Azerbaijan’s Landmine Victims: Realities and Challenges

by Colin Bent and Hafiz Safikhanov [ Azerbaijan Campaign to Ban Landmines ]

The Azerbaijan Campaign to Ban Landmines (AzCBL) is a nongovernmental, apolitical, nonprofit organization that was founded in June 1998 in order to work toward a mine-free Azerbaijan. The authors describe how AzCBL and partner organizations are working to improve programs such as social welfare, career assistance, rights awareness, health care and psychological support for mine victims.

The Azerbaijan Campaign to Ban Landmines is a member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and the Cluster Munition Coalition, and since its inception has implemented a number of projects aimed at combating the humanitarian and socioeconomic consequences of landmines. In addition, the AzCBL has researched and written the Azerbaijan country report for the Landmine Monitor Report since 1999 while also helping to found the Caucasus Campaign to Ban Landmines in 1999 and the Azerbaijan Landmine Victims Association in 2004. It is the AzCBL’s mandate to promote Azerbaijan’s accession to the Antipersonnel Mine Ban Convention1 and to make sure that the social, economic and psychological needs of Azerbaijan’s landmine victims are met.

Addressing the Needs of Landmine Survivors

Between May 2003 and June 2004, the AzCBL, in partnership with Standing Tall Australia International Rehabilitation and Research Support Services Ltd (STAIRRSS), undertook a project to tackle the issue of landmine victim assistance in Azerbaijan. Commissioned by the International Trust Fund for Demining and Mine Victims Assistance with funding from the U.S. State Department, the project was the first of its kind in Azerbaijan and aimed to create a comprehensive database of landmine victims and their assessed needs based on an eight-district survey. By the end of April 2004, data had been collected on a total of 483 landmine survivors and 127 families of those killed in landmine incidents.

The results of the AzCBL’s survey pointed to a distinct gap between the assessed needs of Azerbaijan’s landmine victims and services being provided by the government. Out of those surveyed, only 20.4 percent of respondents reported receiving psychological support after becoming disabled, while the vast majority of survivors (92.7 percent) noted that they wanted to be provided with psychological support. Most (67.5 percent) indicated that there were no outreach programs for rehabilitation or physical therapy in their communities. Socioeconomic assistance was noted as nearly non-existent, with 88 percent of respondents indicating that they were unemployed. There was also a significant interest in business/vocational training programs. Many landmine victims were also unaware of their full rights and entitlements under the law, citing a lack of information about existing support mechanisms.

Upon the completion of the project, the AzCBL was able to use the survey data to draw conclusions and make recommendations concerning the status of landmine victim assistance in Azerbaijan. In particular, certain challenges must be overcome in order to provide greater assistance to survivors:

It is important to note that, although at the time of the survey there were 35 NGOs in Azerbaijan working in support of people with disabilities, none had worked directly with the problems of landmine victims. Following the project, the AzCBL helped Mammadhassan Hasanov, Director of the Azerbaijan Landmine Victims Association and himself a landmine survivor, attend the “Raising the Voices” training program in Geneva, Switzerland and the Nairobi Summit on a Mine-Free World.2 As an NGO, the AzCBL believes that the best way to deliver comprehensive aid to Azerbaijan’s landmine survivors is to support new grassroots initiatives that seek to make real progress in improving their well-being. To this end, it is necessary to ensure the existence of programs that give new opportunities to the disabled, empowering mine survivors through income-generation projects and support for self-employment.

Microcredit and Landmine Victim Assistance

In September 2007 the AzCBL completed its last mission to Azerbaijan’s rural regions as part of its groundbreaking microcredit project aimed at giving disabled landmine survivors new economic opportunities. Since Dr. Muhammed Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for pioneering the concept, microcredit has become known as an effective means of encouraging development from the ground up. Made possible through a grant from the Swiss Foundation for Landmine Victim Assistance, the microcredit project allowed disabled landmine victims to be given small loans in order to start their own small businesses, with activities ranging from the production and sale of household foodstuffs to the purchase and raising of livestock.

The project began in April 2006 with a number of seminars in four of Azerbaijan’s rural regions that focused on teaching landmine survivors the basics of running a small business and how a microcredit loan works. The regional seminars were led by professionals invited by the AzCBL, including staff from the Norwegian Microcredit Organization and a lawyer from the parliament’s Agricultural Commission. Due to limited funds, the AzCBL selected six loan candidates based on their business proposals and individual needs, while allotting a maximum of €1,500 (US$1,9053) to each regional district. Closely monitoring all purchases made by loan recipients and making regular check-ups on their businesses throughout the project, the AzCBL staff was amazed at the resourcefulness and motivation to succeed exhibited by the project’s participants.

With a grant from the SFVLA, AzCBL’s microcredit project gave landmine survivor Garatel Huseynova the necessary capital to greatly improve her small bakery.
All photos provided by the authors

One example of this ingenuity came from Garatel Huseynova, a landmine survivor who sustained numerous upper-body wounds. Huseynova used her loan to purchase a new industrial mixer to increase the capacity of her small bakery and make a large purchase of flour to receive a more favorable price. Another example is how Habil Mammadov, who had lost a foot to a landmine in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, used his microcredit loan to purchase several cows, which he then sold for a profit. With his earnings, Mammadov then bought some younger cows and a large amount of feed for the winter, and he expected he would again yield a profit.

By its completion, the 15-month project had met with great success, creating sustainable businesses and new opportunities for its participants—all of whom were able to pay back their loans in full and on time. Following the project’s completion, the AzCBL has been contacted by a large number of landmine victims who wish to see the project enlarged and duplicated in their districts. Considering the overall success of the project, the AzCBL sees such results as an excellent litmus test for future microcredit/vocational training projects in rural Azerbaijan. Drawing on the incredible resourcefulness and under-utilized skill sets of Azerbaijan’s impoverished landmine victims, socioeconomic projects like this offer proven results by giving victims tools with which they can make tangible improvements in their lives.

Tovuz resident and landmine survivor, Habil Mammadov, stands with his newly purchased cattle, made possible through a microcredit loan provided by SFVLA and the AzCBL.

Future Victim-assistance Projects

In order to improve the well-being of landmine victims throughout Azerbaijan, the AzCBL has compiled a number of projects that will comprehensively address the issue over the next few years. The largest and most ambitious of these projects is entitled “Mine Survivor Outreach in Azerbaijan,” which, after consultation with the Survivor Corps (formerly Landmine Survivors Network) in Bosnia-Herzegovina, was conceived to deliver the farthest-reaching results for Azerbaijan’s war disabled. Designed to serve between 700 and 800 landmine survivors, the project seeks to establish a permanent basis of support for victims while providing a support network, psychological assistance, vocational training, employment resources and legal assistance. In addition, the AzCBL wishes to replicate its microcredit project in other regions of Azerbaijan where sustainable, income-generating projects could drastically change the lives of landmine victims for the better. Without funding and support from outside Azerbaijan, however, these projects will not be possible. It is the AzCBL’s hope that new partners will want to work on these projects. Any organizations that wish to provide assistance to Azerbaijan’s landmine victims are urged to contact the AzCBL for more information on proposed projects.

Conclusion

Although the AzCBL has worked on a number of projects to improve the lives of landmine survivors and increase the amount of information that is available to the world community concerning the use of such weapons, the organization recognizes that major steps must be taken in order to drastically improve the situation in Azerbaijan. The AzCBL believes that the final solution to Azerbaijan’s landmine problem lies in its future accession to the AP Mine Ban Convention4. While this action would ensure a moratorium on the use, production and stockpiling of the weapon, Article 6 of the Ottawa Convention would commit the government to meeting the needs of landmine survivors and allow for greater international assistance. In addition, the AzCBL urges the international community and donor organizations to assist nongovernmental efforts to alleviate the incredible poverty that Azeri landmine victims suffer by supporting grassroots development initiatives in Azerbaijan.

In the absence of specific legislation on survivor assistance, the majority of Azerbaijan’s landmine victims receive only a small sum per month in financial assistance. Although this assistance has increased over the years, payments have not kept up with a high rate of inflation, and Azerbaijan’s high cost of living is often prohibitive for those unable to find work. It is therefore necessary for nongovernmental organizations to step up to the challenge of creating new opportunities for those who have been underserved by the government, and who are often lost within a complex bureaucracy. It is the AzCBL’s conviction that the status quo is simply unacceptable and that it must work toward providing the legal, economic, medical and psychological support so greatly needed by Azerbaijan’s landmine victims. JMA icon

Biographies

Colin Bent is a temporary Program Support Officer for the Azerbaijan Campaign to Ban Landmines provided through Mines Action Canada’s Young Professionals Programme for a period of six months. He is a master’s student studying Eastern European and Eurasian studies at Carleton University. Bent also works as a reservist in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Hafiz Safikhanov is a founder and the current director of the AzCBL. He has been the project coordinator for numerous projects implemented by the AzCBL and has been the head researcher of the Azerbaijan country report for the Landmine Monitor Report from 1999 to 2007. He has participatedin all annual meetings of State Parties to the Mine Ban Convention and in the Nairobi Summit on a Mine-Free World. Safikhanov was a former military officer from the Fizuli region, and since the occupation of Fizuli in 1993 by Armenia, has been a refugee. He is also head of the Azerbaijan Committee of the International Humanitarian Movement “Refugees Against Landmines.”

Endnotes

  1. Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, Oslo, Norway. 18 September 1997. Accessed 16 January 2008. The document was opened for signature in Ottawa, Canada, 3 December 1997, commonly known as the Ottawa Convention. http://www.icbl.org/treaty/text/english.
  2. The Nairobi Summit on a Mine-Free World in 2004, which was held from 29 November to 3 December, is the name given to the First Review Conference of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Antipersonnel Mines and on Their Destruction. The summit, a gathering of various high-ranking political representatives throughout the international community, focused on the examination of the problems caused by anti-personnel mines and the appropriate actions needed to address the landmine situation across the globe. Participants of the summit included five heads of state/government, six vice presidents/deputy heads of government, and 20 ministers. For highlights from the summit, please go to http://www.reviewconference.org/fileadmin/pdf/review_conference/press_room/
    Nairobi_Summit_Highlights.pdf
    . Accessed 19 June 2008.
  3. Historical currency conversion completed for mid-2006.
  4. Article 6 of the Mine Ban Treaty (Ottawa Convention) discusses how State Parties, “have the right to seek and receive assistance where feasible, from other States Parties to the extent possible,” in so they may be able to meet their obligations and responsibilities outlined by the Convention. Full text of Article 6 and of the entire Mine Ban Convention available at: https://www.icbl.org/treaty/text. Accessed 19 June 2008.

Contact Information

Hafiz Safikhanov
Director
Azerbaijan Campaign to Ban Landmines
7 - Sarajevo Str., 105 - Baku, AZ 1149 - Azerbaijan
Tel: +994 12 494 14 58
Fax: +994 12 475 21 27
E-mail: azerbaijan(at)icbl.org
Web site: www.azcbl.org

Colin Bent
Program Support Officer
Azerbaijan Campaign to Ban Landmines
E-mail: cgbent(at)gmail.com