The HALO Trust, the world’s largest landmine clearance NGO, has completed the clearance of all known cluster bombs and other explosive dangers from Stepanakert, the largest city in Nagorno Karabakh.
The eyes of the world are understandably focused on the war in Ukraine, a country where HALO is also working to save lives from deadly explosives. However, the fate of Stepanakert, a city which was in the cross hairs of the same munitions that are now falling on communities across Ukraine, offers both a sobering glimpse of the work that lies ahead as well as a hopeful example of how lives and communities can be restored in the aftermath of a tragic conflict.
In the aftermath of the 2020 war in Nagorno Karabakh, local citizens returned to find their homes badly damaged, with artillery shells, unexploded cluster munitions, and debris from other weaponry scattered in the streets, fields, gardens, and on rooftops and balconies.
Thanks to the generosity of their donors, HALO has now reached an important milestone in helping Nagorno Karabakh recover from the fighting. They have completed the clearance of all currently known contamination in Stepanakert.
“For the people of Stepanakert, unexploded bombs and dangers served as a painful memory of the tragedies they experienced during the war,” said Fiona Kilpatrick-Cooper, HALO’s Head of Region for Europe. “Removing them from their communities is a real step towards recovery. The clearance of Stepanakert marks a turnaround for the many isolated communities who yearn for a better future.”
Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno Karabakh, was one of the areas most devastated by the fighting. At one point after the ceasefire, more than 20 percent of the city was contaminated with unexploded items that were left from constant bombardments.
In the wake of the 2020 war, the danger for civilians increased. Population centers like Stepanakert, Martuni, and Martakert were heavily contaminated with unexploded artillery shells, bombs, and cluster munitions.
Nagorno Karabakh was littered with landmines during conflicts at the end of the Soviet era and in the early 1990s. For many years, landmine accidents in the territory were among the worst in the world per capita, with more than 385 civilian casualties from landmines and explosives recorded.
The HALO Trust has been the only international NGO present in the Armenian-controlled territory of Nagorno Karabakh and has worked in the region since 2000. Before the 2020 war, it has cleared almost 500 minefields, making land safe and benefitting more than 130,000 people. Since the 2020 ceasefire, HALO has made more than 1,300 acres of land safe, benefitting more than 30,000 people.
More about HALO’s work in Nagorno Karabakh can be found online.