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Jerusalem conference considers solutions for Azerbaijan’s dilemma

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Jamilya Talibzadeh, Director of the Azerbaijani Tourism Office in Israel, explained how landmines left behind by Armenia are restricting the potential for Karabakh’s tourism trade. (Screencap: peacecom.org)

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The Dona Gracia Center for Diplomacy together with Open Minded Solutions Ltd., an Israeli landmine clearance company, hosted a roundtable discussion in Jerusalem on July 28.

The Begin Heritage Center event, “Landmines in the Liberated Territories of Azerbaijan: the biggest obstacle to obtaining peace in the South Caucuses” was attended by prominent members of the Azerbaijani Diaspora, important Israeli and Azerbaijani landmine clearance professionals, different Israeli local community leaders, Director of Azerbaijani Tourism Representative Office in Israel, and Mr. Ayoob Kara, ex-minister of communications of Israel.

I spoke at the event about my visits to Karabakh, where I witnessed the adverse effect that landmines had upon the civilian population: I traveled mile after mile on broken dirt roads surrounded by landmines, which prevented us from swaying to the right and to the left. Due to the terrible road conditions at that time, our bus broke down in a landmine infested area and we had to wait about a half of day to get rescued by the Azerbaijani government.

Uprooted trees, polluted rivers, burnt agricultural fields – some still burning – and the ruins of Fizouly, Shusha, Sultanya and numerous other Azerbaijani cities and towns – were also surrounded by landmines that endangered reconstruction efforts. I quoted Fuad Muradov, the Chairman of the State Committee on the Work with the Diaspora, who noted: “Our main goal is to build peace in the region. However, for that to happen, all landmines must be removed and removing them is an uphill struggle when the maps you have are not reliable.”

I noted the progress in the restoration of Shusha. Although much of the region still has many landmines and rebuilding is ongoing, “I saw how hard the Azerbaijanis are working to make Karabakh great again.”

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The next speaker was Roy Nahari, the CEO of Open Minded Solutions Ltd., who spoke about the long lasting effects of landmines, beyond the period of conflict: He highlighted the importance to bring all stakeholders such as governments, NGOs on landmine actions, opinion leaders, companies and citizens and partners to the table to resolve landmine problems. He emphasized that we cannot act alone to resolve this problem.

He gave an example of an Israeli hotel in the Golan Heights, which was covered with landmines until recent years. It was only cleared two years ago and now it is a beautiful place. Most of the Jordan Valley was covered with landmines as well. Now, 95% of the landmines in the Jordan Valley were cleared and 80% of the area is now agricultural land. In the end, he offered all his knowledge, experience, skills and connections to resolve this problem persistently and patiently in Azerbaijan.

Ayoob Kara, former Israeli Communication Minister, underlined that he visited Azerbaijan and the Karabakh region several times. He advises Azerbaijan to find solutions to landmines in Karabakh by using Israeli sophisticated technology and special robots. He said that he can be very helpful to Azerbaijan on this issue.

Emil Hasanov, the deputy chairman of the public council under ANAMA, spoke about how landmines impede peace in Karabakh. He underlined that according to the last general survey, 8,700 square kilometers in Azerbaijan are affected by landmines and cluster munitions. And of the landmine maps that they turned over, only 25% are usable. So 309,000 mines exist according to the maps the Armenians handed over. To date, Armenia has refused to hand over all of the landmine maps and this blocks peacebuilding. 

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Rabbi Shmuel Simantov, a member of the Advisory Board of the Dona Gracia Center for Diplomacy, spoke next about incitement in Armenia sabotages conflict resolution, stressing that it is similar to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine: “The Armenians got a lobby all over the world. In America, they got a strong lobby. Even if they know that Azerbaijan is right, people are beginning to understand the justness of the Azerbaijani cause. Despite all of the propaganda, many countries today know the truth.”

The Director of Azerbaijani Tourism Representative Office in Israel explained how landmines adversely affect Karabakh’s tourism potential: “Till today, 240 people have been killed or injured by landmines,’ said Jamilya Talibzadeh. “Every day, we receive news about the killings and injuries. My job is to show Israelis how Azerbaijan is attractive and everything that a tourist can dream of. But when it comes to Karabakh, I am very frustrated that I cannot invite them. Yet this region has great potential. There is beautiful nature and springs. The region was once famous for its tourism, but today it is not safe for tourists to go to due to landmines.”

Dr. Yigal Ben Shalom said that Israel should provide employees to people in Azerbaijan in Karabakh that trains them how to clean the landmines. He is the President of the Association for Society and Culture, Documentation and Research, Preservation of the Heritage of Yemenite Jewry and the Tribes of Israel. He emphasized the power of civilian NGOs, who can be trained by former members of the engineering forces of the army. “The solution to Karabakh’s landmine problem is to train different people on how to clear them.” He added that the refugees have the greatest incentive to learn how to do that.

Prominent Middle East scholar Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a Board Member of the Dona Gracia Center for Diplomacy, highlighted that the UN has failed in preventing wars. He gave examples of many cases where international organizations were a failure and did not produce proper solutions.

At the end of the round table, the organizers adopted a statement calling upon the international community to engage in active collaboration and mutual support in advancing the resolution of the landmine problem in Azerbaijan. The joint statement will be delivered to members of the international community.

Rachel Avraham is a political analyst working at the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights.  She is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings at the American, Israeli and Arab Media.” 

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Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

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Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

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