KAGHARTSI, Nagorno-Karabakh — After last year's war, 79-year-old Mila Babayan expected to come home without much fuss and resume her quiet life.

Then she looked in her garden. She found 32 unexploded shells from one of the cluster bombs that rights groups and other war monitors say were used in the fighting across Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave at the heart of a decades-long feud between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

“One of them had hit a beehive,” she said. “And there was a hole where my garlic grew.”

Babayan’s garden is no isolated case. Thousands of unexploded munitions — cluster bombs, mortar rounds, rockets, shells and other weapons — now dot the region in streets, backyards and homes, said experts in ordnance removal.

While fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh lasted just 44 days, its repercussions will persist for decades.

“It’s shocking to come back, having spent three years clearing land mines here, and see the whole region littered with these items yet again,” said Nick Smart, regional director for the Halo Trust, a Britain-based organization that removes explosive remnants of war.

Russian peacekeepers, deployed under the Moscow-
brokered cease-fire, and Nagorno-Karabakh’s rescue services also are involved in ordnance disposal in the enclave, which is largely under pro-Armenian control but within the internationally recognized borders of Azerbaijan.

Authorities in Armenia and Azerbaijan deny using cluster munitions — which can eject hundreds of smaller “bomblets,” or submunitions, over a wide area. The two countries also reject witness reports of military strikes against civilian areas.

A representative from Armenia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry told Human Rights Watch that Armenia does not have cluster munitions in its arsenal. Azerbaijan, which is widely believed to have such weapons, denied that its forces used them in Nagorno-Karabakh.

But reports by groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch describe the use of cluster munitions and other weapons on both sides in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Neither country has signed the treaty that prohibits the use of cluster bombs. Amnesty estimates that between 5 and 20 percent of the bomblets can fail to explode, allowing them to kill or maim civilians long after a conflict has ended.

Babayan, an ethnic Armenian, scoured her single-story home for more explosives but found none.

“Still,” she said, “I must be careful.”

Amnesty International said Armenia has Russian-manufactured 9N235 submunitions and that Azerbaijan’s arsenal appears to include the Israeli-made M095. Distinctive for their pink ribbons, which stabilize and arm the device in the air, the M095 bombs are particularly attractive to children.

On a cloudy morning in December, a Halo team arrived at Babayan’s home in Kaghartsi, about 16 miles east of the regional capital, Stepanakert.

First they surveyed the site, walking cautiously around the vegetable patch. They counted an initial 10 M095 submunitions strewn among soft clods of earth. Five others lay around a single beehive. More were scattered through a surrounding orchard.

One deminer began planting red-tipped markers into the ground to show the location of each bomb, while another scanned for more with a metal detector. Two other team members shoveled earth into sandbags to stack around the bombs.

Babyan — wearing a floral dress, woolen cardigan and headscarf — ambled with ease over slippery mud to watch.

“Grandma, we’re going to sort this out so you can garden again,” said one team member. “We’re filing these sandbags so your beehives and home won’t be damaged by the explosion.”

As she walked farther up the garden, another sapper called after her: “Grandma, look where you’re walking!”

Babayan suggested they take a break. “Let’s have a cup of tea,” she said.

“No, no,” one team member replied. “Thank you.”

“But I’ve already set the table! Everything is ready. You haven’t drunk a single cup.”

“Okay,” he grinned. “We’ll drink it all. Don’t worry.”

Babayan dashed inside to put the kettle on.

Besides the fighting, the rhythms of daily life had changed little since she was born in 1941 in Nagorno-Karabakh. “I love this land,” she said. “I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

A peace agreement in November returned to Azerbaijan some areas lost in warfare in the early 1990s. Babayan’s son-in-law, a father of three, was among that war’s 20,000 to 30,000 fatalities.

Her grandchildren fought on the Armenian side in last year’s war. She waited out the conflict with relatives in Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, and returned after the cease-fire.

“Look around you,” she said, gesturing at farmhouses, fields and fruit trees. “Does this look like a military target?”

Outside, the deminers finished stacking the sandbags, then laid a detonation cord that connected to TNT placed by the bombs.

Babayan headed to her basement. After a 15-minute wait, the call came — “Fire!”

A single, powerful blast echoed through the hills.

The team regrouped. Babayan appeared relieved — she could finally treat her guests to lunch.

Jars of pickled beans and peppers were opened, served along with bowls of stewed eggplant and toasted flatbreads smeared thick with honey.

“Eat, eat,” she insisted. “Take as much as you like.”

Thousands more bombs lay in the surrounding land. But, for Babayan, a good harvest could be reaped.