The forgotten conflict: A catastrophe is looming in Nagorno-Karabakh because the neighboring country has set up a blockade. This is how a resident tries to survive.
Actually, Nina S. hates eggs. But after seven weeks of blockade, the young woman doesn’t have much of a say when it comes to food: her neighbors were lucky and, after endlessly queuing, were able to get hold of a few eggs, which they generously shared with her. So there are eggs for breakfast, after all.
Nina lives in Nagorno-Karabakh, a region in the South Caucasus that is disputed under international law, together with around 120,000 Armenians. They have all been stuck in their homes for around seven weeks because Azerbaijan has blocked the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia and the rest of the world. At first, Nina and her family still believed that this action would be over quickly. “But after about ten days, the people here got restless and started to stock up on groceries.”
The blockade has now developed into a humanitarian catastrophe. The shops are almost empty. Since January 20, the government of Nagorno-Karabakh has been issuing food stamps to distribute meager reserves fairly among the population. And it’s not just food that’s running out: medication is almost impossible to find, and chronically ill people can’t be treated appropriately. A seriously ill patient has already died as a result. There are power, internet and gas outages because part of the lines are located in Azerbaijani-controlled territory and are therefore vulnerable to sabotage.
“Our country has to produce its own electricity right now, and that’s not enough for the whole day. So the electricity is shut off six hours a day. Not in one go, but in time windows of two to three hours,” reports Nina. “It is announced every day when there will be electricity. We have to adapt to that.”
Threatened by Azerbaijan, protected by Russian “peacekeepers”
Nagorno-Karabakh, officially called Artsakh by its citizens, is a de facto republic and is surrounded by Azerbaijan. Armenians live almost exclusively in Artsakh, but a conflict has been raging between Armenia and Azerbaijan for decades. Most recently, Azerbaijan launched a bloody war in 2020 in an attempt to take over the area completely and expel the Armenians. The war lasted 44 days, there were numerous war crimes and more than 6000 dead. It ended with a ceasefire agreement mediated by Russia.
What does “de facto republic” mean in this case?
Nagorno-Karabakh is not only a region in the South Caucasus, but also a sSelf-proclaimed independent state with its own administration, but not recognized by most countries in the worldsimilar to Kosovo at the time.
The mainly Armenian residents of Nagorno-Karabakh have been fighting for their right to self-determination in their own state, or at least to join the Republic of Armenia, for decades. But the status of Nagorno-Karabakh under international law is disputed: Azerbaijan is claiming the region and invoking UN resolutions.
Because these are not binding, it stays official status of Nagorno-Karabakh unclear, until a body founded in 1994, the OSCE Minsk Group, found a solution. It has the difficult task of reconciling two fundamental principles of international law: that right of self-determination of peoples on the one hand and the territorial integrity of a state on the other hand.
Since then, 2,000 Russian soldiers have been stationed around Artsakh, who are supposed to ensure the security of the Armenians as so-called “peacekeeping troops”. Only these Russian troops are now keeping the Azerbaijanis from invading Artsakh during the blockade. But even they can’t solve the blockade. The expressway, which used to bring 400 tons of food and other goods to Artsakh every day, is now blocked off with barricades. Only a few Russian military vehicles are allowed through, and – after tough negotiations – also isolated transports of the International Red Cross.
With the help of Russian troops, the aid organization managed to bring in small quantities of medicine, baby food and basic food and to transfer around 40 patients in critical condition to Armenia. Nevertheless, this is only a selective help: According to official information, there are 19 patients in the intensive care units of Artsakh, including 10 children. Four of these patients are in critical condition. The Human Rights Commissioner in charge complains that people are deprived of all basic rights as a result of the blockade.
“Demonstrators” are supporters of the dictatorship
The blockade began on December 12, 2022. At the time, a group of Azerbaijanis occupied the Lachin Corridor, an expressway connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with the Republic of Armenia, on the pretext of demonstrating for the environment. An entire village of tents has now been set up there, and the supposed demonstrators are brought back and forth from Azerbaijan in coaches and have their “protest” filmed by state media loyal to the regime from a specially erected wooden platform. They allege that Armenians are illegally mining in Nagorno-Karabakh and smuggling arms and minerals claimed by Azerbaijan abroad through the Lachin Corridor.