On March 11, 24news.am website wrote that “the British ՛HALO Trust՛ company […] provided the Turkish special services with a map of the mined areas in Artsakh.”
This news was based on the words of Boris Avagyan, the NKR President’s representative with special assignments working on a voluntary basis, who claimed that he had received the information from “reliable sources.” However, a few hours later, Avagyan said that the information had not been verified yet.
HALO Trust has been working in Artsakh for more than 20 years and enjoys a strong reputation. Despite that, the news based on Boris Avagyan’s words was widely spread in the press, and NA deputy Naira Zohrabyan hurried to accuse the organization of espionage.
The search for spies
The article of 24news.am was based on the words of one person, Boris Avagyan, the representative of the President of Artsakh with special assignments. Avagyan, in his turn, referred to anonymous “reliable” sources.
This news was reproduced by lragir.am, verelq.am, panorama.am, lurer.com, shabat.am and a number of other news outlets. A few hours later, in a conversation with news.am, Avagyan said that the reliability of the information is not clear yet. “We have to check all that information,” he said. He added that he would apply to the Artsakh NSS to check the information.
HALO Trust denied Avagyan’s claim, calling it “absolutely false.”
The spokesperson of the President of the Republic of Artsakh, Lusine Avanesyan, told Media.am that Boris Avagyan works in the office of the President on a voluntary basis, and his opinion cannot be considered official and does not express the opinion of the President.
Avanesyan also added that HALO Trust is continuing to work, and the information at their disposal does not give grounds to think that the accusations are true.
However, on March 12, the Prosecutor’s Office announced that the information had been sent to the National Security Service “for discussion in accordance with the procedure established by the criminal procedure legislation of the Republic of Artsakh.”
A criminal case has been initiated against Boris Avagyan in Russia
Boris Avagyan calls the criminal case against him in Russia “fake.” According to him, he passed information about a Turkish organization engaged in illegal activities to the Russian law enforcement bodies, after which it turned out that his life was in danger. He left for Armenia, but here the Chief of Police Vladimir Gasparyan forced him to return to Russia, where a criminal case was initiated against him.
Avagyan does not explain why a criminal case was initiated against him. Russian Kommersant.ru mentions that Avagyan was engaged in smuggling. Fontanka.ru website writes that Avagyan was accused of not paying customs duties. The newspaper also mentions that before the criminal case, he had cooperated with the law enforcement agencies for some time and even helped the Federal Security Service to arrest the suspect.
Avagyan was also a state official. Both periodicals mention that Avagyan led a luxurious life and left the state post after an incident of a fight. The media writes that Avagyan often met with journalists to pass information to them.
HALO Trust has cleared about 500 minefields in Artsakh since 2000
HALO Trust was founded in 1988 to clear minefields after Soviet troops left Afghanistan. The company notes that the mines left after the wars are dangerous for the local civilian population, and the mined lands can not be used for agriculture and other needs.
The work of HALO Trust during the Second Artsakh War
HALO Trust operates in 25 countries. The organization has been working in Artsakh since 2000 and has already cleared about 500 minefields. President Arayik Harutyunyan considered the work of this organization “vital” for Artsakh. Former Artsakh President Bako Sahakyan also praised the work of HALO Trust.
During this period, there were also tragic accidents in the organization․ In 2018, a HALO Trust car exploded on a mine, killing three deminers.
The organization is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and private donors. Through the financing of HALO Trust, the United States became the only country besides Armenia that provided direct financial assistance to Artsakh.
In 2019-2020, the Trump administration stopped funding the US HALO Trust. At that time, the Artsakh government expressed its support for the organization and offered social guarantees to its employees. However, Congress eventually decided to provide funding to HALO Trust.
Several private foundations also participated in financing the works in Artsakh, including the Izmirlian Foundation founded by Armenian philanthropist Dikran Izmirlian. The work of the organization was also supported by the Armenian “Aurora” humanitarian award.