Monday, 15 July 2024

Op-Ed: Armenia must hand over remaining landmine maps now

The Talmud says, “Whoever destroys a life, it should be considered as if he destroyed the world entire.  And whoever saves a life, it should be considered as if he saved the world entire.”   As American citizens, it is of pivotal importance that we all demand that Armenia hand over the remaining landmine maps to Azerbaijan at the soonest possible date, as Armenia’s refusal to do so is killing innocent people daily.  

On June 4, in the village of Susuzlug in the Kelbajar region, Siraj Abishov and Maharram Ibrahimov, employees of the Azerbaijan State News Agency and Azerbaijan Television, were blown up by a mine when performing their official duties as members of the press.  This incident was condemned by Israeli Ambassador to Azerbaijan George Deek: “We are deeply saddened by the news of the death of two journalists by a landmine.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims.” 

The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Teresa Ribeiro, also condemned what happened to these two Azerbaijani journalists: “The tragic death of Maharram Ibrahimov and Siraj Abishov is terrible news and I extend my deepest sympathy and condolences to their relatives and colleagues.”     

Since the Second Karabakh War ended, more than 120 people have been killed by landmines, even though 35,000 landmines have been removed to date and the death toll just continues to rise. It did not need to be like that.  If Armenia handed over all of the landmine maps to Azerbaijan in a timely manner, instead of sending them over in piecemeal after getting bribed to do so, like they are required to do upon the cessation of hostilities under international law, then these deaths could have been avoided.

As the Committee to Protect Journalists declared, “The killing of Azerbaijani journalists Maharram Ibrahimov and Siraj Abishev in Nagorno-Karabakh was a needless tragedy.  Armenian authorities should share their landmine maps with the members of the press to ensure that no other journalists will become victims of this conflict.”

Yaakov Abramov, who heads the Azerbaijani Jewish community in the United States, added: “Armenian armed forces continue to commit criminal acts against civilians by mining these territories in gross violation of the basic norms and principles of international humanitarian law, including the requirements of the Geneva Convention of 1949.  Despite the three-sided agreement on the cessation of hostilities signed on November 10, people continue to die and mines continue to explode, killing civilians.   Subversive groups from Armenia continue to penetrate inside Azerbaijani territory, raise flags of non-existent entities, continue to ignore UN Security Council resolutions and refuse to provide maps of minefields.”

In the eyes of Abramov, the West has refrained from condemning Armenia sufficiently over the death of these two journalists: “Europe is silent.  But if they say anything, they only condemn Azerbaijan.  This reminds me of how the whole of Europe is unanimously condemning Israel while not saying a single world about the more than 4,000 rockets fired at Israel during the last war by terrorists from the Gaza Strip and Lebanon.”

Adika Iqbal, who heads the Azerbaijan Friendship Organization, concurred: “What happened to the two journalists is heartbreaking.  Deliberately planting landmines is a gross violation of Armenia’s international obligations.  They immediately need to hand over the landmine maps, so that more lives can be saved.”

In fact, Azerbaijan has filed a petition to the European Court on Human Rights, hoping to compel Armenia to hand over the landmine maps.    Chingiz Asgarov, who represented the Republic of Azerbaijan before the ECHR, said: “Armenia’s refusal to hand over the minefield maps has no strategic, legal or moral merits, and solely intends to cause loss of life and suffering to Azerbaijani civilians in the region. Armenia’s actions also endanger Armenians who continue to live in the liberated territories.  We once again urge Armenia to live up to their international legal obligations by releasing the minefield maps and any relevant information.”

Ayoob Kara, who served as Israel’s Communication, Cyber and Satellite Minister, concurred: “It is very tragic that two Azerbaijani journalists were killed in a landmine explosion in the Kelbajar region.  Their untimely deaths represent a violation of humanitarian values and freedom of the press. It is of critical importance for the fragile peace agreement that was established between Azerbaijan and Armenia that Armenia hand over the landmine maps at the soonest possible date, so that no more innocent civilians will get killed.”

If the West seeks for the peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan to last and not unravel, then it is of paramount importance that all landmines get removed from the Nagorno-Karabakh region, so that both Armenians and Azerbaijanis who live in the area can travel freely and peacefully, without endangering their own lives. 

It is critical to note that many of these landmines are unmarked, so a child playing soccer or another civilian conducting their business can accidentally step on them and cause a series of explosions, thus rendering the whole area uninhabitable.  Without the freedom to play soccer and conduct business without getting killed, how can the peace last?   Thus, solving this issue is of paramount importance to every citizen across the globe who values peace and security in the region.