Last week I attended a lecture organized by the ARPA Institute and presented by Edwina Lebbie, the program coordinator for HALO Trust operation in the Nagorno Karabakh Republic (NKR). The HALO Trust is a non-political and non-governmental organization which specializes in removing mines and weapons left from war. The war between Azerbaijan and Armenia in 1992-94 left hundreds of minefields and explosives which make the land unproductive and civilians, poor. NKR has suffered one of the world’s highest casualty rates from landmines and other explosives. HALO Trust’s operation in NKR since 1995 has destroyed over 60,000 explosive items and left 59,000 acres of land for productive use. Statistics from 2004 to 2008 indicate a downward trend in casualty rates. In addition to demining, HALO provides mine risk education to affected communities and a backup ambulance service .
Currently, HALO’s primary funding for demining operation in NKR comes from the United States. The funding from the United States government is directed solely to what is known as the “traditional” NKR territories which are Martakert, Askeran, Shoushi, Martouni and Hadrout. Unfortunately, the liberated Armenian lands such as Karvachar and Kashatagh, which connect Armenia to “traditional” NKR, are not funded from the United States. Once again, political angles are present in pressuring Armenia and NKR to surrender the disputed territories and reach peace in the region. These lands are crucial and strategic borders of NKR’s and Armenia’s protection. To give up those territories would mean to jeopardize the security of the communities living there.
I don’t know whether to be more disappointed or frustrated about the fact that the question of surrendering even an inch from those liberated Armenian lands, still exists. The wounds of families are not yet healed, for they still mourn over a dear one they lost in the war; for those people to think of another war and surrender.
Population resettlement is particularly important for those lands to not become another Western Armenia. However, the minefields pose a dilemma for people who would want to settle there or are already there. Where land is left unproductive, people are also deprived from sustaining themselves. Resettlement to those lands should be our main concern because the constitution of manpower could mean ownership. Then all talks of surrender by signing a piece of paper would become unrealistic.
Overall, I am grateful for all HALO has done in Artsakh, even if its forced to comply to the mandates of its donors. It is through private donors with which HALO is able to carry out its demining operation in the liberated lands. Now, the future lies in our hands whether we choose to donate or not. Meanwhile, keeping in mind all the heros who gave up their livelihood, their families, to fight for something greater than themselves; thinking that they were creating a better tomorrow for their generations to come. These families of our heros are left unrecognized by the world.