large amounts of landmines;

- Armenia also provides transit of anti-personnel mines and has large reserves of mines;

- People involved in mine-clearing activities in the occupied territories through the Halo Trust are later involved in the military-field work. This is the reason why people involved in mine-clearing activities with the US funding conduct a mine war against Azerbaijan and target civilians and militaries.

We present these facts as a journalist investigation and we request the response of the US embassy to Azerbaijan and the US Department of State. 

News.Az