Armenia demands humanitarian access for breakaway Karabakh

AFP , Wednesday 12 Jul 2023

Armenia said Wednesday that international humanitarian organisations must be allowed to access Nagorno-Karabakh, after Azerbaijan shut the only road linking the breakaway region with Armenia.

 Nagorno-Karabakh region
Azerbaijan on Tuesday temporarily shut the only road linking its breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region with Armenia, accusing the Armenian branch of the Red Cross of smuggling. AFP


Residents pointed to empty store shelves, while health authorities said that locals did not have access to health services and more than 180 people, including "two critically ill children",  needed to be moved to Armenia.

Karabakh has been at the centre of a decades-long territorial dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which have fought two wars over the mountainous territory, mainly populated by Armenians.

On Tuesday, Azerbaijan said it was shutting the only road linking the region to Armenia, accusing the Armenian branch of the Red Cross of smuggling.

On Wednesday, Armenia's foreign ministry said the move was "aimed at creating conditions incompatible with life for the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.

"It is unfortunate that during these months the international community and international humanitarian organisations have been unable to gain humanitarian access to Nagorno-Karabakh," said the ministry statement.

Such access was "crucial to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in Nagorno-Karabakh", the statement added.

'Getting Worse' By The Day 

Residents in the rebel region's main city, Stepanakert, reported food shortages and critical problems with access to medical services.

"Citizens are dying because they don't have access to health services," Metakse Iakobyan, 51, told AFP.

"In my opinion, this is the biggest problem."

Lucine Gasparyan, 37, said she was worried about the future.

"Store shelves are empty, we can only buy bread, I can't imagine what our conditions are going to be in the future," Gasparyan added.

Zhanna Krikorova, 61, said people were running out of food.

"The scariest thing is, what do we give our children for breakfast?" she said.

"How do we treat the sick who need help that cannot be provided here?"

The separatist government's health minister, Vardan Tadevosyan, said that more than 180 people including "two critically ill children" needed to be brought to Armenia for treatment.

Karabakh's rights ombudsman Ghegham Stepanyan said that the humanitarian situation was steadily deteriorating.

"For patients and medicine, the situation is getting worse day the day," he said, warning that the local residents were now living under the threat of "starvation."

He called for a "very strong" reaction from the international community.

'Crucial Role' Of Red Cross 

The Red Cross insists that no unauthorised material has been found in its vehicles.

The European Union said on Wednesday it "strongly supports the crucial role of the ICRC in the region, and reiterates its call for Azerbaijan to ensure the unrestricted movement of people and goods via the Lachin corridor".

The latest developments followed a months-long blockade of the road by Azerbaijani activists, which Yerevan says sparked a humanitarian crisis.

In February, the International Court of Justice, the UN's top judicial body, ordered Azerbaijan to ensure free movement on the road.

The two former Soviet republics have fought two wars for control of Karabakh, in the 1990s and again in 2020.

Six weeks of fighting in autumn 2020 ended with a Russian-sponsored ceasefire agreement that saw Armenia cede swathes of territories it had controlled for decades.

Under the deal, the five-kilometre-wide Lachin Corridor was to be manned by Russian peacekeepers to ensure free passage between Armenia and Karabakh.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has complained about "problems" with Russian peacekeepers in Karabakh.

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