8 March, 2018 20:35

The Female De-miners of Nagorno-Karabakh

By Eva Clifford, the photostory was published on Aljazeera.com

Perched on the ridges of a valley in Berdzor (Lachin), we sit in the sparse living area of a three-storey base camp.

Here, Narine Asatryan tells me that finding a landmine is a feeling like no other. She is one of The HALO Trust's de-miners, and has found two anti-personnel mines so far.

For her, working as a de-miner offers a chance to make a positive effect in her community. 

Amid heavy snow, the electricity is out across the entire region, and heat is provided by a gas stove in the centre of the room. Beneath the house, a steep hillside descends into the wintry valley below.

One of the toughest parts of the job is working in such extreme weather, says Inga Avanesyan, another HALO de-miner.

Today, the team has had to stand down because the snow prevents them from working. But the snow is nothing compared with the other challenges they face. 

The inhabitants of Nagorno-Karabakh have suffered from the dangerous legacy of war for over two decades.

The Nagorno-Karabakh War (1988-1994) took place between the former Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan, over the landlocked mountainous region.

Today, landmines and unexploded ordnance continue to contaminate the land, putting lives at risk and crippling the region's economy. 

Dedicated to clearing landmines across the world, The HALO Trust has been operating in Nagorno- Karabakh since 2000.

In 2015, HALO employed its first, female de-mining team; there are now 11 women, with more undergoing training this year.

Defying traditional gender roles, they are able to provide for their families as well as making a tangible difference in their communities.

A map showing Marzili minefield during a safety briefing.

Alvina, one of HALO's female de-miners at Marzili.

Alvina searches for PMN-2 mines at Marzili. These anti-personnel mines were used heavily during the Nagorno-Karabakh War (1988-1994).

Anti-aircraft cables hang between the mountains in the Lachin region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Despite the ceasefire of 1994, tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan remain high over the contested region.

Lucine's uncle was killed by an OZM-72 mine. These mines are activated by a tripwire.

Inga is one of The HALO Trust’s female de-miners. Here, she is pictured at the base near the Karegah minefield in Berdzor (Lachin).

Narine is one of the female de-miners working in the Lachin region. She has seven kids and as she lives nearby, she is able to return home each night after working in the field.

Each de-mining team typically contains two paramedics, just in case an accident occurs.

Christine, a female de-miner at the Aghavnatun minefield.

Military positions once lined the tops of these hills during the Nagorno-Karabakh War (1988-1994).

Each de-miner clears on average 10-11sq metres a day. Here, red posts mark the boundary between cleared and un-cleared land.

Each de-miner clears on average 10-11sq metres a day. Here, red posts mark the boundary between cleared and un-cleared land.

A HALO de-mining team at the Aghavnatun minefield.