Human rights groups have warned of the risk of a humanitarian crisis due to a blockade of the only road into Nagorno-Karabakh, cutting supplies to an embattled enclave at the centre of rising international tensions.
Photos from the region show empty grocery shops and there have been warnings that food is running out, as the population relies on the Lachin corridor to import about 400 tonnes of supplies from Armenia daily, including food, medicines, diesel and petrol, according to local authorities. The blockade also means residents can no longer leave.
Home to an ethnic Armenian majority and supported by the Armenian government as a self-declared republic, though it is widely internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, the area was the subject of a war that killed tens of thousands in the 1990s. Negotiations have failed to produce a lasting settlement.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has now destabilised a peace process over one of the world’s more forgotten conflicts, and recent months have seen rising tensions along the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Since December 12th the crucial supply route has been blocked by several dozen protesting Azerbaijanis, who have mounted tents along the road in a demonstration they say is motivated by concern about mining operations in Nagorno-Karabakh and other grievances.
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Russian peacekeeping forces have also barricaded the road in response to the protests.
“Prolonged blocking of the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to the outside world could lead to dire humanitarian consequences,” warned Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“Regardless of who is blocking the road, Azerbaijan’s authorities and the Russian peacekeeping force deployed there should ensure that access remains open, to enable freedom of movement and ensure people have access to essential goods and services. The longer the disruption to essential goods and services, the greater the risk to civilians.”
Armenia warned a meeting of the United Nations Security Council earlier this week that the situation “is close to turning into a humanitarian catastrophe”, said a UN statement.
Azerbaijan said that neither its government nor protesting activists had blocked the corridor, and said it had been misused for the trafficking of resources.
Irish diplomat Martin Gallagher called on the security council to do “everything it can to prevent another human-made catastrophe emerging on its watch”, according to the statement. He called on Azerbaijan to immediately restore movement along the corridor in line with a 2020 ceasefire agreement and called for a de-escalation of tensions and a negotiated settlement.
Though it concerns a region that is only about 3,170sq km in size, there are fears about the potential of the dispute to lead to a broader conflict as it involves a knot of major regional powers. Turkey has close ties with Azerbaijan, Russia is closely involved in the region, and at times the conflict has threatened to spill into neighbouring Iran.