The Dona Gracia Center for Diplomacy together with Open Minded Solutions Ltd., an Israeli landmine clearance company, hosted a round table discussion on 28th July 2022, in Jerusalem, the capital State of Israel, at the Begin Heritage Center titled “Landmines in the Liberated Territories of Azerbaijan: the biggest obstacle to obtaining peace in the South Caucuses.” The event was attended by prominent members of the Azerbaijani Diaspora, important Israeli and Azerbaijani landmine clearance professionals, different Israeli local community leaders, Director of Azerbaijani Tourism Representative Office in Israel, and Mr. Ayoob Kara, ex-minister of communications of Israel.
Rachel Avraham spoke about how during her visits to Karabakh, she witnessed the adverse effect that landmines had upon the civilian population: She told story about her visit to Karabakh where she traveled mile after mile on broken dirt roads surrounded by landmines, which prevented them from swaying to the right and to the left. In fact, due to the terrible road conditions at that time, their bus broke down in a landmine infested area and they had to wait about a half of day to get rescued by the Azerbaijani government.
She described that during their trip, they saw uprooted trees, polluted rivers, burnt agricultural fields, of which some of them were still burning when they were there and also the ruins of Fizouly, Shusha, Sultanya and numerous other Azerbaijani cities and towns, which were also surrounded by landmines that inhibited reconstruction. She quoted Fuad Muradov, the Chairman of the State Committee on the Work with the Diaspora, who noted: “Our main goal is to build peace in the region. However, for that to happen, all landmines must be removed and removing them is an uphill struggle when the maps you have are not reliable.”
Additionally, she said how she was impressed during her recent trip by the progress in the restoration of Shusha. Although much of the region still has too many landmines and a lot of rebuilding is still required, “I saw how hard the Azerbaijanis are working to make Karabakh great again.”
The next speaker was Roy Nahari, the CEO of Open Minded Solutions Ltd., who spoke about the long lasting effects of landmines, noting that the effect of landmines lasts much longer than the period of conflict: He highlighted the importance to bring all stakeholders such as governments, NGOs on landmine actions, opinion leaders, companies and citizens and partners to the table to resolve landmine problems. He emphasized that we cannot act alone to resolve this problem. He gave an example of an Israeli hotel in the Golan Heights. which was covered with landmines until recent years. It was only cleared two years ago and now it is a beautiful place. Most of the Jordan Valley was covered with landmines as well. Now, 95% of the landmines in the Jordan Valley were cleared and 80% of the area is now agricultural land. In the end, he offered all his knowledge, experience, skills and connections to resolve persistently and patiently this problem in Azerbaijan.
Mr. Ayoob Kara, former Israeli Communication Minister, underlined that he visited Azerbaijan and the Karabakh region several times. He noted that Azerbaijan is very important to him and he knows the landmine problem very well. He advises Azerbaijan to find solutions to landmines in Karabakh by using Israeli sophisticated technology and special robots. He said that he can be very helpful to Azerbaijan for this issue.
The next speaker was Emil Hasanov, the deputy chairman of the public council under ANAMA, who spoke about how landmines impede peace in Karabakh. He underlined that according to the last general survey, 8,700 square kilometers in Azerbaijan are affected by landmines and cluster ammunitions. And of the landmine maps that they turned over, only 25% are usable. 309,000 mines exist according to the maps the Armenians handed over. So, it is a growing problem since Azerbaijan liberated its territories. There are still millions of landmines. He said this Azerbaijani problem is unfortunately unique. To date, Armenia has refused to hand over all of the landmine maps and this blocks peacebuilding. International Organizations and some countries are very active in Azerbaijan regarding the demining issue. Since 30 years, 3100 civilians were victim of landmines in Azerbaijan. Three decades, Armenians planted landmines everywhere. The Israeli experience is very important in this field.
Rabbi Shmuel Simantov, a member of the Advisory Board of the Dona Gracia Center for Diplomacy, spoke next about the problematic nature of incitement in Armenia and how it contributes towards inhibiting conflict resolution, stressing that it is similar to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine: “The Armenians got a lobby all over the world. In America, they got a strong lobby. Even if they know that Azerbaijan is right, people are beginning to understand the justness of the Azerbaijani cause. Despite all of the propaganda, many countries today know the truth.”
The next speaker was Jamilya Talibzadeh, Director of Azerbaijani Tourism Representative Office in Israel, who spoke about how landmines adversely affect Karabakh’s tourism potential: “Till today, 240 people have been killed or injured by landmines. Every day, we receive news about the killings and injured. My job is to show Israelis how Azerbaijan is attractive and everything that a tourist can dream of. But when it comes to Karabakh, I am very frustrated that I cannot invite them. Yet this region has great potential. There is beautiful nature and springs. The region was once famous for its tourism, but today it is not safe for tourists to go to due to landmines.”
Dr. Yigal Ben Shalom, the President of the Association for the Society and Culture, Documentation and Research, Preservation of the Heritage of Yemenite Jewry and the Tribes of Israel, proclaimed that also Jerusalem had mines in the past and that a child was wounded by a landmine in the Golan Heights in the past, yet civilian NGOs made a change regarding this in Israel. He emphasized the power of civilian NGOs in this issue. He said that Israel should provide employees to people in Azerbaijan in Karabakh that trains them how to clean the landmines. They can be trained by former members of the engineering forces of the army. He said it was dangerous but not so difficult: “The solution to Karabakh’s landmine problem is to train different people on how to clear them.” He added that the refugees have the greatest incentive to learn how to do that.
Prominent Middle East scholar Dr, Mordechai Kedar, who is a Board Member of the Dona Gracia Center for Diplomacy, spoke next about how the UN failed to make peace, even though they were designed to make peace. He highlighted that, we witnessing today that the UN failed in preventing wars. He gave example of many cases where international organizations were a failure and did not produce proper solutions.
In the end of round table, The Dona Gracia Center for Diplomacy together with Open Minded Solutions Ltd., an Israeli landmine clearance company, adopted a statement calling upon international community to engage in active collaboration and mutual support in advancing the resolution of the landmine problem in Azerbaijan. The joint statement will be delivered to members of the international community.