By Lori Komshian
Staff Writer

Statement of Issue/Problem

Remnants of landmines, cluster bombs, and unexploded land ordinances left from the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan almost twenty years ago are still affecting the lives of people living in Nagorno-Karabakh today. In many regions, the people of Karabakh are unable to use their land because it is contaminated with landmines. This, in turn, deprives them of potential agricultural land that is essential for their livelihood. However, on occasion, impoverished Karabakhis who are inclined to farm the land for wheat and grapes because of their destitute situation, use land that is known to be dangerous leading to many accidents. It is a twisted situation of poverty and danger that violates certain universally accepted human rights.

This is a direct violation of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as well as the International Covenant of Cultural and Political Rights. Most specifically, this violates the freedom from fear mentioned in the Preamble of both documents. It goes against the right to life, liberty and security of person guaranteed in Article Three (UDHR). It goes against the right to work guaranteed in Article Six and Seven (ICCPR), 23 and 24 (UDHR), the right to property in Article 17 (UDHR), and lastly the right to a standard of living guaranteed in Article 25 (UDHR).

The HALO Trust tires to give people the human right to walk on their land in Nagorno-Karabakh, and they have made significant progress. By employing 179 local Karabakhis for the meticulous task of locating and removing dangerous explosives, Karabakh has become a safer place. An astounding 66,041 explosive items have been found since 2000. 86% (4,198 hectares) of minefields have been cleared. However the remaining 14% (702 hectares) of minefields still remain, jeopardizing the lives of innocent people. 31% (22,031 hectares) of Cluster Bomb Strike Areas have been cleared, thanks to the HALO Trust, but this does not alter the fact that a disturbing 69% (10,093 hectares) remains a threat. Three hundred forty-one Karabakhi people have died since 1994 from 263 land mine related accidents . And there are still people who die from these unfortunate accidents even today. In 2010 there were seven accidents and nine deaths. That is nine deaths too many for the small population of 141,400.

It would be an atrocity nine people died merely by accident in the United States and we would surely hear about it on the news. But we don’t hear stories about the deaths of Karabakhis on the news. In fact, it is an issue to which most Americans are probably oblivious. Consequently the threat of not being able to walk on your own land is not something an average American can even fathom. But global ignorance does not take away from the cruelty and direness of the situation.

It is crucial that the HALO Trust be able to work to remove land mines in Nagorno-Karabakh. But the process is expensive and requires funding. Just four years ago in 2008 the HALO Trust had major funders, including the Julia Burke Foundation, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) . But since December 2011 when funding from the Julia Burke Foundation ended, USAID has been essentially the only donor. This reduction in funds has slowed the HALO Trust’s progress. We propose that since USAID is essentially the only donor to HALO Trust that they double their current grant of $1 million to $2 million.

History of the Problem and Current Context

The land between the Arax and Kur rivers, known today as the autonomous region of Nagorno-Karabakh in southwestern Azerbaijan, has had a long and vast history. Until the fourteenth century, the region was referred to as “Arran” , when it was replaced by the name “Karabakh” which is a Turkish and Persian compounded word meaning “Black Garden”, “referring to the fruitfulness of the land” (Human Rights Watch xiii). The word “Nagorno” was later added during Soviet times and it comes from the Russian word for mountain, referring to the mountainous region. Today, the
Armenians, who make up most of the population of Karabakh, call the region ‘Artsakh’, and the Azeris refer to it as “Yukhari Karabakh”, meaning Lower Karabakh .

From the second century B.C. the region that is today Nagorno-Karabakh was part of the Armenian state, and made up the provinces of Artsakh and Utik. Then in 387 A.D. the Armenian state was split between the powerful Byzantine and the Persian Sassanid Empires. The provinces of Artsakh and Utik were separated from Armenia as they became part of Caucasian Albania , which at the time was a Sassanid vassal kingdom. This land was called Ran, and the Armenians lived in peace here until the Arabs conquered the land in the mid-seventh century. The Arabs called the land al-Ran, which was pronounced Arran.

During the three centuries of Arab rule, the Armenians were still the ethnic majority in Arran. But starting with the Turkish and Mongol invasions from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries, many Armenians left Eastern Armenia and even the lowlands of Arran and took refuge in the mountains of Karabakh. Some went to neighboring countries such as Iran and Georgia (Boumoutian 15). The whole region was unstable and subject to invasions over time by Turkmen, Ottomans, and Safavid Iranians throughout the centuries, compelling more and more Armenians to leave. Yet the mountains of Karabakh were “one of the few areas where [Armenians] continued to maintain a sizable majority” because it was an area they could protect (Boumoutian 17). Armenian nobles ruled from these mountains for centuries, and it was a safe haven from religious persecution for the devoted Armenian Christians.

But when Turkic tribes returned to Karabakh and established a Khanate, the Armenians appealed to the Russians to help return their homeland. But once Russia gained control of Karabakh during the Russo-Iranian war, it became part of the Muslim province.
With national consciousness rising conflicts between the Armenians and the Turkic Azerbaijani’s, conflict started in the beginning of the 20th century. The conflict escalated during Armenia’s brief independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1918-1920, and in 1923 when Nagorno-Karabakh became an autonomous part of Soviet Azerbaijan.

Though the population of Mountainous Karabakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) was overwhelmingly Armenian in the twentieth century (75-80 percent), for strategic and economic reasons Soviet authorities placed it within the wealthier Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan rather than in Soviet Armenia (Latin and Suny 151)

The animosity that was growing between the Armenians and Azeris was augmented by the demise of the Soviet Union in 1988. “70 years of bitter Armenian resentments and, since the secession movement began, [led to] the bloodiest and most intractable internal dispute in the former Soviet empire” (Uhlig 47). Separated from Armenia by a six-mile of land called Lachin, the Armenians of autonomous Nagorno-Karabakh in Soviet Azerbaijan wanted to join Soviet Armenia. Protests and rallies broke out in favor of an Armenian Karabakh. Interestingly, before 1988 most Azerbaijanis had never taken interest in the issue of Karabakh according to many scholars in Baku. “…unaware that it was a potent theme for Armenians, they had simply taken for granted that Karabakh would always be theirs…Azerbaijanis felt that Armenians were trying to break up their republic and threaten Azerbaijan’s national identity” (De Wall 30). But there was much more to it than that:

The cultural and symbolic meaning of Nagorny Karabakh for both peoples cannot be overstated. For Armenians, Karabakh is the last outpost of their Christian civilization and a historic haven of Armenian princes and bishops before the eastern Turkic world begins. Azerbaijanis talk of it as a cradle, nursery, or conservatoire, the birthplace of their musicians and poets. Historically, Armenia is diminished without this enclave and its monasteries and its mountain lords; geographically and economically, Azerbaijan is not fully viable without Nagorny Karabakh (De Waal 3).

The issue progressively heated up. “… Deputies in Karabakh, up to this time a typical rubber-stamp Soviet-style legislature, voted 110-17 to request from Moscow the transfer of Karabakh to Armenia” (Latin and Suny 152). Protests and rallies led to increased violence and even armed conflict. Armenians were deported from Azerbaijan and Azerbaijanis were deported from Armenia. Armenians were singled out in Baku and killed in pogroms the most violent of which was in Sumgait, Azerbaijan . Although the Armenian view is more widely known, “Azerbaijanis see Armenians as the aggressors, the first to start conflict, and a fantastic story has emerged that an Armenian led the rampaging mob in Sumgait” (Latin and Suny 152). Azeris killed Armenians, Armenains killed Azeris and eventually full out war erupted from 1992 to 1994 between the Republic of Armenia and Azerbaijan over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Four major events characterized the war in 1992: the massacre of hundreds of Azeri civilians in Khojali, NKAO, by Karabakh forces with alleged support of the 336th Regiment of the Russian Army; the Karabakh Armenian seizure of Susha, the last Azeri-populated town in Karabakh (it served as a fire base for attacks on Stepanakert); the Karabakh Armenian capture of the Azerbaijani town of Lachin and the six-mile “corridor” between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia; and the June 1992 Azerbaijani offensive against Madakert province in Nagorno Karabakh (Human Rights Watch 4-5)

Other significant events included the Battle of Kelbajar in April 1993 , after which “Tens of thousands of Azerbaijanis became refugees, many of them fleeing to Baku or Sumgait, others finding shelter in camps set up by the Iranians, as the Armenian forces swept them out of areas near the Armenian border” (Latin and Suny 160). Then the Armenians seized “Jibrail (August 19), Fizuli (August 23) and Zangelan (October-November)” (Latin and Suny 160). Ultimately in December 1993 the Azerbaijanis tried a winter offensive, and sadly “thousands of their troops, abandoned by their officers, froze to death or were picked off by the Karabakh forces in the mountain passes. Five months later the two sides signed a Russian-brokered armistice”), and the war finally ended (Latin and Suny 156).

Indeed the war had ended, but there was no peace agreement with the 1994 ceasefire. The war brought detrimental damage as thousands of people lost their lives in battle, and thousands of civilians became refugees. Of course, what is of interest to us today are the remnants of the war twenty years later that still affect the lives of Karabakhis today, specifically the Anti-Personnel, Anti-Tank, and Anti-Group landmines that were laid during the war, and other unexploded ordinances such as cluster munitions bombs. There is no reason why this tragic and bloody war should still disturb the lives of innocent people living there.

Critique of Policy Options

With the current policy, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is the sole donor to HALO Trust. As mentioned already, the Julia Burke Foundation has recently stopped their funding to HALO Trust in Nagorno-Karabakh. In 2011 the British Government decided to cut their $400,000 annual donation, according to the Program Manager in Karabakh, Roy Clarke. This reduction resulted in 60 deminers losing their jobs, thus decreasing the area cleared of mines and cluster munitions and extending the date that Karabakh will be mine free by several years. The reason the British government cut their funding is because they decided to increase funding to other countries that HALO Trust works with. Clarke told Ararat Magazine that “HALO has tried to raise funding from other governments, but Nagorno Karabakh’s political status and the politics surrounding the region have made it impossible to do so.” The HALO Trust has even tried raising money in the Armenian diaspora by approaching major organizations and even the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund for support but none of these efforts have been successful. The lack of interest and support for clearing landmines in the region is leaving people susceptible to accidents every day. Thirteen year old Artur Khudadyan is only one example of a victim of these accidents. Artur was playing with a metal object that turned out to be a cluster bomb that luckily did not fully detonate, but left him injured. The HALO Trust is doing their best, but the current policy of limited funding is devestating for the people of Karabakh.

Policy Recommendation

Given the fact that there has been no success in fundraising from other governments or from the Armenian diaspora, I recommend that USAID double their current funding of $1,000,000 to $2,000,000 in order to expand HALO Trust’s project. This will allow for significant progress in clearing the lands of Nagorno-Karabakh. I recommend that the HALO Trust use the funds from USAID to hire more deminers and buy more demining equipment, specifically metal detectors and protective gear, in order to accelerate the progress. In particular, two projects should be finished.
First, the Chartar Village Project and Norashenik Village Project in Lachin Region. The Chartar Village project requires $15,000 and seven weeks to clear the region of cluster bombs, directly benefiting 150 people in the village. The Norashenik Village Project requires $11,000 and five weeks to clear the region of cluster bombs, directly benefiting 13 people. The people who directly benefit from the projects are the ones whose land has cluster bombs, but, in fact, the whole village benefits from the project The HALO Trust should continue to clear minefields carefully and meticulously all over Karabakh just as they always have. Since 1995 when it started its work in Nagorno-Karabakh, HALO has carried out both manual and mechanical minefield clearance. There are two teams, the first called Battle Area Clearance (BAC) which clears cluster strikes, and the other called the Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) which clears other unexploded ordinances. In addition, HALO also has Survey and Mines Risk Education teams that are vital in attaining and spreading information about the land. HALO should continue to educate the local Karabakhis to keep them safe and prevent accidents. With this sort of progress we can expect Nagorno-Karabakh to be mine-free within a matter of five to six years.


Nagorno-Karabakh is a land with a vast and unique history. Taking historical aspects into account, we must understand the circumstances that led to the outbreak of bloody war from 1992-1993 between the Armenians and Azeris that displaced and cost the lives of thousands, and continues to take the lives of people living in the region today. Given the fact that impoverished people living there resort using dangerous land, and the fact that many others accidently encounter unexploded remnants of war, leads to the conclusion that this is in fact a human rights violation where the people cannot safely live on their land. It goes against the right to life, liberty and security of person, the right to work, the right to property, and lastly the right to an acceptable standard of living. Seeing as the HALO Trust is the only organization working to grant the people of Karabakh their right, USAID should double their annual funding for the clearance of landmines in Karabakh. Without the clearance of landmines, the socio-economic state of Nagorno-Karabakh cannot improve. New roads, churches, schools, and waterways cannot be built while the land is contaminated, and most importantly people cannot farm and take advantage of their land without being in danger. Without their livelihood Karabakhis are subjected to impoverishment. The funds from USAID, and in turn the work of HALO Trust, will significantly improve the lives of these people for the better. One day Karabakhis will rise out of the ashes of war and prosper in a world where they can safely thrive on their beautiful mountainous land.


Azerbaijan: Seven Years of Conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. New York: Human Rights Watch, 1994. Print.

“Clearing Mines and Saving Lives in Karabakh.” Clearing Mines and Saving Lives in Karabakh. 4 Apr. 2011. Web. 11 Oct. 2012. .

De, Waal Thomas. Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War. New York: New York UP, 2003. Print.

Javānshīr, Qarābāghī Jamāl, and George A. Bournoutian. A History of Qarabagh: An Annotated Translation of Mirza Jamal Javanshir Qarabaghi’s Tarikh-e Qarabagh. Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda, 1994. Print.

HALO Trust NK Brief. March 2012.

Latin, David D., and Ronald Grigor Suny. “Armenia and Azerbaijan: Thinking a Way out of Karabakh.” Middle East Policy, Vol. VII, No. 1, October 1999. 145-76. Google Scholar. Web. 9 Oct. 2012. .

Rieff, David. “Case Study in Ethnic Strife.” Foreign Affairs , Vol. 76, No. 2 . Sage Publications Inc. 118-132. JSTOR Web. 10 Oct. 2012. .

The HALO Trust – A Charity Specialising in the Removal of the Debris of War. Web. 11 Oct. 2012. .

Uhlig, Mark A. “The Karabakh War.” Policy Journal. Vol. 10, No. 4. Sage Publications Inc. 47-52. JSTOR. Web. 10 Oct. 2012. .


Preamble (UDHR) (ICCP) (ICESCR)
Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Article 3. (UDHR) Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 6 (ICESCR)
The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts, and will take appropriate steps to safeguard this right.

Article 7 (ICESCR)
The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work which ensure, in particular:
(a) Remuneration which provides all workers, as a minimum, with:
(ii) A decent living for themselves and their families in accordance with the provisions of the present Covenant;
(b) Safe and healthy working conditions;
Article 17. (UDHR)
(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Article 23. (UDHR)
(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24. (UDHR)
Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25. (UDHR)
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Image by DFID


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