Three HALO Trust personnel were killed and two seriously injured when their vehicle triggered an anti-tank mine in Nagorno Karabakh’s Mardakert district, the organization reported on March 29. According to HALO Trust, the group were scouting out a location for subsequent mine clearance work. According to Karabakh police the incident occurred shortly before 8 a.m.
This was the first fatal incident involving HALO personnel since the Britain-based charity began working in Karabakh almost two decades ago. Those killed are Pavel Akopov, Samson Avanesyan and Marat Petrosyan, with Garik Gohiryan and Aram Mkrtchyan seriously injured. All five were local staff. 168 local men and women were employed by HALO Trust in Nagorno Karabakh as of February 2017.
Through its work in Karabakh, HALO helped reduce the number of mine incidents and associated casualties, having discovered and destroyed tens of thousands of mines and pieces of other unexploded ordinance over 18 years, while demarcating potential remaining minefields. If in the early 2000s, there would be 15 to 20 incidents annually, these numbers have declined to one to two in recent years. The previous deadly mine incident to involve civilians in Karabakh occurred in July 2014. In that incident, an SUV offroading in the north of Kashatagh district ran over a tank mine, killing one and injuring three others.
HALO’s work has been funded by the U.S. government and private donations. The organization has set a goal of “Mine Free Nagorno Karabakh by 2020,” although this effort has been complicated in last few years as populated areas in Karabakh came under renewed artillery fire from Azerbaijan, including shelling with cluster munitions in April 2016.
The specific area of the March 29 incidents was the ruins of Ghazanchi, a formerly Armenian village that was a scene of intense fighting in the early 1990s. The village was first captured by Azerbaijani forces in March 1992, with its population escaping to the interior of Nagorno Karabakh.
Throughout most of 1992 the frontline ran between Ghazanchi and the nearby villages of Kichan and Srkhavend, with many areas mined by both sides. The Ghazanchi area was recaptured by Armenian forces in the spring of 1993, but the village remained in ruin with its former residents founding Nor (New) Ghazanchi nearby.