Thousands of Artsakh Armenians unemployed due to Azerbaijan’s blockade

Stepanakert residents wait in hours-long lines to buy food (Photo: NKR InfoCenter)

At least 5,000 people have become unemployed due to the ongoing blockade of Artsakh by Azerbaijan. 

The government of Artsakh announced this week that it would implement social and financial programs to aid the thousands of people who have lost their incomes and keep remaining businesses open. The government said it would provide financial support to individuals who have lost their jobs since December, including payments for each of their children. It would also offer financial assistance to entrepreneurs to pay their workers’ employees and sustain their businesses. 

“We are doing our best to provide support so that jobs will be preserved,” Artsakh State Minister Ruben Vardanyan said on February 1 during a daily meeting of the operational headquarters launched in response to the blockade. “Unfortunately, many people have lost their jobs. Through these programs, we will do our best to support both businesses and citizens who are in difficult social conditions.” 

Artsakh has been under blockade since December 12. For over 50 days, Azerbaijani protesters sponsored by the government have closed the Lachin Corridor, the sole route connecting Artsakh and Armenia. The region has not received imports of food or medical supplies. Gas, electricity and internet connectivity have also been periodically disrupted, leaving residents without heating or fuel for their vehicles. The government of Azerbaijan has denied that the Lachin Corridor is closed to travel.  

The natural gas supply to Artsakh has been cut off at least four times since the start of the blockade. Artsakh receives its gas through a pipeline that runs through Azerbaijani-controlled territory. Artsakh authorities accuse Azerbaijan of deliberately disrupting the gas supply.

Schools in Artsakh were closed on January 19 due to a lack of proper heating amid freezing winter temperatures. After the gas supply was partially restored on January 30, authorities said that schools would reopen “assuming the gas supply remains uninterrupted.” If the gas supply is cut off again, only high school level classes will resume. Over 20,000 school-age children were unable to attend school while the region’s 118 schools were closed. 

The high voltage power line that provides Artsakh’s electricity supply from Armenia has also been damaged since January 9. Artsakh authorities say that Azerbaijan has prohibited repair crews from accessing the power line, which runs through Azerbaijani-controlled territory. 

Due to the simultaneous closure of the gas pipeline and power line, many Artsakh residents have been relying on firewood to heat their homes. The Artsakh government announced last week that it has started providing residents with wood-burning stoves. As of January 27, 26 stoves and 346 cubic meters of firewood have been distributed among 135 residents, according to official data.

The Artsakh government has been distributing woodfire stoves to families for heating (NKR InfoCenter)

Meanwhile, hundreds of families have been separated by the blockade, as people traveling to Armenia were stranded along the Lachin Corridor when it was closed. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) escorted 15 children on January 28 and 19 more people on January 30 to Artsakh from Armenia to be reunited with their families. Only the ICRC and Russian peacekeepers have been occasionally permitted to travel along the corridor. 

15 children were reunited with their families with the mediation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (NKR InfoCenter)

Vardanyan, who assumed power as Artsakh State Minister in November 2022, has been resolute that Artsakh will never accept a status within the borders of Azerbaijan.  

“If we want Azerbaijan to fail in its plans to depopulate Artsakh of Armenians, we have only one option, which is to clench our teeth and move forward. And we can only do that by coming together,” Vardanyan said while speaking with residents of the Artsakh capital Stepanakert on January 31.

During a weekly cabinet meeting on January 26, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan urged the leadership of Artsakh to exercise “restraint” in order to preserve ongoing negotiations on a peace deal with Azerbaijan. 

The Armenian PM said that Baku aims to exert “economic and psychological pressure” on Artsakh through the blockade. Pashinyan said Azerbaijan plans to open the Lachin Corridor for a few days “with the expectation that the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh will leave their homes en masse” and close the corridor again. 

“This is, of course, a blatant policy of ethnic cleansing,” Pashinyan said

Pashinyan added that Azerbaijan also hopes to “disrupt the peace agenda” and “incite a new war in the region.” He appealed to the Armenian authorities of Artsakh to tone down their rhetoric in order to protect the peace process. 

“It is clear, of course, that we take emotionally the closing of the Lachin Corridor and the humanitarian crisis created in Nagorno-Karabakh,” Pashinyan said. “But I must once again emphasize the need for restraint in this situation and the exclusion of lexicon and actions that are contrary to the peace agenda, especially by the representatives of the state authorities.”

Last year, Russia and the European Union mediated a series of talks between Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders. Both sides publicly announced that they would reach a peace agreement by the end of 2022. That deadline, however, was not reached, and direct talks have stalled in the new year amid Azerbaijan’s ongoing blockade of Artsakh. 

During the course of those negotiations, the Armenian government indicated that it is ready to abandon its pursuit of an independent status for Artsakh. Instead, it would request special rights and security guarantees for the Armenian population of Artsakh. Azerbaijan has resisted that demand regarding what it sees as a domestic issue.

In its latest report, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group warned that Armenia and Azerbaijan are “uncomfortably close to starting a third” war over Artsakh. 

During its military incursions into Armenia in September 2022, Azerbaijan took control of critical positions atop mountains in the Syunik and Gegharkunik provinces, according to the report. Crisis Group says that, from its high ground in Armenia, the Azerbaijani military could “cut off southern Armenia from the rest of the country and force Yerevan into more concessions.” 

“With Azerbaijan enjoying a greater military edge, and Russia distracted by the war in Ukraine, there is little to keep Baku from pressing its advantage along this new front should it grow impatient with talks,” the report reads.

“The threat of another war on a continent already struggling to cope with Russia’s war in Ukraine is all too real,” the report continues. “Spring will soon reach the South Caucasus, with melting snows clearing the way for new operations.”

Lillian Avedian

Lillian Avedian

Lillian Avedian is the assistant editor of the Armenian Weekly. She reports on international women's rights, South Caucasus politics, and diasporic identity. Her writing has also been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Democracy in Exile, and Girls on Key Press. She holds master's degrees in journalism and Near Eastern studies from New York University.


  1. Whats the common denominator in all this loss and tragedy? Pashinyan. HE NEEDS TO STEP DOWN and let a patriotic, capable, unifying, intelligent leader run the country. His record speaks for itself.

    • Like it would make a difference? We are way behind Azerbaijan, in most technical respects…

      It is us, the people, who must change ourselves. Most Armenians live for their own pleasure, buy fancy cars and homes, etc. That should no longer be our priority. Humanitarian aid is not enough. We should employ top experts in determining how we can compete with Azeris. Israel could teach our soldiers and enhance our military resources and education, so we should throw money into that. Armenia’s big problem (especially in the Diaspora) is that we do very well individually, but not as well collectively. If we change ourselves, our leader will be different too.

      I am not sure if Azeris can be trusted when Artsakh is gradually ceded to them, but soon we won’t have a choice. What will we do about it? The Artsakh govt is way more unprofessional than Pashinyan, giving away all tactical information and disclosing our weaknesses.

      I don’t think Europe or Russia will really step in to help protect Artsakh, especially since it is viewed internationally as part of Azeri sovereignty. Seems like any sense of true history won’t take any credit here. Countries don’t care about that much these days.

    • I disagree Hayk, It was the Artsakh leaders that yes, ran Armenia like their own personal bank account, Kocharian and Sarkisyan, and yes allowed 1/3rd of the population to emigrate and yes needed to be removed. However they were much better capable fighters and controlled their own territory and destiny for 30 years. The diaspora has poured gobs of money and resources into both Armenia and Artsakh. Armenia proper for a nation of 3 million, currently has 17 different political factions. Talk about “collective”.. The current PM hates Artsakh and its people. He views them as just another political party and I am convinced, is secretly glad that its being taken over and eventually swallowed up by a made up Turkish Zionist funded gas station oil nation that doesn’t legally own any of it. He is too stupid to understand that if Artsakh goes so does Armenia. It was this feeble man that vindictively dismantlement the corrupt, but capable, military & which now is in total disarray and is losing territory INSIDE ARMENIA itself. Desertion was high. Would you die for him? I agree that UNITY, one ARMENIA, ARTSAKH AND DIASPORA is what is and has been missing throughout our history and IS the only answer.. Please DO NOT blame the diaspora however. I have always said that Like Israel, the diaspora youth should be allowed a 2-4 year service in the Armenian Military. The diaspora should be welcomed and included. Neither the past corrupt leaders nor this incapable PM will allow such things. He is too busy going after all his political opponents and would feel threatened by any outside Armenian influence. He is too busy banning any patriotic activists from even entering Armenia. Imagine that? Banning Armenians from entering? HE IS the problem. HE is the reason why Armenia is in its current horrific condition. Just look at HIS RECORD. He cannot rectify this. He isn’t capable to do so. He needs to be rid.

    • @ joe
      Armenia might not do that much better without Pashinyan actually although I don’t think he will be but the issues are beyond the actions or inactions of him hard this might seem however. Brace up for further aggression!

    • To a certain extent, Joe, I agree with your sentiments regarding Pashinyan. He is one of the problems our community has, but specifically only one of them. He is using these said weaknesses that you brought up in order to remain in power. He wants less of Armenian homogeneity, and more diversity to detract attention from his policies. This is exactly the reason why he wants to remain in power as long as possible – to keep away Armenians from doing what they want to do and reach a boiling point. He likes or at least doesn’t condemn Armenia emptying of Armenians, and invites other groups (i.e. Russians) who will never revolt against him as long as he gives them what they want – a better life than in their native countries. I personally don’t mind if Russians come over to Armenia, we are all immigrants outside of Armenia, and Russia has plenty of Armenians. But these people (Russians and others) won’t stay to fight when Azeris make a move to attack our people on Armenian soil. Pashinyan knows this, but he doesn’t care. He is hoping to hold out until Armenia joins the Soviet Union no. 2 or any larger NATO entity to save him. He is a dreamer, because his vision is not practical. No one (except us) cares about Armenia. We have nothing. Let’s be honest.

      1st Christian nation? Anyone cares? The West is dismembering important historical figures of their own and are starting to question Christianity as a conservative and supremacist ideology, why would these same leaders give a hoot about Armenia? Russia is not going to win this Ukraine War, not technically nor politically. They will lose more and more of their own people. Pashinyan is extremely near-sighted and naive.

      With that said, you must understand that Pashinyan is a relatively new phenomenon. We have had a major collective weakness for decades. We did not do a damn to enhance our military and prepare strategic moves to counter Turkish/Azeri aggression. We did not exert enough Diaspora influence to convince NATO not to accept Turkey. We did not form a relatively independent nation (like Israel) to start being able to defend ourselves. Our enemies were watching us, which is why now is the time they will keep attacking us. There is really nothing we can do, except maybe get Israel’s help in arming and training ourselves.

  2. Doesn’t the diaspora want to come back and unite and ask WHY 1) Artsakh was not incorporated as the 11th region of Armenia and why did we need recognition from other countries when we know who we are and where our territories are!?! & 2)Why was 99% of the Armenian Fund diaspora donations used in Artsakh when they knew this would take place and the almost $500,000,000 (half a billion dollars)was given to the azeris just like that!!! What is really going on!?! Why aren’t Armenians waking up!?!

  3. I am open to better informed opinion, but I think that part of the answer to your first question is that Artsakh was given to Azerbaijan by Stalin in the early 1920s. That transfer was not reversed by the Karabagh movement. It was not reversed by anti-Stalinists in either the Eastern or the Western blocs. The current status of Artsakh is that it is de facto an independent Republic but de jure part of Azerbaijan. De jure recognition is important since Azerbaijan claims the right (de jure) to block relief flights to Stepanakert airport. It also explains how and why the UN resolutions have been in favor of Azerbaijan and the Azeri claim that Artsakh is occupied Azeri territory.

    • This is the same UN that accepted as fact the LIE cooked up by the West, US and Israel in particular, that Saddam’s Iraq was in possession of ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ and that it was a refuge and a safe-haven for ISIS terrorists, gave the green light for invasion of Iraq. As it turned out none of those claims were true. This is also the same UN that granted Serbian territory of Kosovo the People’s Right to Self-Determination and took it away from Serbia violating Serbia’s territorial integrity and allowed the creation and recognition of the new republic of Kosovo. When you talk about Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict you can’t point out territorial integrity while leaving out People’s Right to Self-Determination. The UN can’t have two different standards. That is to grant Kosovo the right to determine its future status and deny the native Armenians the very same rights. That is to support so-called territorial integrity in one case and deny and violate territorial integrity in another. This shows the UN has double-standards and can’t be a trusted as a neutral arbitrator.

      Furthermore, the Armenians of Artsakh wanting to determine their future based on UN’s right to self-determination charter, whether to become an independent state or reunite with Armenia, is in no way in violation of Azerbaijan’s ‘territorial integrity’ because Artsakh had never been a part of independent Azerbaijan republic either before the establishment of the Soviet Union or after the collapse and disintegration of the Soviet Union. In other words, Artsakh has never been a part of the first Azerbaijan Democratic republic (1918-1920) or a part of independent Azerbaijan republic (1991-Present) but only under the administrative jurisdiction of Azerbaijan-SSR during Soviet Union (1921-1991) which itself no longer exists. Also, Artsakh existed in those years as an autonomous region which means they had the right to determine their future status based on a referendum, without violating anyone’s territorial integrity, and did so legally and peacefully but were instead faced with Azerbaijani hostility followed by an imposed war to continue to hang onto this Armenian territory which ultimately resulted in Azerbaijani defeat and liberation of Artsakh back in 1994. Additionally, when Azerbaijan republic declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, it also declared itself as successor state to that of the Azerbaijan Democratic republic of 1918-1920 and not to that of Soviet or Azerbaijan-SSR and as such Artsakh stays outside if its boundaries!

      All politics aside, here is one more common sense thing to think about. Given the bitter hostility and past clashes between the two sides, in 1920 in particular which led to the occupation of the Armenian town of Shushi, Artsakh’s cultural center, by burning down Armenian quarters murdering 20,000 native Armenians and driving out the rest, how is it then possible for a big chunk of supposed ‘Azerbaijani territory’ be allowed to be populated almost exclusively (95% in 1921) by ‘enemy’ Armenian population when everywhere else the Azerbaijanis were busy desecrating and destroying anything and everything that could bear witness to Armenian existence under their occupation? The most recent before the 2020 war being the desecration and destruction of a 1,300-year old Armenian cemetery in Julfa, Nakhijevan in 2005 and building a military training camp in its place. Does not make any sense, does it? Given these historical facts and bitter animosity between the two sides, the only way Artsakh with its exclusively Armenian population could ever find itself within the boundaries of Azerbaijan-SSR enemy is if it was taken away from the Armenians and placed under Azerbaijan-SSR control. Simply put, the boundaries of Azerbaijan-SSR were extended to include this ancient Armenian territory making its Armenian population hostage to Soviet-invented Azerbaijani enemy!

    • Given the de facto state of Armenians in Artsakh and due to the fact that the Soviet Union has long been dissolved, there should be an open referendum for self-determination of Armenians within the remaining territories our people still have. There are still mostly Armenians there living (if not all?) so it would be an easy supervision for U.N. experts to make this process go smoothly. If NATO and U.N. hated Soviet Union so much (and wish this regime never returns) why would they keep to territorial agreements made by the said regime? Does not make sense to me.

  4. @Hayk
    Pick and choose is what the powers to be do hence the built in inequity of 5 veto member states in the UN security council. Perhaps its the can of worms principle is why the soviet boundaries are still upheld in eastern Europe this is an issue aswell maybe a major war will break the status quo who knows depends on how serious the Ukrainine war goes and if a major war occurs in east Asia (increasingly possible) no doubt the 1945 order is coming under unprecedented strain but three score and ten is my opinion on that.

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