Humanitarian disaster in the South Caucasus

Every morning in the Republic of Artsakh begins with a reflection among the locals: "How long will the isolation last?" and "Will there be enough food and medicine for everyone?"

The plots from the movies about the difficult periods of World War II have become the real fears of the residents of the non-recognized Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. Everything happens with the tacit consent or even active participation of the Azerbaijani authorities. At the same time Armenia, Russia and UN hardly take any public actions, masking behind "negotiations are going on" versatile notes.

Meanwhile, Artsakh is besieged and is getting closer to its resource limits day by day. Food, medicine, basic necessities and even heat are running out. Emotional hardships become frightening: families are separated, people can do nothing about their situation and have no idea what may await them tomorrow.

What happened?

A new crisis erupted on December 12, 2022, when the only road linking Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia was blocked. People calling themselves environmental activists blocked the Lachin corridor.

This has left 120,000 residents in a veritable state of siege. However, no one can do anything about the blocked road, and there are not enough Russian peacekeepers to regain control of the corridor.

The blockade is taking place under the slogan of the struggle for ecology. Independent environmental activists have blocked the road and demand access to Artsakh's mining enterprises to assess their activities. The main inscriptions on the posters are: "Stop Mining", "Save Nature", "Stop Pollution". Protesters are in place almost all the time, they greeted the new year on the road and continue to demand access to the fields.

This phenomenon in itself is hard to be considered unusual. "Green" protests often have a positive connotation in the eyes of the public. Just a large group of indifferent people gathered and went to the only road of the Republic of Artsakh connecting it to the outside world.

To understand the political situation in Azerbaijan, let us turn to the rating of totalitarian countries.
According to the latest update of the democracy index by The Economist Intelligence Unit (the analytical branch of The Economist UK magazine), Azerbaijan was 141st, 17 positions below Russia and 52 positions below Armenia.
This unflattering assessment by British journalists is due to repressive policies and the lack of developed civil institutions in the country. Small peoples on the territory of Azerbaijan are deprived of the opportunity to speak their language, attend schools, and participate in cultural and ethnic events dedicated to their identity.

Activists and opposition members are persecuted by the security forces. Despite the government's claims, the country is closer to a real dictatorship than it looks. President Aliyev is not just a president, but the hereditary ruler of Azerbaijan, taking over after his father.

In such an environment, it is hard to imagine how a group of protest activists could walk unimpeded to the site of the strike, where the Russian military is based. If at first Azerbaijan positioned this as an environmental civic action, it is no longer hiding its explicit involvement in the blockade in recent weeks.

What is the Lachin corridor?

The war resulted in a trilateral agreement between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia in 2020. The latter acted as the country regulating the treaty, under which part of the disputed territories of Karabakh were distributed between the warring states.

The treaty obliged the parties to provide transport links and a cease-fire so that civilians in Artsakh could receive goods and assistance from the Armenian ally. The Lachin road was given the status of a corridor, neutral territory.

A contingent of 2,000 Russian peacekeepers was stationed along the entire length of the Lachin road. The presence of Russian troops was supposed to deter the sides from developing a conflict. At the moment, they can do nothing.

Who is to blame for the blockade?

From the first day of the Lachin corridor blockade, official Azerbaijan has been shifting the responsibility to the independent eco-activists, Russian peacekeepers, and the Karabakh military. Later, Baku's rhetoric changed: they do not recognize the blockade at all.

From the Armenian side and the UN point of view, the culprit is obvious. A large group of activists walked through Azerbaijani territory unimpeded and entered a region which even after the conclusion of agreements is considered unsafe.

No active actions to lift the blockade by the governments of Armenia or Russia have been observed so far. Several statements have been made and negotiations are underway, but the longer they are underway, the more difficult the situation of the residents of Artsakh becomes.

The current situation in Artsakh

The Republic of Artsakh is experiencing all the consequences of the current blockade. Disruptions in the supply of basic necessities, problems with medicines, power outages. The main source of energy for the region now is gas, but the gas pipeline doesn't always work because of repairs or disruptions on the Azerbaijani side.

Despite the assurances of Baku that the traffic on the road is not suspended, more than 1,100 residents of Artsakh are unable to get home from Armenia, including 270 children. At the same time, the transportation of seriously ill patients from hospitals in Stepanakert is still struggling. Dozens more remain without the opportunity to continue chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Keeping in mind the situation of the indigenous people of Azerbaijan, who are deprived of some of their civil liberties, can we hope for humane treatment of the people of Artsakh in the future without the intervention of major powers and international organizations?