Roadblock isolates Christian region between Armenia and Azerbaijan
The blockade leaves residents without essential services
Anna Danielian doesn’t know when next she will see her extended family in the disputed South Caucasus region of Nagorno-Karabakh—locally known as Artsakh.
On Dec. 2, the 29-year-old took the nearly five-hour road trip from Nagorno-Karabakh to the Armenian capital of Yerevan on a work trip. Danielian’s husband and daughter went along.
But 10 days later, protesters blocked the highway that passes through the Lachin corridor, a nearly four-mile winding road that serves as the only supply route from Armenia into the Nagorno-Karabakh region on the border with Azerbaijan. The blockade has continued since then, sparking a shortage for the region’s 120,000 residents and fears of new fighting.
Danielian was out with friends when one of them checked the news and learned of the blockade. “We’re always reading the news,” she said. “First thing I do every morning is read the news because I’m afraid that another war has started or something bad happened in Artsakh.”
The majority Christian Armenia and mostly Muslim Azerbaijan have long fought over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, roughly the size of Delaware. A 1990s war between both sides left about 30,000 people dead. Renewed fighting in 2020 sparked a 44-day war that displaced about 90,000 civilians. Armenia said Azerbaijan launched air raids and artillery fire in the region, and Azerbaijan said it responded to a military attack. A Russian-brokered peace deal that helped end the conflict also deployed a 2,000-strong peacekeeping force to keep the Lachin corridor open.
Azerbaijan has blamed the ongoing blockade on environmental activists opposing illegal mining activity. But Danielian and others from the region have described it as yet another attempt by the oil-rich Azerbaijan to pressure them to leave Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan has also accused Armenians of using the corridor to transport landmines into Nagorno-Karabakh. Both countries have taken their grievances to the United Nations International Court of Justice, which is expected to issue a legally binding ruling in the coming weeks.
In Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital city of Stepanakert, supermarket shelves are empty. Baby formula quickly ran out, while medications and other food items are scarce.
“Vegetables and fruits are the best gifts now,” Stepanakert resident Gayane Safaryan told me in a message. Safaryan’s husband is still stranded in Armenia. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the only major aid group active in the region, returned her daughter to Stepanakert at the end of last month.
Electricity and gas shortages this winter prompted authorities to shut down schools. During a monthly prayer meeting organized by the Armenian American Missionary Association last weekend, Nagorno-Karabakh human rights ombudsman Gegham Stepanyan said ICRC transferred 64 patients through a medical corridor since the blockade. At least one patient died before the medical evacuation began.
Stepanyan said the government has also introduced a ration stamp system to share the food aid delivered by the ICRC and peacekeepers.
The ongoing standoff has drawn some criticism from international agencies and other countries, including the United States. Last month, the European Union agreed to deploy a civilian mission with a two-year mandate to Armenia to bolster its border security. The European Parliament has also criticized the “inaction” of Russian peacekeepers and called for their replacement with an international force.
In Yerevan, Danielian continues to check in on her family members in Nagorno-Karabakh. While they wait, she draws strength from the stories of neighbors sharing scarce items, like apples that are already going soft.
“In this situation we don’t have much to do,” Danielian said. “All we can do is help each other and survive.”
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