For over two months, the population of Nagorno Karabakh has been isolated from the rest of the world by the Azerbaijani blockade of the Lachin Corridor. How life is in Stepanakert
The people of Nagorno Karabakh spent Christmas and New Year under blockade by Azerbaijan, a situation that has now lasted for almost two months. The only road that connects Nagorno Karabakh to Armenia, the so-called Lachin Corridor, has in fact been blocked since December 12 by demonstrators from Azerbaijani organisations, calling themselves environmentalists.
The humanitarian crisis affecting the 120,000 inhabitants of Nagorno Karabakh is by now apparent and continuously worsening: lack of baby food and essential medicines, empty shops, total lack of vegetables and fruit, periodic cuts in the supply of electricity and gas.
The Azerbaijani demonstrators blocked the road on the basis of environmental demands but in fact they are remote-controlled from Baku and their requests have entirely political connotations, including the request for the establishment of an Azerbaijani checkpoint in the Lachin Corridor, the appointment of representatives of Azerbaijani state bodies in Nagorno Karabakh, and so on.
The Lachin Corridor connects Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno Karabakh, with the city of Goris in Armenia and, as enshrined in the Armenia-Russia-Azerbaijan trilateral declaration signed on November 9, 2020, is under the control of Russian peacekeepers. This road is the only one that connects Nagorno Karabakh with the outside world, a road through which all kinds of goods necessary for the life of the Armenian population are transported.
"There is no product, nothing. Do you know how many shops I have tried for a piece of cheese? My grandson asked for cheese, he was at home sick. Not to mention fruit and sweets. It's hard to get food, what are we going to do?”, says Gayane Poghosyan, a resident of Stepanakert.
Tonya Muradyan, an employee of a grocery store, confirms that since the beginning of January there is almost no food left in the shop, only juices and alcohol. In Stepanakert, the number of closed shops has increased after the Christmas holidays, even though many were already closed at the end of 2022. Even those who enter the pharmacy often leave empty-handed.
"There is a shortage of antipyretics, diapers, baby food, antibiotics, and painkillers. We don't know how long the road will be closed", says Alyona Ghulyan, an employee of one of Stepanakert's pharmacies.
41 kindergartens and 56 preschool groups have been closed completely or partially since January 9 due to worsening food shortages under the blockade. 6,828 children can no longer attend kindergarten and nursery school, being deprived of the opportunity to receive adequate care, food, and education.
Since January 18, all 118 schools in Nagorno Karabakh have been closed due to issues with heating and electricity supplies, depriving over 20,000 children of their right to education. In recent days, wood stoves are being distributed, otherwise heating becomes another very serious problem.
"I have two children at home. They want to play, run, but they can't get out of the warm bed. It's terribly cold at home. If it's more than 10 degrees in the house, we're happy. Now we're going to install a wood stove, of course I do not know how the fuel problem will be solved. They gave us wood, but it is not unlimited. Soon we will have nothing left to burn...", says Lilit Sahakyan, 35.
"Frequent power outages occur in Nagorno Karabakh, because Azerbaijan cuts power lines that supply electricity to the region, and the population receives electricity only depending on the production capacity of local power plants, which is not sufficient. The basic necessities are supplied to the population through a voucher system.
“Azerbaijan's government pursues one goal – to break the will of the Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh to live in their homeland. Furthermore, according to our information, Baku's plan is as follows: to bring the economic and psychological pressure in Nagorno Karabakh to a certain climax, after which to open the corridor for a few days with the expectation that the Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh will leave their homes en masse, close the corridor again and then reopen it for a few days and so on until the last Armenian leaves Nagorno Karabakh”, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said during a cabinet meeting on January 26. He then added: “It is, of course, a blatant policy of ethnic cleansing. And I must note that if until now the international community was skeptical about our warnings about Azerbaijan's intentions, now this awareness is slowly but constantly strengthening among the international community.
In order to mitigate the alarming humanitarian crisis underway, the Parliament of Nagorno Karabakh has called on the civilised world to take concrete actions in the direction of opening the corridor or promoting an air bridge with Stepanakert.
Since the beginning of the blockade, many countries and international organisations have condemned Azerbaijan's actions and called for the blockade to be lifted. The issue was also discussed by the United Nations Security Council. The European Court of Human Rights has invited Azerbaijan to take all necessary and sufficient measures to lift the blockade. The matter will also soon be discussed at the United Nations International Court of Justice (The Hague) as part of the work of the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.