Ongoing humanitarian challenges in Karabakh amidst regional struggles

A child washing their hands at a water station in Stepanakert. Photo: Marut Vanyan/OC Media

In Khankendi (known as Stepanakert), the population faces an increasingly dire humanitarian situation, with shortages of food, fuel, medicine, and water posing significant challenges. According to a report by “OC Media,” the residents of Khankendi are enduring their most challenging period in the past nine months.

The report highlights widespread shortages of essential supplies, including food and medical resources, alongside critical issues related to water and electricity. While rural areas in the region continue to produce food and vegetables, the lack of fuel has disrupted public transportation, hindering the distribution of agricultural products to urban centers. Consequently, most shops and supermarkets have been closed for months and long queues form when essential items like bread occasionally appear in stores.

A closed supermarket, photo: Marut Vanyan/OC Media

Adding to the residents’ anguish, a water shortage problem has emerged due to exceptionally hot weather conditions. Furthermore, since early January, the supply of electricity from Armenia has been severed due to damaged wires. As a result of both increased demand for hydropower and the scorching summer, the largest reservoir in the unrecognized republic has reached dangerously low levels, potentially leading to electricity supply disruptions in the upcoming winter.

Humanitarian aid deliveries to Nagorno-Karabakh have been scarce since June 15 when Russian peacekeeping forces last provided assistance. Both peacekeepers and Red Cross aid have been blocked by Azerbaijan, which also prevented Armenia from sending humanitarian aid to Nagorno-Karabakh through the Lachin border crossing point in July. Even a humanitarian aid convoy, consisting of 10 trucks from the Paris municipality of France and various organizations, was denied passage through the Lachin border crossing point by Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan insists that goods must be sent exclusively from its territory via the Aghdam-Khankendi road. The Red Crescent Society took the initiative to deliver two trucks loaded with 40 tons of flour products to the area. The government of Nagorno-Karabakh has established a system where residents can receive bread only in exchange for coupons, requiring them to present their ID cards and government service numbers for a 200-gram bread ration per person.

A resident carrying water home, photo: Marut Vanyan/OC Media

In a report published on August 25, the Human Rights Defender of Nagorno-Karabakh highlighted the dire consequences of the bread shortage, placing the region’s population at risk of starvation. The report also claimed that Azerbaijani Armed Forces targeted agricultural fields and civilians working there, further exacerbating wheat harvesting challenges. The shortage of fuel and electricity led to the closure of several flour mills and bread factories, making it difficult for bakeries to meet the demand for bread.

Armenians living in Karabakh have reported food shortages since December 2022, attributing it to the closure of the Lachin road. Azerbaijan disputes this claim, asserting that the corridor remains open for humanitarian purposes. Notably, in April 2023, Azerbaijan established a border crossing point at the beginning of the road, citing concerns about illegal weapon transportation from Armenia into Azerbaijani territory. Armenian officials, however, argue that this move contradicts the tripartite declaration.

The Second Karabakh War in 2020 resulted in Azerbaijan regaining control over a portion of Karabakh and seven surrounding districts. While Russian peacekeepers were deployed in the Lachin corridor and along the Karabakh contact line with the agreement of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russia, a comprehensive peace agreement between the parties has yet to be reached. The region continues to grapple with complex challenges that impact the daily lives of its residents.

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