Explosive Remnants of War and the Reality of Azerbaijan

by Nazim Ismaylov and Emil Hasanov [Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action]

This article explains the danger of explosive remnants of war1 when located within communities and the precautions that need to be taken in order to get rid of this problem. It also describes how the Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action is trying to address the problem of abandoned ammunition storage in one of the most highly contaminated areas among existing abandoned ammunition storages in the world.

Today, there are still some discussions on the definition of ERW, but it is generally understood that the problems ERW cause are both widespread and long-term, and that the number of casualties and deaths caused by both unexploded and abandoned grenades, mortar shells, fuzes and cluster bombs is high and equivalent to landmines. The physical and psychological impacts of ERW on a community are significant considering the number of deaths and nature of injuries caused, which can overload often stretched medical infrastructures. ERW also have a wider socioeconomic impact on affected communities in terms of land use and blockages to reconstruction and development activities.

The main points related to the threats caused by ERW are:

Azerbaijan has not signed the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons2 or the Ottawa Convention3 for several reasons including some political issues with neighbouring countries, particularly the conditions of the war with Armenia. Armenia occupies the territory of Nagorny-Karabakh and seven surrounding regions, totaling 20 percent of Azerbaijan. Today there are just under eight million people in Azerbaijan. Of these, 650,000 are internally displaced persons and 300,000 are ethnic Azeris who came to Azerbaijan from Armenia.

Despite the fact that Azerbaijan has not signed the Ottawa Convention, the country is supportive of it according to "Azerbaijan and the Ottawa Process."4 This document states, "The government of Azerbaijan has supported from the outset the idea of having a comprehensive international legal document on prohibition of use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines. Our country has learnt to its own cost the catastrophe that this ammunition can lead to. Therefore Azerbaijan advocates demining and destruction of mines. Azerbaijan shares all concerns taken into consideration while coming to the statement of the Convention and is involved neither in transfer, transportation, nor in production of anti-personnel mines. But continued conflict prevents Azerbaijan from acceding to the Document." The government of Azerbaijan hopes to sign the Ottawa Convention once the conflicts in its territories are resolved.

UXO Operations and Abandoned Ammunition Storage Clearance

History of the problem. A military-ammunition warehouse located in Agstafa, consisting of 138 bunkers, was the largest Soviet warehouse in the south Caucasus. Agstafa is located in the northwest part of Azerbaijan, bordering the Kazakh region in the west, Tovuz in the east, the Republic of Georgia in the north and Armenia in the south.

Image 3
Operational map of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Green denotes the occupied area of Nagorny-Karabakh and seven surrounding areas. Click to view full version. All photos courtesy of ANAMA

In 1991, when Azerbaijan regained independence, the warehouse was destroyed by the Soviet Army before it departed. As a result of the explosion, thousands of pieces of UXO were scattered over 44 square kilometers (17 square miles), posing serious humanitarian, socioeconomic and environmental threats to the local population.

Since the explosion, 148 UXO-related accidents have been reported, with 31 people dead and 80 injured. To collect scrap metal from the UXO, people are exposing themselves to injury and death. Some companies trying to gain profit have been involved in illegally collecting UXO from surrounding areas, devising simple methods involving very unsafe techniques. By selling the metal and non-ferrous parts of the projectiles, both individuals and companies supplement their income. This is the principal cause of many deaths and injuries among the people living near Saloglu, a village in Agstafa. A recent accident involved the death of a young man searching among the unexploded bombs for copper to sell at the local market.

Azerbaijan appealed to NATO for assistance in the clearance of the Saloglu area and the destruction of stockpiled UXO. As an initial step, the NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency conducted a technical assessment of the site and consequently the Partnership for Peace Trust Fund on the Saloglu Project was established. The role of the lead nation in the Saloglu Project was given to Turkey.

On February 14, 2005 all efforts aimed at facilitating the Saloglu Project in Azerbaijan were brought together at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. Turkey signed the Financial Management Agreement for the project at a special ceremony involving NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and the representatives of contributing countries.

The total cost of the project is valued at €1,047,649 (approximately US$1.3 million) and is estimated to last 16 months. Azerbaijan, as a host nation, met all the commitments on the project. With contributions from NATO and individual partner nations—namely Australia, Finland, Luxembourg, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and the United States—as well as the United Nations Development Programme, the required funding for the project has been raised. The ANAMA UXO team, with a capacity of 11 UXO operators, launched the project December 13, 2005. ANAMA instructors joined with United States European Command (USEUCOM) specialists to train an additional 36 UXO operators for the same project at ANAMA's Regional Office in Khanlar (UXO team capacity within ANAMA was created with the support of USEUCOM in 2002).

Image 2
Abandoned ammunitions in Saloglu village and surrounding areas (Agstafa region)—presently an operational site for clearance.

Abandoned ammunition storage clearance. In describing the problem of ERW, the threat of abandoned ammunition is also significant. When researching information on the subject of abandoned ammunition, cases can be found in Nigeria, Albania and Kuwait, but thus far minimal information describing Azerbaijan's abandoned ammunition problem is available. The Soviet warehouse in Agstafa can provide an additional case for better understanding the threat of abandoned ammunition and the challenges that groups like ANAMA face in order to clear this type of ERW.

The task for abandoned Soviet munition storage clearance in Agstafa is very complicated and dangerous for several reasons:

Taking into account that 15 years have passed since the warehouse explosion, clearance of this ammunition is a complicated—yet extremely important—task.

Image 1
UXO operators' rapid reaction to a violent explosion at an illegal workshop set up by locals approximately 200 meters (219 yards) from residential area in Agstafa town (October 21, 2005).

In addition to planned clearance projects such as these mentioned, ANAMA also provides rapid response to mine/UXO-related emergencies. When one Agstafa scrap-metal workshop set up by locals exploded approximately 200 meters (219 yards) from a residential area, the workshop itself was totally destroyed and, according to official information by local authorities, three people were killed and 23 injured. Additionally, the explosion damaged houses as far as three kilometers (two miles) from the workshop. Immediately following the explosion, ANAMA established a team of UXO operators to carry out emergency marking and clearance operations on the incident area. Operations lasted for one month and as a result, 170,000 square meters (42 acres) of land were cleared and more than 5,007 items of UXO (among them 1,261 pieces with white phosphorous) were removed from the area and destroyed. ANAMA has continued to react quickly to any mine- and UXO-related emergencies.

Conclusion

As the Japanese might say, "Tada yori takai mono wa nai" ("We have to pay much more for something we got free of charge"). It is important to figure out how to solve the existing problem of UXO and abandoned ammunition and how to protect ourselves from ERW in the future. Human beings created the problem—dropping the bombs and abandoning the ammunition "for free" on Azerbaijan—and now they must correct it at great cost by cleaning up the country and making it safe again.

Biographies

HeadshotNazim Ismaylov studied building engineering at Azerbaijan State Polytechnic Institute, graduating in 1966. He has worked as the Director of the Building Structures Plant and headed the Republican Building Structures Trust. In 1989 he was appointed First Deputy Minister of Industrial Engineering of the Republic of Azerbaijan, which later was reorganized into "AzerPromStroy" Joint-Stock Company. He has been the Director of the Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action since May 2001.

HeadshotEmil M. Hasanov has worked as Operations Manager for the Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action since 2001. From 1990 to 2001 he worked in various positions within the Ministry of Justice. He earned a master's degree in law and retired from the MJ as a Captain of Justice. He is the author of various articles related to the human rights, terrorism, small arms/light weapons, firearms, and humanitarian mine action and law.

Endnotes

  1. Editor's Note: Some organizations consider mines and ERW to be two separate entities, since they are regulated by different legal documents (the former by the Ottawa Convention and Amended Protocol II of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, the latter by CCW Protocol V). However, since mines are explosive devices that have similar effects to other ERW and it is often impossible to separate the two during clearance operations, some in the community have adopted a "working definition" (as opposed to a legal one) of ERW in which it is a blanket term that includes mines, UXO, abandoned explosive ordnance and other explosive devices.
  2. Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects, Geneva, Switzerland, October 10, 1980. http://www.ccwtreaty.com/KeyDocs/ccwtreatytext.htm. Accessed August 31, 2006
  3. Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, Oslo, Norway. September 18, 1997. http://www.un.org/Depts/mine/UNDocs/ban_trty.htm. Accessed October 13, 2006. The document was opened for signature in Ottawa, Canada, December 3, 1997, and thus is commonly known as the Ottawa Convention.
  4. See "ANAMA Work Plan 2006" (date of publication?) http://www.anama.baku.az and "Azerbaijan is in Favour of Ottawa Process." December 7, 2005. http://www.anama.baku.az/pages/archive/content.htm#071205_2. Accessed October 13, 2006.

Contact Information

Nazim A.Ismaylov
Director, Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action
65 Fizuli St.
Baku / Azerbaijan AZ1014
Tel: +994 12 4973 851
Fax:+994 12 4974 427
E-mail: nismaylov@anama.baku.az
Web site: http://www.anama.baku.az

Emil M. Hasanov
Operations Manager, Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action
E-mail: ehasano@anama.baku.az