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Planting Trees In Azerbaijan As A Barrier To Bullets

World Affairs

Open Eyes Opinion {source: ICRC}

Azerbaijan

 

Azerbaijan: Trees protect front-line communities against bullets

Azerbaijan: Trees protect front-line communities against bullets
Terter district, Azerbaijan. Community members plant trees to screen themselves from the view of nearby military positions. A large ICRC flag signals the humanitarian nature of the work in progress. CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC / N. Lambert
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Almost two decades after the signing of the 1994 cease-fire agreement regarding the Nagorny Karabakh conflict, the humanitarian situation remains difficult for communities on both sides of the international border between Armenia and Azerbaijan and on the Azerbaijani side of the Line of Contact with Nagorny Karabakh.

Over the years, people have developed coping mechanisms and have found ways of reducing their exposure to the hazards of the front line.

Children have to use this road every day on the way to and from school. But it is exposed to fire from military positions. The trees on the left will screen children and others using the road.

Terter district, Azerbaijan. Children have to use this road every day on the way to and from school. But it is exposed to fire from military positions. The trees on the left will screen children and others using the road. CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC / N. Lambert

But even basic routines are dangerous. Things like children going to school or farmers going to their fields. Despite the cease-fire, civilians regularly come under fire from nearby military positions. The two communities of Gapanli and Garadaghli in Azerbaijan’s Terter district are among the most exposed.

While we were conducting one of our regular visits to monitor ICRC projects, a community member showed our team that they were planting willow trees to hide their houses and fields from the nearby military positions. Nicolas Lambert heads the ICRC’s Barda sub-delegation. He explains: “The community didn’t have the capacity to plant enough trees, and the ones they did manage to plant weren’t fulfilling their purpose in the winter, when the leaves were gone.”

The ICRC is always keen to support community initiatives that help people cope with the dangerous environment. The villagers and the ICRC decided to plant evergreen trees along the road leading to the fields and the school, and around the most exposed houses.

Trees planted along the road will help keep villagers safe from bullets.

Terter district, Azerbaijan. Trees planted along the road will help keep villagers safe from bullets. CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC / N. Lambert

The ICRC provided the two communities with 3,000 trees. One thousand were planted along the road between the school and the village and another 2,000 along the road from the community to the fields.

We maintained a visible presence in the villages during the tree planting operation, displaying our emblem so that all parties to the conflict could see it. The emblems of the Red Cross, Red Crescent and the ICRC signify that activities of a purely humanitarian nature are taking place. The Geneva Conventions regulate who is entitled to use these emblems and require parties to an armed conflict to protect the personnel and objects displaying them and to facilitate their work.

The tree-planting crew, with the protective emblem of the ICRC much in evidence.

Terter district, Azerbaijan. The tree-planting crew, with the protective emblem of the ICRC much in evidence. CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC / N. Lambert

Huseynov Arif and his family of eight live in one of the houses closest to the front line. “Shooting takes place almost every day here,” explains Arif as he shows us the latest bullet marks on his house. Two years ago, several of his sheep were killed. The ICRC provided him with 95 trees to plant around his yard and that of his elderly neighbour. Between them, nine families in Gapanli and Garadaghli received 710 trees.

School teacher Samiq Mammadov explained how much these trees were appreciated. “Our school is very exposed. Planting these trees along the playground makes it safer for the children who play here.” He felt the trees along the road were a good thing as well: “The children use this road every day and it’s better if they’re not visible from the military positions.”

The ICRC provided 100 trees for the school playground and the children planted them under Mr Mammadov’s supervision.

Some trees died during the very dry summer of 2014, but the villagers are not discouraged; they have asked the ICRC to help them replace the dead trees this year.

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[photo credits – featured image: “Azerbajiani landscape” by Matthew Hadley (nickname diff_sky) – http://www.flickr.com/photos/diff_sky/5717123508. Licensed under CC BY 1.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Azerbajiani_landscape.jpg#/media/File:Azerbajiani_landscape.jpg]

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