Minefield Maps - What About the Rest of Them?
At a recent rally, Armenia’s acting prime minister Nikol Pashinyan admitted that the mine-maps handed over to Azerbaijan in return for the release of 15 Armenian detainees, were just a fraction of those originally held.
Nikol Pashinyan, pictured here in March 2021 at a rally in Republic Square, Yerevan, told his supporters this weekend that Armenia has many more mine-maps of recently de-occupied Azerbaijani regions up its proverbial sleeve. Image: Hayk Baghdasaryan/Photolure via REUTERS
On Saturday, June 12, an important agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan meant that 15 Armenian detainees returned home over the weekend while Baku received maps detailing the positions of some 97,000 landmines planted by Armenian forces. The move should be seen as one small step amongst many, eventually leading towards a more peaceable neighbourly relationship between the former belligerents. Indeed, the surprise June 12 announcement of the agreement at the G7 summit was heralded as a sign of renewed global cooperation, albeit mainly because - in a post-Trump environment - it was seen as the first tangible result of EU-US co-mediation.
As we predicted in our own June 12 report, the deal was bound to be politically sensitive. Not surprisingly, the press on both sides have worried that the other might have got a better deal. Armenia’s acting prime minister Nikol Pashinyan went so far as to deny the measure was a “swap” by using creative diplomatic language, insisting instead that “we have not exchanged maps for captives. We have responded to a step with a step.”
There was also a flurry of discontent over reports quoting a Pashinyan electioneering speech in Yeghvard at which he admits that those handed over were just a “tiny part of the maps that we have.”
Meanwhile, some Azerbaijani media outlets railed about minefield “blackmail for mediators” and the apparent suddenness of the “discovery” of maps that, for months, Armenian sources had claimed didn’t exist. There was also a flurry of discontent over reports quoting a Pashinyan electioneering speech in Yeghvard at which he admits that those handed over were just a “tiny part of the maps that we have.” Other translations say “small” rather than “tiny.” However, the question of semantics is more important than that choice of adjective.
In reality, June 12’s “swap-that-wasn’t-a-swap” never claimed to be about all of the numerous landmines laid by Armenian forces on the Azerbaijani lands it had occupied from the 1990s until late 2020. It only ever mentioned 97,000 of them that were in Aghdam District. As was reported on June 7, there are known to be at least 17 truckloads of other mines that were laid relatively recently in Lachin and Kalbajar regions alone: the Armenian colonel responsible for their distribution himself stated that the maps of these new fields would be a bargaining chip for further prisoner releases.
However, what remains important is that small, delicate steps are moving towards making the de-occupied regions a little safer. And each step forward is very likely to be somewhat hidden behind a smokescreen of political rhetoric – especially now, given the run-up to Armenia’s general elections on June 20.