Artsakh officials are warning that supplies of basic goods are dwindling after Azerbaijan closed the Berdzor (Lachin) Corridor to humanitarian shipments on June 15.
“The situation is turning disastrous day by day, and it is incomprehensible why the world tolerates this,” Artsakh State Minister Gurgen Nersisyan said on June 20.
Since Azerbaijan placed Artsakh under blockade in December 2022, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Russian peacekeeping forces have delivered humanitarian cargo, including food and medicine, from Armenia to Artsakh. However, the ICRC and Russian peacekeepers have been prevented from traveling along the Berdzor Corridor, the sole route connecting Artsakh with Armenia and the rest of the world, by Azerbaijani border guards since June 15. The ICRC has also been barred from transporting Artsakh residents in need of medical assistance to hospitals or medical centers in Armenia.
“These actions once again substantiate our fear that Azerbaijan is conducting a policy of ethnic cleansing in Nagorno-Karabakh,” Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in a cabinet meeting on June 15.
Azerbaijani protesters posing as environmental activists launched a blockade of the Berdzor Corridor on December 12, 2022. They ended the protest after Azerbaijani forces set up a military checkpoint at the entrance to the corridor from Armenia on April 23. Movement along the corridor is now completely controlled by Azerbaijani border guards. The checkpoint violates the trilateral ceasefire agreement ending the 2020 Artsakh War, according to which Russian peacekeepers were deployed to the corridor and Azerbaijan “guarantees traffic safety along the Lachin Corridor of citizens, vehicles and goods in both directions.”
Agriculture Minister Georgi Hayriyan said the region is already facing a shortage of sugar and cooking oil, yet has sufficient reserves of flour and other basic necessities.
“Although we have been under blockade since December 12, 2022, during that time, with very few resources, we have been able to somewhat improve our food security level. Because of this, we now have a greater degree of resilience. There is no need to panic,” Hayriyan said during a June 21 cabinet meeting.
Nersisyan announced that local authorities have switched to austerity mode to preserve the remaining supply of food, medicine and fuel. He said that Artsakh residents who received a government-issued coupon to procure fuel will no longer be able to do so.
“Our farms can mitigate problems to a certain extent and provide some self-sufficiency,” Nersisyan said during a Facebook livestream on June 16.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova has called on Azerbaijan to reopen the Berdzor Corridor.
“We call on Baku to take steps to completely unblock the corridor for humanitarian purposes and not to hold Karabakh’s population hostage to political disagreements with Yerevan,” Zakharova said during a June 21 press briefing.
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry said that it was taking “relevant measures…in order to investigate the reasons for this provocation, as well as to ensure the security of the border checkpoint and the passage through it after the attack.” It said it was unacceptable to call these measures a “blockade.”
Azerbaijani guards closed the Berdzor Corridor to travel after a border skirmish between Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers on the morning of June 15. A group of soldiers from Azerbaijan’s border service attempted to cross the Hakari bridge at the entrance to the Berdzor Corridor in order to erect an Azerbaijani flag on Armenian territory, reported Armenian authorities. Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry said the soldiers did not cross the border into Armenia. One Armenian soldier and one Azerbaijani soldier were wounded.
A video circulating on social media appears to show Russian peacekeepers escorting the Azerbaijani guards across the bridge. The Azerbaijani soldiers were forced to retreat when the Armenian side opened fire.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that Russian Ambassador Sergei Kopyrkin visited the Foreign Ministry in Yerevan on Friday to discuss the incident. The Armenian Foreign Ministry said it conveyed Armenia’s “strong discontent” with the Russian peacekeepers’ actions and urged Russia to “take all necessary steps to ascertain the circumstances of the incident and correct the situation.”
The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said that the Armenian side was trying to prevent free movement along the Berdzor Corridor. “These military provocations by Armenia will be resolutely prevented, and its attempts to prevent the reintegration of the Armenian residents of Azerbaijan into our society will fail,” the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Movement between Armenia and Artsakh appears to have increased since the installation of the border checkpoint in April. More and more Artsakh residents have crossed the Berdzor Corridor through the border post, largely with the accompaniment of Russian peacekeepers. Azerbaijani media regularly circulates videos of Armenians crossing the border checkpoint, in order to prove to the outside world that movement along the corridor is unrestricted. These videos show Artsakh residents interacting with Azerbaijani border guards, who inspect their identification documents before allowing them to pass.
Artsakh Ombudsman Gegham Stepanyan says these “propaganda videos” serve to “mislead the international community.”
“The presence of the checkpoint, the passport control and the inspection of cargo by Azerbaijan already present themselves as obstacles to the unhindered movement, posing a real threat not only to people’s security, but also bears significant risks of applying other arbitrary preventive measures at any time,” Stepanyan said.
The NKR InfoCenter, the official news source of Artsakh, said that “any movement through the corridor cannot be interpreted as an act legitimizing the illegal control of Azerbaijan and accepting the non-existent Azerbaijani jurisdiction over these territories.”
It added that “severely limited humanitarian movement cannot be considered the end of the blockade of Artsakh” in a June 2 statement.
However, even prior to the closure of the corridor on June 15, movement along the border was not entirely restored. Stepanyan said that his office has documented at least three cases in which Artsakh residents were prevented from returning home after traveling to Armenia for medical treatment.
“It is noteworthy that the Azerbaijani side allowed them to leave Artsakh at the time, while now arbitrarily and illegally bans their entry,” Stepanyan said in a June 13 statement.