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Humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh. Personal stories from besieged Artsakh

Article sent in by Siranush Sargsyan

Lusine Hayriyan with her daughters and brother Gevorg Balayan, photo by Sirarush Sargsyan, from Stepanakert

“Even with little food, medicine and without other necessary products we will endure, as long as they open the road and another war doesn’t happen”. This is how Lusine Hayriyan, a mother of five expecting a sixth child, reacts to the closure of the only road connecting Artsakh/Nagorno Karabakh/ to Armenia and the rest of the world by Azerbaijan the fourth week already.

The  blockade began on 12 December, 2022, when a group of Azerbaijani militaries, dressed as civilians, under the guise of environmental actions, closed the Lachin Corridor, depriving  the 120,000 inhabitants of Artsakh, including 30 000 children, of the free movement and many vital opportunities related to it.

Lusine is a displaced woman from the village of Tagaser, which was occupied by Azerbaijan during the 44-day war in 2020. She lives with her family in a hostel in Artsakh’s capital Stepanakert. Since the closure of the road, her husband, a  contract soldier, has not come home for weeks and her brother, Gevorg Balayan, has been helping her with household chores and childcare. Gevorg lost his leg during the war and lives with his sister’s family.

One of the almost empty grocery stores in Stepanakert, photo by Sirarush Sargsyan, from Stepanakert

About 400 tons of essential goods, including grain, flour, fruits and vegetables are imported to Artsakh from Armenia daily, which means that in the last 24 days,  about 10, 000 tons of essential goods have been blocked from entering the country. As a result, Lusine’s family, like many other Armenian families, struggle with  not only the shortage of food but also household items, like washing powder, which she finds difficult to obtain in almost empty shops.The prices of the remaining available goods have increased.

As a result of the blockade, around 1100 citizens, including 270 children, cannot return from Armenia to Artsakh. Gegham Stepanyan, human rights defender of the Republic of Artsakh, is among those citizens. ՙՙMy family is in Artsakh and I haven’t been able to get home for four  weeks,՚՚ he said during a telephone conversation. Mr. Stepanyan considers this situation, when the defender of human rights cannot be next to the people who gave him a mandate to protect their rights, absurd. Referring to the Rome Statute, he asserts that deliberately starving a  civilian population by depriving them of vital supplies is considered a war crime. According to him, Azerbaijan is carrying out an ongoing genocide against the people of Artsakh, one of the proofs of which is the ongoing blockade of Artsakh.

photo by Sirarush Sargsyan, from Stepanakert

Metakse Hakobyan, a member of the “Justice” faction of the Artsakh’s  National Assembly, has also been separated from her family. Her children, including her 13-year old son, participated in a cultural event in Yerevan and have not been able to return home. Many Armenian families were separated as early as 2020 during the war, when children were sent to Yerevan to escape frequent bombing. Today’s situation is a different type of war, when you are deprived of the ability to care for your child. Hakobyan wishes her children weren’t forced to mature at such a young age, but she is  proud of her son for wanting to return home despite the dangers. As a politician, fearing the loss of statehood, she thinks that the civil society should not rely on the authorities  but instead organize themselves to find solutions.

photo by Sirarush Sargsyan, from Stepanakert

Shushan Nazaretyan, a pharmacist, tells about the necessary medicines, which they feel the lack of, but are unable to find. According to her, there is  a shortage of antibiotics, antipyretics, medicines for infants, baby food, diapers, and medicines for chronic diseases. “The Republic of Armenia and the whole world should take this issue seriously,” Nazaretyan added.

 According to Artsakh’s Ministry of Healthcare, 350 patients cannot receive treatment in Armenia, 12 children are in the neonatal intensive care unit, five of whom are in critical condition. Ten  Armenians and four foreigners in need of emergency medical care were transferred to Armenia only through the mediation of the Red Cross, while  one patient in critical condition died without access to proper medical care.

December 25 rally in Renaissance Square in Stepanakert, photo by Sirarush Sargsyan, from Stepanakert

This led to  a mass rally on 25 December, when tens of thousands of Armenians gathered in Stepanakert’s Renaissance Square, calling on all the  Armenians and the world. The call literally says: “The uninterrupted functioning of the land link between Artsakh and Armenia cannot be a subject of any negotiation or bargaining. The link connecting Artsakh with the outside world must be re-established without preconditions and immediately, and conditions must be created to ensure its continued uninterrupted operation.”

Hundreds of demonstrators are marching to the location of the Russian peacekeeping contingent, photo by Sirarush Sargsyan, from Stepanakert

It was followed by a march of hundreds of citizens  on December 27 from Stepanakert to Ivanyan, where the contingent of Russian peacekeepers was stationed. The participants of the march, having posters in their hands which read as “We trusted you”, “Putin, keep your word”,  tried to meet with the head of the Russian peacekeeping contingent Andrei Volkov, but he refused to meet them.

Women bake flatbread  in the central market of Stepanakert, photo by Sirarush Sargsyan, from Stepanakert

The only thing that hasn’t changed in Stepanakert’s Central Market is the smell of jingalov hats, a traditional flatbread, filled with local herbs. Pickles, dried fruits, home-made vodka and wine, that’s all that can be found in the once colorful market. The lack of fresh vegetables and fruits is especially disturbing.

Saleswoman Irina Minasyan in the central market of Stepanakert, photo by Sirarush Sargsyan, from Stepanakert

Irina Minasyan sells clothes in the Central market. She says that the business is also affected, as the people don’t buy new products, since they save money with a hope to find essential goods. Then she added: “But we have to endure, because after us, many of our generations will live in this land. Every day I pray and thank God that I welcome the sunrise in Artsakh’’.

Siranush Sargsyan

Siranush Sargsyan is a Freelance journalist,based in Stepanakert, Nagorno Karabakh.

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