Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh suffer amid Azerbaijan blockade

Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh suffer amid Azerbaijan blockade

The town of Stepanakert, the de-facto capital of the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh inside Azerbaijan, has been blocked off by Azeri protesters, leaving as many as 100,000 ethnic Armenians without food and medical supplies for a month.

The town, Stepanakert to Armenians or Khankendi in Azerbaijan, is populated by ethnic Armenians but lies within what the Soviet Union decided was Azerbaijan.

With the collapse of the USSR in the 1990s, Armenian forces seized areas inhabited by ethnic Armenians in the neighboring Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan. Both sides consider Nagorno-Karabakh their ancestral land.

Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Azerbaijanis living in the enclave were displaced or killed. The region was governed for nearly 30 years as the unrecognised Republic of Artsakh, sealed behind defensive lines and accessible only via one mountain road from Armenia.

The only supply route from Armenian-held territory is a road known as the Lachin corridor which has been blocked by Azeri protesters at the town of Shusha. This city was retaken by Azerbaijan in the decisive 44-day war in 2020 with Armenia. Azerbaijan took back much of Nagorno-Karabakh, which that had been under Armenian control since the early 1990s. The status of the mountainous region remains unresolved.

Russian peacekeepers deployed after Armenia’s 2020 defeat are the only protection for ethnic Armenians inside Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijani forces who have seized the surrounding areas.

The Azerbaijani protesters who have blocked the road say they are environmentalists demanding access to Nagorno-Karabakh’s mines. There is heavy coverage on Azerbaijani television and live reporting of the well-organised protests.

Protests in dictatorial Azerbaijan are heavily suppressed, suggesting the authorities approve of the Lachin road demonstrations.

Russia’s peacekeepers, weakened by the disastrous war in Ukraine, lack the strength to remove the blockade. Vladimir Putin is keen to bolster troop numbers in Ukraine and the Nagorno-Karabakh mission might be weakened in the coming months.

Baku’s state media reports that Russian peacekeepers are failing to prevent illegal mining and ignoring the deliveries of military hardware to the Armenian enclave.

Armenia claims the protests are a cover to force ethnic Armenians to accept rule from Baku or leave.

Stepanakert resident Marut Vanyan said the town has been suffering since Armenia’s 2020 defeat. He told BBC: “For the past two years, we’ve had constant problems with electricity, water and gas. When we have water, there is no gas, something is always missing. But it is secondary to the difficulties we have now with shortages of food and medicine. “The guns are silent now, but the war continues.”

Stepanakert. Picture credit: Wikipedia 

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