President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev addressed participants of the International Conference on "Mine Action - The Path to Reaching the Sustainable Development Goals", APA reports.
The address reads:
I sincerely welcome you on the occasion of the opening of the international conference themed “Mine Action – The Path to Reaching Sustainable Development Goals.”
The theme of today’s conference is of particular relevance for Azerbaijan and humanity in general. Azerbaijan ranks among the countries with the most mine and unexploded ordinance contamination worldwide due to the deliberate policy pursued by Armenia.
In 2020, Azerbaijan put an end to Armenia’s occupation of its lands, and our country secured a historic victory as an outcome of a 44-day Patriotic War. In the aftermath of Armenia’s 30 years-long aggression, over 1 million Azerbaijanis were expelled from their native lands and subjected to ethnic cleansing. While our cities and villages were razed to the ground and our people's historical, cultural and religious heritage deliberately annihilated.
According to initial estimates, Armenia had not stopped there and planted over 1.5 million mines across our lands throughout the occupation. Since the Second Karabakh War ended, 302 Azerbaijani citizens fell victim to the mine explosions, 57 of whom died, and 245 were severely injured. Overall, since Armenia’s launch of military aggression against Azerbaijan, nearly 3400 of our fellow citizens suffered from mines, with 587 losing their lives. 358 mine victims were children, and 30 were women. Armenia planted mines along the roads behind the former line of contact, cemeteries, and other civilian installations, adding to the daily rise in mine explosion victims. The mine threat Azerbaijan faces is comparable to the horror of weapons of mass destruction.
The large-scale development work has immediately begun in our liberated territories to ensure a voluntary, secure and dignified return of our fellow citizens expelled from their homes. As we speak, the entire infrastructure destroyed during occupation is being rebuilt, and cities and villages are constructed in Karabakh and East Zangezur, declared green energy zone. Some of our completed work is evident; you have witnessed it firsthand during your visit to Azerbaijan.
Regrettably, Armenia continued to plant mines across Azerbaijan’s territory after the conflict ended, using the Lachin road. Over 2700 anti-personnel mines produced in Armenia in 2021 were discovered in our territories.
Along with delaying the restoration and reconstruction work carried out there, a mass mine contamination of our lands gravely jeopardizes the lives and well-being of our people. It impedes realizing the rights of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons who have longed to return to their homes for so many years.
Humanitarian demining is among Azerbaijan’s primary state priorities. The foundation of that policy was laid by the National Leader of the people of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev, whose 100th anniversary we celebrate this year. Thanks to the Great Leader’s strategic vision, foresight and wise policies, Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action – ANAMA, was established 25 years ago. Presently, ANAMA is the leading agency conducting humanitarian demining in the country.
Despite the magnitude and complexity of the mine problem we face and the long way ahead, our country has mobilized all its resources to overcome this task as soon as possible. Today, demining efforts in Azerbaijan are conducted using the most modern and advanced technology available worldwide. Consistent work is underway to boost our national demining potential, and our capabilities have grown significantly in that direction in the past two years.
I should note that over 90 percent of our demining activities are funded through our national resources. In the meantime, we cooperate productively with our foreign partners in that sphere and are grateful to the countries and international organizations that support us. Regrettably, given the general picture, the extent of foreign support is still mediocre.
Azerbaijan views demining efforts as directly related to sustainable and lasting development, considering the enormous impact of demined territories on the welfare and progress of our people and their significance in a broader perspective for our country’s development. That is why humanitarian demining is officially declared the 18th National Sustainable Development Goal in Azerbaijan.
As Azerbaijan addresses its demining problem, it contributes globally to the humanitarian demining process. Since the consequences of wars and mines are growing worldwide, we have proposed establishing humanitarian demining as the UN’s 18th SDG. The work is underway also within the Non-Aligned Movement, where we hold chairmanship, to form a “Likeminded Group of Mine-Affected Countries.”
Today’s conference is a favorable opportunity to address challenges and possibilities related to mine problems in the global agenda and exchange leading expertise in this sphere. I believe the discussions at this conference will lead to mobilizing joint efforts in demining and formulating new ideas and initiatives for the sake of humanity’s prosperity and leaving a legacy of a Mine Free World for future generations.
I extend my best wishes and wish the conference every success.
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan
Baku, 26 May 2023".