Ilham Aliyev received in a video format Vugar Suleymanov on his appointment as Chairman of Board of Agency for Mine Action

04 february 2021, 14:00

President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has received in a video format Vugar Suleymanov on his appointment as Chairman of the Board of the Agency for Mine Action of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

The head of state delivered remarks at the video meeting.

Remarks by President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev

- You are being appointed Chairman of the Board of the Agency for Mine Action of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Great confidence is being placed in you. The demining of liberated lands is a priority task. This should be done in such a way that no accidents occur after the work is completed.

Unfortunately, accidents have been taking place in the liberated lands in the past few days and in the immediate aftermath of the war. I want to appeal to the citizens of Azerbaijan and ask them to refrain from unauthorised and illegal traveling to the liberated lands. On the one hand, I can understand their actions, these people have longed for the homeland for many years and every former IDP wants to return to his homeland, to the native village. Yet, I ask them to wait a little. They should wait for the demining work to be completed because this is a grave danger to both pedestrians and cars. Since the war ended, several such incidents have occurred, causing deaths and injuries. At the same time, the officers stationed at the checkpoints must organize more rigorous control to prevent illegal and unauthorized travel to the liberated lands.

These tragedies show again that after the occupation the loathed enemy not only destroyed all our buildings and historical sites, but also planted improvised explosive devices everywhere. It has mined not only areas close to the line of contact, but also cities, roads, important strategic heights, and we do not have maps of these minefields. Therefore, our sappers have a huge task. They must carry out this task in such a way that no mines are left in the liberated lands.

The demining of the liberated lands is a priority. There can be no development before that has been accomplished. Even now we can do the work on the construction of roads and railways only after the sappers have cleared those areas of mines. This is why any activity there, any development depends on demining. Therefore, we must speed up a little. Simultaneously, demining must be carried out in such a way that, I repeat, there is no danger after the completion of that work.

The agency has great tasks ahead. First of all, you need to pay attention to the proper organization of work. The new agency is a state agency. Of course, first of all, professional staff should be selected and involved in the work of the agency. The personnel of the former ANAMA organization should be employed. At the same time, the agency’s structure should be determined because the agency must have a larger workforce to build and carry out work on the liberated lands rapidly and efficiently.

The acquisition of new equipment is one of the top priorities. Technological development in this area has become more pronounced in recent years. There is machinery, mechanisms and equipment now that can speed up the work and do it with quality. Therefore, the most state-of-the-art equipment by the world's leading manufacturers must be delivered to our country. The quality and pace of work will depend on that. Our former IDPs have longed for their homeland for 30 years. Therefore, demining should be carried out in such a way that we can start the restoration work in a short time. So that citizens can return to their lands after the completion of construction work.

I have repeatedly expressed my views regarding the sequence of our work, and I want to say again that the primary task is to clear mines. Then the damage will be assessed and then restoration work will follow.

In addition to mines, there is plenty of abundant unexploded ordnance in the liberated lands, which is natural because it is the consequence of fighting across the liberated lands. Therefore, clearing the area of these ammunitions is a difficult task. You need to engage experienced international experts in this field, to conduct training courses for employees both within the country and short-term courses abroad so that our specialists, sappers can protect themselves and, at the same time, apply the best practices here.

We must use satellite imagery effectively. Satellite imagery gives us additional opportunities, both during the war and, of course, in post-war reconstruction. We managed to determine the amount of forests cut down by the Armenians from satellites, and we are now verifying that on the ground. A total of 54,000 hectares of our forests have been cut down, looted and sold by the Armenian leadership. Satellite imagery also detects areas more contaminated with mines. Therefore, we must use these opportunities effectively.

After the war ended, I ordered the Ministry of Defense to set up additional sapper battalions, and they have been created. I am regularly updated about the demining work on the liberated lands, and so far about 80-90 percent of the work has been done by the sappers of the Ministry of Defense. From now on, however, the agency you lead will have to take over most of the work. Of course, the sappers of the Ministry of Defense will continue to do their work because the scope of work is quite extensive. However, the Mine Action Agency must be able to make a significant contribution to our overall work. The technical capacity of the previous agency was very poor and the number of personnel was limited. If we had left this task to them, no-one knows how many years it would take. We don't have time. We must return the former IDPs to their native lands as soon as possible. But everyone should know that the first priority is demining. Damage assessment, implementation of infrastructure projects, construction of houses, creation of jobs – if this is not done, how can people go and live across those lands? There must be housing, conditions, water, electricity, roads, schools, hospitals there. This is large-scale work.

The loathsome enemy has destroyed everything in the occupied and liberated lands. As a matter of fact, they even destroyed and burned the houses they lived in, cut down trees, especially in Kalbajar and Lachin districts. They loaded some of the trees onto trucks and took them to Armenia for sale. The rest of the trees were simply cut down so that they do not get to us. They set fire to the houses they had not built – the houses inhabited by the Azerbaijanis that they had occupied – removed the roofs, window frames and toilets. These disgraceful images have been extensively covered in foreign media. Look what they have taken along – toilets! Even air conditioners and heating radiators in the former district authority building in Shusha, where the disgusting junta had set up an office, were taken away in this turmoil. We know exactly how they escaped. They probably broke running records in doing so. But despite this turmoil, they probably tied a radiator or an air conditioner to their backs and fled to Armenia.

In other words, all our infrastructure and buildings have been destroyed. Therefore, everyone must understand the scale of this work, and Azerbaijan has started this restoration work on its own. We started it without waiting for help from anyone, and everything is going according to plan. Therefore, you must work closely with the Ministry of Defense, coordinate your work with them to determine which areas need to be cleared first. In other words, there is a methodology, there is international methodology, and there are satellite images.

As you know, Armenia has not provided us with maps of the mined areas, so satellite imagery can play an important role here. At the same time, I think we need to involve private companies in this work. I have already given instructions and negotiations are currently underway with foreign companies. I think that involving them will be an important step to facilitate our work. I also believe that local companies could be established in parallel with that. We have never had such an experience. But given the volume of work, I think that private companies can be created, the Azerbaijani business community can have a say here, and thus we can do it in a shorter time. Of course, these private companies must be provided with appropriate equipment. At the same time, the Mine Action Agency must issue certificates to them and they must undergo accreditation. Joint ventures with foreign companies can also be established. Therefore, as the head of the agency, you should pay attention to this work.

We must develop national standards for demining operations in Azerbaijan. In other words, there should be standards of Azerbaijan. Of course, it is also necessary to examine international practices. I think that the number of mine traps in our liberated territories is perhaps unprecedented in the world. The clearing work must be done in sequence, of course. Here, too, priorities must be set correctly. You must agree these priorities with the Task Force because these priorities must be consistent with our restoration work. First of all, for example, infrastructure facilities – for the roads to be built the area must be demined. Same goes for the airport. This work is being done there, power lines are being laid, so this work must be done along the way.

As for settlements, we must first rebuild cities. Therefore, all the cities must first of all be of mines. At the same time, restoration work will begin in some villages in the near future, and I have already said that. We are now developing a “smart village” concept. This concept is almost ready. I have been updated on that and approved it. The first pilot project for a “smart village” will be implemented. Those places must be identified correctly. Farmlands and roads leading to them must be cleared. This is one of the priorities because the enemy has viciously exploited our land. The despicable enemy illegally used 90,000 hectares of land under grain alone and enriched itself. The resources have already been mobilized on my instructions to prevent time loss. I started this work immediately after the war ended. I can say that the fall sowing has been carried out. Notice that the war ended on 10 November and we started sowing in December. I am informed on a daily basis that the fall sowing has already been carried out on 7,000 hectares. So this is also evidence of our strength. It shows that we do not want to wait another minute or a day. We want to return to these lands, and the former IDPs, of course, have cherished these dreams for 30 years. Their feelings are understandable. At the same time though, the safety of these people and their families remains a top priority. Three people were recently hit a landmine and one died. There was someone who initiated it. The person who initiated that venture was injured, as were those around him. So this is a very serious responsibility. Therefore, the process of identifying the areas for the spring sowing campaign is now underway. Lands have been identified and the roads leading to these areas must be among the priorities.

Developed countries are now using robots, so we must use them too. In short, state-of-the-art technologies and the latest equipment must be delivered to Azerbaijan. We must create a solid agency. First of all, its main task should be to clear the area of mines. After completing all the work in the country, our State Mine Action Agency can use this experience to operate in foreign countries and work as a contractor. The services of our agency can also be used by international organizations. This is how you should build your strategy. In other words, it should be a long-term strategy for the future activities of the agency. However, the short- and medium-term strategy is to clear the land of mines so that rehabilitation can begin and citizens can return to their homeland as soon as possible.

Chairman of the Board of the Mine Action Agency Vugar Suleymanov said:

- Thank you very much, Mr. President. Today, our rapidly developing Azerbaijan is a victorious country. This, of course, is the vivid result of your hard work both as President and Commander-in-Chief. Our country is successfully moving towards new goals and successfully continuing the development strategy established by our national leader. The great return to Karabakh is one of these goals. To achieve these goals, as you mentioned, mine action is a top priority.

Dear Mr. President, I want to assure you that the agency will mobilize all its resources and accomplish the tasks set before us.

According to your instructions, the demining operations in the liberated areas will be carried out at the required level, in accordance with international standards and with high quality. I am proud to participate in the organization of this responsible work and express my gratitude to you for your confidence. Thank you very much.