Clearing Explosive Hazards in Nagorno Karabakh

by The HALO Trust
Clearing Explosive Hazards in Nagorno Karabakh
Clearing Explosive Hazards in Nagorno Karabakh
Clearing Explosive Hazards in Nagorno Karabakh
Clearing Explosive Hazards in Nagorno Karabakh
Clearing Explosive Hazards in Nagorno Karabakh
Clearing Explosive Hazards in Nagorno Karabakh
Clearing Explosive Hazards in Nagorno Karabakh
Clearing Explosive Hazards in Nagorno Karabakh
Svetlana and her children, Stepanakert
Svetlana and her children, Stepanakert

During the war, Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno Karabakh, was one of the areas that was most devastated. More than 20% of the city was contaminated with unexploded items that were left from constant bombardments during the height of the fighting. But just 18 months later, HALO reached an important milestone in helping Nagorno Karabakh recover and completed the clearance of all known contamination in Stepanakert.

Because of you, families have returned home and children are walking to school knowing that each step is safe. Read on to see how your support is making a real difference for families like Svetlana’s and Araxia’s in Stepanakert.

36-year-old Svetlana, mother of four, lives with her husband and children at the farthest edge of Stepanakert. When the fighting began, she took her children to Armenia to stay safe. When they returned, they found their newly built home badly damaged with the roof caved in, the windows blown out.

HALO staff spent a month clearing her family’s lot alone of dangerous explosives and rockets left from the war. The roof is now patched, and the windows covered with cellophane. “Luckily, HALO arrived shortly after we returned. Slowly, slowly, we will build it up again,” Svetlana says. “For now at least, I know the kids can play outside and walk to school safely. This is something.”

80-year-old Araxia is from the village of Aknaghbyur, which was ceded during the war. She now lives with her daughter’s family in Stepanakert. “When we got here after the war, there were already deminers clearing the area,” says Araxia. She had walked down to a grassy area in the ravine below her daughter’s home to pick herbs for cooking. Upon arriving, she noticed the area cordoned off with HALO staff onsite preparing to detonate a bomb they found. “It’s a good thing they got there before I did!” she exclaims. Araxia is grateful to everyone who helped make Stepanakert safer for her and her grandchildren. “May this world be better for them, safer for them,” she says.

Clearing Stepanakert of deadly explosives not only saves lives but also enables peace and prosperity for future generations. Thank you for providing stability, hope, and peace for families in Stepanakert and throughout Nagorno Karabakh.

Araxia and her grandson, Stepanakert
Araxia and her grandson, Stepanakert
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Danielyan and his grandson
Danielyan and his grandson

Last year you made an incredible difference in Nagorno Karabakh. Together, we removed over 90,000 explosive hazards and made over 825 acres of land safe in 2021. We could not do our life-saving work without our generous supporters – thank you!

For this update, the HALO Nagorno Karabakh Team is taking you behind the scenes into the largest and most challenging task in the aftermath of the 2020 war: Urban Clearance. Towns like Martuni, Martakert, Aygestan, and the capital, Stepanakert were targeted during this latest war. And while construction efforts are ongoing, danger still lurks in the form of UXOs (unexploded ordnance) often hidden under piles of rubble, in shrubs, or lodged in people’s attics.

‘Working in these neighborhoods is challenging,’ says Jim, Operations Manager and EOD Technical Advisor. ‘There are more complexities in an urban area versus a rural area or a field.’ For one, there are simply more people around. On the occasion that an explosive needs to be destroyed on site, HALO staff set up sentries to redirect drivers and pedestrians, and work with local police to cordon off the area.

There are more physical obstacles in urban areas, like sheds, fences, and of course, people’s homes. ‘We don't want to risk their homes being damaged or destroyed,’ explains Jim, ‘so if we do find something near a residence, we have to approach it with extreme caution and move it elsewhere to be destroyed.’

There are also secondary hazards, like gas pipelines, and spots that are difficult or impossible to access, like abandoned houses or stacks of building materials. Searching underneath them presents a risk of disturbing cluster munitions. ‘Our biggest priority is clearing areas that people will regularly access,’ says Jim. ‘We have to first get to places like people’s gardens that are used on a daily basis.’

This painstaking work saves and transforms lives. Danielyan lives in Stepanakert’s Krkzhan district. When he returned home after the war, his beautifully tended garden was littered with cluster munitions. ‘They came around from HALO and asked if we’d seen any pink ribbons,’ says Danielyan, ‘and of course we had. They were everywhere.’ On his property alone, a HALO team safely disposed of 12 bomblets. Danielyan looks after his two-year-old grandson, Avetis, while his parents are at work. Now that HALO has cleared his land and as the weather clears in the spring, the two spend most of their time in the garden, Danielyan tending to his fruit trees and Avetis close by, playing with his toy trucks in the dirt.

Because of you, Danielyan and his grandson can go about their day and enjoy the garden in safety. You make these stories possible – thank you!

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Just over a year after the November 2020 ceasefire, you have made an incredible impact. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we have been hard at work clearing explosive hazards and saving lives in Nagorno Karabakh. 

Aygestan is one of the largest villages of Nagorno Karabakh. Situated just outside of Stepanakert, the village is densely populated. Before the 2020 conflict, the village was home to 1,240 people. Since the end of the conflict, the population of Aygestan has increased by over 100 people, as the village is hosting families who are displaced from the fighting. 

Aygestan translates to 'Land of Gardens'. Natives of the village say the name was chosen because of the many fruit trees and fertile soil. Every garden is full of fruit trees. The village is most beautiful in the spring, when the hills are green and the trees have blossomed. 

However, life after the war did not match this idyllic description. In the days leading up to the ceasefire, an ammunition depot in the Aygestan village was hit by a bomb. This led to an explosion that scattered thousands of unexploded bombs and ammunition around Aygestan and neighboring villages.

But thanks to our supporters, our teams have cleared the hazards from the village itself, removing over 2,000 explosive hazards and more than 85,000 scattered pieces of ammunition. 

Your support is truly making a difference for families in Karabakh. But there is still more work to do. In rural areas and major villages like Martakert and Martuni, many families still face unthinkable challenges by cluster munitions, artillery, and rockets from the war.

This holiday season, consider donating and give families in Karabakh a safe future. 

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HALO is committed to providing aid to the people of Nagorno Karabakh however we are able. This was true when Karabakh was combatting the coronavirus last year, and it is true now as the people of Stepanakert have been grappling with a water crisis.

Due to abnormally hot weather this summer, Stepanakert is now experiencing water supply disruptions. The rivers and artesian wells feeding the town have become scarce. After the 2020 war, town’s population has increased significantly as hundreds of Internally Displaced Persons moved to the town.

The local water company has been unable to provide stable water supply to the increased population, and high temperatures of sometimes above 40°C (or 104°F) pose an additional threat. Sanitation and food security are affected, especially for vulnerable displaced populations. 

Many households were without water for 7 days when HALO stepped in. Thanks to our supporters, HALO NK has been delivering water to residential areas in town. More than 300 households have benefited from this water delivery. We will continue contributing to water supply and security in Stepanakert as long as we are needed.

We are only able to do this important work because of your support – thank you!

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Thank you to all of our generous donors for supporting HALO’s work in Nagorno Karabakh.

Since the November 2020 ceasefire, over 55,000 displaced people have returned to Nagorno Karabakh to begin rebuilding their lives. But lives continue to be threatened by unexploded cluster munitions, artillery, and rockets leftover from the conflict.

As families return to their homes, they find explosives in yards, on roofs, and balconies. About 67% of returnees say that they do not feel safe, and the massive amount of unexploded ordnance continues to prevent communities from rebuilding critical infrastructure such as schools, roads, and homes.

Since our last update, HALO has scaled up efforts to clear explosive hazards and keep families safe as they return to their homes. HALO is deploying over 150 staff immediately and then will need to expand further to around 200-250 staff.  As of mid-March, our current teams have been sent on 133 callouts to reported explosives and destroyed 898 cluster munitions, 18,583 bullets, and 1,018 other explosives.

We have also reached over 5,500 people with risk education, teaching them how to identify and avoid dangerous explosives that surround their homes and communities.

HALO’s program in Nagorno Karabakh has traditionally relied on U.S. Government funding that expired in March 2020. Our life-saving work is sustained entirely by private donations, so your support truly makes a difference for families in Karabakh as they recover from this conflict.

There is much more work left to do to help build a safe future for families in Nagorno Karabakh, and we look forward to keeping you updated throughout the year ahead.

Thank you for making our work possible!

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Organization Information

The HALO Trust

Location: Washington, DC - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @HALOTrustUSA
Project Leader:
Lisa Balestrieri
Washington, DC United States
$8,675 raised of $25,000 goal
60 donations
$16,325 to go
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