Azerbaijan’s Blockade of the Armenians of Artsakh from the Rest of the World

A gloomy morning in Artsakh, December 20, 2022 (Photo: Weekly contributor Siranush Sargsyan/Twitter)

It’s been over a week since the blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) by Azerbaijani forces, guised as “environmental activists.” We are witnessing a continuation of Azerbaijan’s systematic policy of ethnic cleansing of the Armenians of Artsakh from their ancestral homeland. One hundred and twenty thousand inhabitants of Artsakh are physically cut off from the rest of the world, patients in need of transfer to Armenia for urgent medical care are at risk of death, many women, children, and elderly have been separated from their families, and the gas supply line was shut off, putting the inhabitants at significant risk during cold, winter months.

On December 12, 2022, Azeris blocked the Lachin Corridor, the only road used for the passage of people and goods intended for the civilian population of Artsakh. This is the second time in the last 10 days that the government of Azerbaijan has blocked the Lachin Corridor. On December 3, 2022, a group of Azeris once again blocked the Lachin Corridor under the same fabricated ecological pretexts. Eventually, the road was unblocked after more than three hours of negotiations. This corridor is, first and foremost, a lifeline for the Armenians of Artsakh, where its disruption, even for a short period of time, is fraught with irreversible and catastrophic humanitarian consequences. About 400 tons of essential goods, including grain, flour, vegetables, fruits, economic goods, etc., are imported to Artsakh from the Republic of Armenia on a daily basis. Currently, that flow of goods has come to a halt.

To make matters worse, the blockade has caused traveling civilians, including women, the elderly and 270 children, to be stuck in limbo on the Lachin Corridor, unable to return to their homes and families in Artsakh. This has also generated a serious medical crisis for Artsakh’s healthcare system. According to the information provided by the Stepanakert Republican Medical Center and the Ministry of Healthcare of Artsakh, the transfer of patients in critical condition for urgent treatment and hospitalization in the republican medical centers of Armenia has become impossible. 

The Azerbaijani side also deliberately shut off the gas supply to the entire territory of Artsakh, leading to disruption of the educational process at the schools heated by gas; disruption of the work of state agencies and vitally important institutions heated by gas; the inability of people to heat their homes by gas; loss of the access of many households to hot water, disruption of the work of hospitals heated by gas; and lack of fuel for vehicles, among others.

The uninterrupted operation of the Lachin Corridor, which predominantly serves humanitarian purposes, is guaranteed by the trilateral statement of November 9, 2020. Article 6 of the trilateral statement states: the Lachin Corridor (five kilometers wide), which will ensure the communication between Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia and at the same time will circumvent the city of Shushi, shall remain under the control of the peacekeeping contingent of the Russian Federation. The Azerbaijani side grossly violates the provisions of the statement and thus fails to fulfill its international obligations.

It is noteworthy that free passage of all consignments of medical and hospital items is also guaranteed by international humanitarian law, where according to the Geneva Convention IV on the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, blocking the Lachin Corridor constitutes a manifest breach of the Convention.

The blockade of Artsakh is not an isolated episode and must be seen as part of a widespread and systematic policy espoused by the government of Azerbaijan aimed at the ethnic cleansing of the Armenians of Artsakh from their ancestral homeland. This egregious, recurring behavior is only made possible by the lack of any reaction by the international community and complete impunity from governments, including the US. The international community must urgently take an unambiguous stance in support of Armenians of Artsakh, as well as targeted actions to condemn and prevent Azerbaijan from continuing its policy of ethnic cleansing of Armenians of Artsakh. 

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Ara Nazarian, PhD

Ara Nazarian, PhD

Ara Nazarian is an associate professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Harvard Medical School. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a degree in mechanical engineering, followed by graduate degrees from Boston University, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and Harvard University. He has been involved in the Armenian community for over a decade, having served in a variety of capacities at the Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Society, the Armenian Cultural and Educational Center, Armenian National Committee of America, St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.

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