Lachin Corridor: Ruzan Hovanisyan fears he will have to ring in the New Year without his family in the segregated region of Nagorno-Karabakh due to a blockade by his arch-enemy Azerbaijan.
The mood in the Armenian-populated breakaway territory is anything but festive.
An area of about 120,000 people is running out of food, medicine and fuel, and Armenian officials have accused Azerbaijan of orchestrating a full-blown humanitarian crisis in Kharabakh.
Since mid-December, Azerbaijanis have blocked roads to protest what they say is illegal mining causing environmental damage in Karabakh.
Baku claims the protests were spontaneous, while Yerevan accuses Azerbaijan of organizing the demonstrations to urge Armenians to abandon the disputed territory.
“The whole family lives in Stepanakert,” said Hovhanisyan, referring to the main city of Karabakh. “If my loved one goes to bed hungry, how am I supposed to eat?
“Azerbaijan is messing with the lives of ordinary people,” she added.
Earlier this month, the 39-year-old went on a business trip to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, and is now unable to return home.
Another resident of Stepanakert, Ashot Grigorian, described the situation as “extremely serious”.
“I went to the store and everyone got just half a kilo of sugar,” the 62-year-old told AFP.
Azerbaijan and Armenia fought two wars over Karabakh. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, ethnic Armenian separatists from Karabakh seceded from Azerbaijan. The ensuing conflict claimed the lives of approximately 30,000 people.
Another uprising in 2020 claimed more than 6,500 lives and ended in a Russian-brokered ceasefire that ceded territory Yerevan had controlled for decades.
Armenians now accuse the Azerbaijani authorities of waging another kind of war and seek to pressure the Armenians to leave Karabakh altogether.
“I understand that the war is not over,” Grigoryan said.
“How can we live together?”
On Sunday, Stepanakert’s main Renaissance Square was flooded with thousands of people protesting the lockdown.
The United States and France urged Azerbaijan to “allow free movement along the Rachin Corridor.”
Since December 12, activists in Azerbaijan have protested what they say is illegal mining by blocking the Rachin Corridor, the only land route to Armenia.
Dozens of Azerbaijani activists have pitched tents a few kilometers from Stepanakert.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has accused Russian peacekeepers deployed along the Rachin Corridor of failing to prevent an “illegal blockade”.
An AFP reporter who visited the scene on Monday saw activists holding placards that read “Stop environmental crime.”
Activists denied blocking the road.
“Our only demand is to stop the illegal use of our natural resources,” one of the activists, Jamila Mamedova, told AFP.
She said activists had allowed the movement of humanitarian aid, but admitted that there had been no movement of civilian transport to or from Armenia since the protests began.
Another Azerbaijani activist, Salam Suleymanov, denounced reports of the Karabakh blockade as “false.”
“Civilians, medical transport and humanitarian supplies could move freely here,” he claimed.
AFP witnessed Russian transport planes moving unhindered along the Rachin Corridor. The reporter also saw a road block near a Russian checkpoint about 15 kilometers from Stepanakert.
The lockdown has prompted humanitarian groups to bring supplies into the enclave.
Zara Amatuni, a spokeswoman for the Armenian Red Cross office, told AFP on Monday that the group had delivered 10 tonnes of aid provided by the Yerevan government.
Residents of Stepanakert say they do not understand how they can continue to live like that.
“Many of my friends and relatives have died and I have no idea how I can live with Azerbaijanis in Karabakh,” Hovanisyan said.
https://www.channelnewsasia.com/world/war-not-over-tensions-simmer-over-karabakh-road-blockade-3168756 ‘War is not over’: Karabakh roadblocks raise tensions