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17 June 2024

Landmine Victims: Struggle for Safety in Post-Conflict Azerbaijan

The Abishov family is among the many Azerbaijani families who have suffered the loss of their loved ones to landmines. As more lives are claimed by landmines planted due to the occupation of Azerbaijani lands, urgent international support is essential to address this ongoing problem.

Abishovs family

Abishovs family

Text and photos by Konul Shahin

"Don't worry about me; protect each other." These were the last words Siraj Abishov sent to his mother, Azada. Tragically, he never got the chance to read her reply.

On June 4, 2021, Siraj Abishov, an operator for Azerbaijan Television, and his friend, Maharram Ibrahimov, a reporter for the Azerbaijan State News Agency, lost their lives when their vehicle hit a mine while they were on assignment in the Kalbajar district, recently liberated from Armenian occupation.

The conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which began in the early 1990s, resulted in thousands of deaths and displaced hundreds of thousands. The war and the subsequent occupation left not only devastated and plundered villages and cities but also hundreds of thousands landmines planted in Azerbaijani territories during the years of occupation.

According to initial estimates, approximately 12 percent of the country's territory is contaminated with 1.5 million mines and an unknown number of unexploded ordnances.

Since the first Karabakh war, over 3,440 Azerbaijani citizens have suffered from mines, including 358 children and 38 women. Following the end of the Second Karabakh War, 361 more people have been affected by mine explosions, with 68 Azerbaijani citizens tragically losing their lives.

Azada Abishova, Siraj Abishov’s mother

"I would wake up every morning around 4 or 5 o'clock and write my prayers to him, so that he could start his day with them as soon as he picked up his phone," says Azada, Siraj Aishov's mother.

The Abishov family was originally from the Dondarli village in the Gubadli district of Azerbaijan. When Armenian armed forces occupied Gubadli in 1993, the family was forced to leave their home and village. At that time, Siraj Abishov was only four years old.

The liberation of Gubadli in 2020 brought immense joy to the Abishov family. Siraj, who traveled to the liberated regions for work, initially faced challenges in finding their home in Gubadli.

All that remained of the village were scattered houses and destroyed gardens. Siraj's mother, Azada Abishova, recalls that he faced the risk of mines several times while working in the liberated districts.

 The family remembers with tears the day they received the tragic news.

"It was noon. I took my grandson to the park and noticed how my neighbours looked at me, but nobody said anything. When I returned home, his mother took my grandson to his room to put him to bed, and suddenly I heard her screaming. She had read the news on the Internet," says Azada Abishova.

Siraj's wife, Seyran, struggles to talk about the tragedy. When he passed away, they had only been married for two years, and their son, Ozgur, was just 1 year old.

"We wanted to name our child Onur, but at the last minute, we decided on Ozgur. His father wanted him to grow up free," says Seyran.

Ozgur Abishov, Siraj Abishov’s 4 year old son

For 4-year-old Ozgur, whose name means "freedom," his father is present only in photographs. He plays with his toys and looks at his father's photos, unaware of the pain his family is enduring. The last photo Siraj took before going to Kalbajar was one of him with his son, Ozgur.

Abish Abishov, Siraj Abishov’s father