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Clearing Explosive Hazards in Nagorno Karabakh

by The HALO Trust
Clearing Explosive Hazards in Nagorno Karabakh

In June, HALO announced the completed removal of all explosive hazards in Askeran.

Hayk Shamiryan, head of the Askeran town municipality reflects on the transformation, “Before the clearing, the residents of Askeran had fear and anxiety about the threat of explosive objects. And now everyone has returned to their daily routine, the former anxiety and concern about security from the consequences of the war is no longer observed.”

Because Askeran was cleared of explosives, the Askeran Children's Center resumed full activities, which over 100 children attend. Anaida, Director of the Askeran Children's Center shared her thanks to our supporters making HALO's work possible:

"Thanks to such selfless people, hundreds or even thousands of human destinies are saved, and children can safely enjoy their childhood without the risk of stepping on something dangerous" - Anaida, Director of the Askeran Children's Center.

Thank you to all of our supporters who have made this possible.

Continued food shortages and lack of access to fuel and other essential supplies have created significant challenges for the residents of Nagorno Karabakh. The movement of provisions as well as humanitarian medical evacuations have halted. Despite these challenges, HALO continues its life-saving work.

With the rationing of fuel, our focus has shifted to tasks in the vicinity of Stepanakert to conserve this limited resource. We remain dedicated to deploying our clearance teams to eliminate the threat of deadly contamination in the region. Through our efforts, we continue to enhance the lives of families and children in Nagorno Karabakh, allowing them to live freely without fear, safely tend their gardens, and sustain themselves during times of scarcity.

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HALO team in Maghavuz Village. PC Anush Babajanyan
HALO team in Maghavuz Village. PC Anush Babajanyan

HALO teams in Nagorno Karabakh continueto find and destroy unexploded ordnance in the Village of Maghavuz. Maghavuz village of the Martakert region is located in the north-eastern part of Nagorno Karabakh, on the right bank of Tartar River. More than five hundred residents, including a number of internally displaced persons, live here. The villagers are famous for their hospitality and unconditional generosity. Like most of the villages of Martakert region, Maghavuz is distinguished by the bewitching beauty of majestic heights covered with thick vegetation, abundance of pure drinking water from mountain springs, and very fertile soil. This allows rural residents to actively and productively engage in agriculture, and then generously share the rich harvest with relatives and guests.

The village was in the center of hostilities and was subjected to massive shelling both during the war in the nineties and in 2020. Explosive remnants of war, including cluster munitions, are scattered densely around the village, threatening the lives and wellbeing of the locals.

The village Mayor, Hrant, told us that the fear of dangerous explosives made people afraid to leave their homes, cultivate gardens, and graze livestock, which led to a sharp decrease in crops production.

HALO teams already found multiple cluster munitions around the village including the area of the spring, that serves a source of drinking water for the villagers and their livestock.

Thanks to HALO’s work making land safe, Hrant is working on a number of projects for the local community. He has already managed to secure funding to build a kindergarten on the land cleared by HALO, which will be attended by around 35 local children every day. He is also actively working on a project to rehabilitate abandoned houses, which will provide permanent housing for internally displaced people.

Expressing gratitude for the work done by the deminers, Hrant tells us, Residents are so used to their presence that their absence even for a couple of days causes many to feel something similar to an absence of a family member.

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Saro, showing the location where the HALO deminers
Saro, showing the location where the HALO deminers

Thanks to our supporters, The HALO Trust is making a real difference for families in Nagorno Karabakh. Since the 44-day war, HALO teams in Karabakh have made safe 1,660 acres of land and have destroyed 330,188 explosive hazards. We have also reached an important milestone in helping Nagorno Karabakh recover and completed the clearance of all known contamination in Stepanakert.

We are increasing our presence in the Martakert region and working to make communities like the village of Magavuz safe.

During the 44-day war, the village of Maghavuz was subjected to massive shelling and bombing. As a result, the entire village and nearby forests, gardens and farmlands were contaminated with deadly bombs and explosives. This left the residents afraid to farm their land, go to the forest for firewood, and just let their children play outside.

At the request of the residents and the mayor of the village, HALO began clearance operations here in April 2021. So far, HALO teams have found 22 cluster munitions and 37 other dangerous explosive items.

HALO teams found an anti-tank grenade in the garden of a 47-year-old Saro. And only after a complete survey and clearance, he ventured to start working on his lands.

Saro and his wife, 47-year-old Lusine, and their two sons live in the center of the village. After retirement, Saro got a job as a duty officer in the power grid and in parallel, with great love and dedication, he is engaged in agricultural activities.

Lusine, on the other hand, takes care of the house and feeds the family with delicious dishes from her garden and homemade cakes. One of their sons works as a schoolteacher, and the other is studying at the university in Stepanakert. Saro cannot imagine the life of his family anywhere else, except for his native village, he loves rural everyday life so much, especially growing plants and fruitful trees.

Expressing his sincere gratitude to the deminers for the opportunity to safely cultivate the garden, he says, “I get great pleasure from working on my land, but I would not want to lose a leg, arm or vision doing what I love, and it definitely should be noted that if it were not for the punctual and hard work of the deminers, victims among the farmers would be inevitable.”

HALO deminers, checking house after house, vegetable gardens, agricultural land, inside chicken coops and livestock farms, continue to find more dangerous explosives in Maghavuz. Each one that is destroyed can never harm adult or child in Karabakh.

This holiday season, consider donating and help protect even more lives.

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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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Organization Information

The HALO Trust

Location: Washington, DC - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @HALOTrustUSA
Project Leader:
Lisa Balestrieri
Washington , DC United States
$10,243 raised of $25,000 goal
80 donations
$14,757 to go
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