blockage of key road raises specter of humanitarian crisis


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Azerbaijan has been accused of blocking the only dependent road from the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region to Armenia for two weeks, raising fears of a humanitarian crisis in the breakaway enclave.

The specter of hunger hangs over Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan is accused of blocking for more than two weeks the only road dependent on Armenia the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, can fear a humanitarian crisis.

“How can I manage to sleep knowing that my loved ones are going to bed half-starved?” Rouzan Hovhanissian told AFP, separated from her two parents, her brothers and sisters, and her 15-year-old daughter remains in Stepanakert, the main city of the Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh.

“Azerbaijan is playing with people’s lives,” said the 39-year-old woman. In early December, she traveled from Stepanakert to the Armenian capital, Yerevan, for a business trip. But since impossible to return.

Since December 12, Azerbaijani militants have been accused of blocking the Lachin Corridor, a 32-kilometre mountainous road between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, home to around 120,000 people, which seceded from Azerbaijan in the end of the USSR.

The demonstrators present themselves as “environmental activists” protesting against illegal mines in the region. But Armenia accuses Azerbaijan of being behind the protests to block the road and create a humanitarian crisis, charges Baku denies.

>> To read: Nagorno-Karabakh: the keys to understanding the Azerbaijani blockade

Several thousand demonstrators gathered in Stepanakert on Sunday to denounce the blockage. A resident, contacted by telephone by AFP, said he had difficulty obtaining supplies.

“I went to a store, they only give half a kilo of sugar to everyone,” says Achot Grigorian. “The shelves are almost empty, but that’s good, there’s always bread,” continues the 62-year-old retiree.

“Azerbaijan organized all this to scare us and to get us out of Karabakh,” he said. Before adding: “We realize that the war is not over”.

Humanitarian aid

Russian peacekeepers have been deployed there since the last conflict in 2020. But Armenia accused these Russian soldiers of having failed to prevent a blockage of the Lachin corridor, while Moscow is monopolized by its offensive in Ukraine.

According to an AFP correspondent, Russian troops were moving freely on Monday on this key road, which was effectively blocked near a Russian checkpoint, about 15 kilometers from Stepanakert.

On Monday, AFP also went to meet Azerbaijani activists, who deny any desire to trigger a humanitarian crisis.

“We are not blocking the road,” Djamila Mamedova, an Azerbaijani activist, told AFP. “Our only demand is that the illegal exploitation of our natural resources cease,” she continues.

However, she acknowledges not having seen any circular civilian vehicle, to or from Armenia, on this portion of the Lachin corridor since the start of the demonstrations two weeks ago.

His group has set up tents a few kilometers from the city of Stepanakert. Some Azerbaijani activists hold up posters calling for an end to “ecological crimes”.

“(Armenian) civilians, medical transport, humanitarian products, all of this could circulate freely here,” said Salam Suleimanov, another Azerbaijani protester.

Because of the blockages, NGOs started to start delivering humanitarian aid. A spokeswoman for the Red Cross office in Armenia told AFP on Monday that her group had managed to bring 10 tons of humanitarian aid sent from Yerevan to the enclave.

Faced with this new crisis, Rouzan Hovhanissian despairs. “In Karabakh, we don’t know how we can live together with Azerbaijanis. It’s impossible.”

With AFP

Europe 1

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