STEPANAKERT, Artsakh—On Friday, July 14, thousands gathered for a rally in Renaissance Square in Stepanakert, demanding the unblocking of the Berdzor (Lachin) Corridor.
The seven-month blockade of Artsakh, including a total blockade since June 15, has brought its population of 120,000 to the brink of disaster.
In his speech during the rally, Artsakh Human Rights Defender Gegham Stepanyan addressed the international community, calling on all global actors to raise the alarm for the existential threats hanging over our people.
“Being under siege and completely cut off from humanitarian access since June 15, our people are facing undeniable threats of malnutrition, hunger, ethnic cleansing openly carried out by Azerbaijan, forced subjugation and genocide,” he stated.
“How can I look into the eyes of thousands of people standing in queues, waiting for hours to obtain a handful of sugar or oil? And, ultimately, how can I face the eyes of a bereaved mother who sacrificed her most precious possession for this land? She looks at me with terrified eyes, fearing that she will lose the last remaining sanctity in her life, her son’s grave. We cannot allow Artsakh to become an altar where the lives of our compatriots and children are sacrificed,” he continued.
State Minister Gurgen Nersisyan said that we will never make our children’s lives a bargaining chip, emphasizing that any concession comes at their cost.
Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan, members of the executive and legislative bodies, and former State Minister Ruben Vardanyan also participated in the rally.
The protesters, accompanied by State Minister Nersisyan and Human Rights Defender Stepanyan, marched from Renaissance Square to the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). In their speeches, both Nersisyan and Stepanyan expressed appreciation for the work done by the ICRC but emphasized that it is insufficient. Stepanyan said that the Red Cross should raise the alarm and provide daily updates to international actors about the catastrophic situation in Artsakh.
Eteri Musayelyan, communication officer at the ICRC Artsakh office, mentioned that the protest requests will be forwarded to the organization’s offices in Yerevan and Geneva.
Demonstrators marched from the Red Cross office to the base of the Russian peacekeeping mission. Ashot Sargsyan, 65, said that their objective is to convey to the Russian peacekeepers and other international actors that Artsakh cannot become a part of Azerbaijan. “Azeris have demonstrated through their actions that this is an impossibility, and the only outcome awaiting us is ethnic cleansing within Azerbaijan,” Sargsyan told the Weekly.
“When thousands of people, including disabled women, men and children, gather and march for kilometers under the scorching sun, the resilience and energy displayed cannot go unrewarded. We are confident that this struggle will ultimately succeed,” he added.
Alyona Grigoryan, a 36-year-old mother of two children and expecting her third child, emphasized that her pregnancy did not prevent her from joining the march. “There are thousands of Artsakh mothers in my position, and we must struggle first of all for women in similar circumstances, because this country needs a healthy generation,” she said.
“Like all the people of Artsakh, I am fighting for my rights, the rights of my children and the rights of my unborn child. My hope lies with our soldiers standing at the border and my fellow countrymen. However, we have demands from the Russian peacekeepers to fulfill their obligations as stipulated in the 2020 tripartite agreement,” she continued.
With a mixture of pain and determination, she added, “Nothing is lost as long as we continue to breathe. We must keep fighting.”
After reaching the base of the Russian peacekeepers, the rally participants conducted a peaceful demonstration, demanding the lifting of the blockade. During his speech, the State Minister referred to the points outlined in the 2020 tripartite declaration and emphasized that the consequences of its failure should not be borne by the people of Artsakh. Subsequently, Nersisyan, together with the Minister of Internal Affairs Karen Sargsyan and the head of the “Azat Hayrenik-UCA” faction of the National Assembly Artur Harutyunyan, held a meeting with the commander of the Russian peacekeeping force Alexander Lentsov.
Following the meeting, Nersisyan announced that an agreement was reached with the peacekeeping troops’ commander to provide daily reports on the situation in Artsakh to Russia. According to the Nersisyan, the command of the peacekeeping mission acknowledges the violation of the provisions stated in the 2020 tripartite declaration.
Artsakh President Harutyunyan has sent letters to the heads of all UN Security Council member countries, the UN Secretary-General, the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, the President of the European Council, the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, as well as the Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia. The purpose of these letters is to demand urgent measures in accordance with international obligations and effective steps to halt the illegal and complete blockade of Artsakh conducted by Azerbaijan. Additionally, they call for an end to systematic mass crimes and terrorism against the people of Artsakh.
In the letters, Harutyunyan underlined the disastrous measures implemented by Azerbaijan over the course of the past seven months. “I, as the President of the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), on behalf of the government and people of Artsakh, urgently alert the international community to the security and humanitarian crisis that is rapidly unfolding and transforming into a catastrophe,” Harutyunyan said.
People from the regions of Artsakh were unable to join their fellow compatriots in Stepanakert’s Renaissance Square due to fuel shortages, yet they are united in the pan-popular movement.
At the end of the Friday rally, dozens of tents were set up in Renaissance Square in Stepanakert to accommodate the participants of the indefinite movement. According to one of the participants, these tents serve as civilian trenches, emphasizing that if our soldiers are guarding the border, we also must fight from here.
The second day of the movement for Artsakh was held in the square on July 15, where the people continued to express their demands and to demonstrate their unstoppable spirit.