By Human Rights Watch –
People in Nagorno-Karabakh are facing a dire humanitarian crisis and grave uncertainty about their future.
There are fresh reports of large numbers of ethnic Armenians leaving the mountainous region following Azerbaijan’s latest military operation to regain control of the area. Some might be unable to make the journey to Armenia, but even for those who will, what fate awaits them?
Azerbaijan’s latest armed intervention follows months of deprivation in Nagorno-Karabakh, after Azerbaijan cut off the critical Lachin Corridor connecting the region to Armenia in December. Since mid-June, Azerbaijan has blocked all humanitarian goods, which Russian peacekeepers and the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) had been delivering.
The region’s population (tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians) has been facing acute shortages of food, medications, hygiene products, and other essential supplies for months. Azerbaijan’s blockade has even included periodically preventing the Red Cross from transporting medical patients out of the enclave.
Legally speaking, Nagorno-Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan. However, following a war for independence in the early 1990s, fought by ethnic Armenians together with forces from neighboring Armenia, the reality on the ground was that the region was separate from Azerbaijan. This remained the situation until 2020, when Azerbaijan initiated fresh hostilities to retake the area.
The 44-day war in 2020 ended with a shaky truce. The deal provided for Russian peacekeeping troops to have a presence in Nagorno-Karabakh and to control the essential Lachin Corridor until 2025. But all that started to break down ten months ago, at the end of 2022, and now, new hostilities present new grave threats.
The two sides may fight endlessly about who should rightfully control the area, but the immediate dangers are the safety and humanitarian needs of Nagorno-Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian population.
As of Saturday, some humanitarian aid has finally been getting into Karabakh, but we should not forget the colossal needs that have accumulated over months of hardship caused by Azerbaijan’s blocking of the Lachin road.
Azerbaijani authorities are saying that all people’s rights and their security will be protected, but it is hard to take these assurances at face value after months of blockade and decades of conflict. International monitoring is needed to ensure Baku keeps its promises.
Unless Azerbaijani authorities take sustained steps to address humanitarian needs, it would be credible to conclude it is intentionally trying to make ethnic Armenians’ lives so miserable they will have no choice but to flee.