March 26
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For almost two months, the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh have been living in isolation from the outside world. Azerbaijan, which does not hide its desire to regain control of the disputed region, where Armenians continue to live, actually supports the blockade of the only road linking it to Armenia. People lack food and medicine, they are getting used to living with heating and electricity cuts - and without clear ways out of the situation, the BBC Russian Service writes. 

The small shops in the narrow streets of Stepanakert (called Khankendi by the Azerbaijanis), the capital of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, are crowded: queues for eggs, which are now sold once every few days and no more than 10 eggs per hand. There are "no eggs" or "come with your own bags" signs in the windows of neighboring stores.

Dust accumulates on supermarket shelves, leaving only the most expensive or least needed goods. In the lines, people give each other advice on where to find what products in the city.

On December 12 last year, a group of people calling themselves Azerbaijani eco-activists blocked the Lachin corridor, the only land road linking Stepanakert and NKR with Armenia. Official Baku supports the protesters, but insists it does not seek to cut the region off from the world. But international organizations and European politicians warn that Karabakh is sinking ever deeper into a humanitarian crisis.

Since the start of the blockade, only the Red Cross and Russian peacekeepers have access to the region. Contingent of nearly 2 thousand soldiers was deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh after the war of 2020, which resulted in Azerbaijan taking control of about three quarters of the NKR territory. On the remaining lands, according to estimates of the Armenian authorities, live up to 120 thousand people.

Before the blockade of the road from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh through Goris-Stepanakert about 12 thousand tons of food was delivered every month, now the regular supply of foodstuffs stopped. Food gets to NKR only thanks to the Red Cross and peacekeepers.

Gas supplies are cut off: the only gas pipeline runs through territories under Azerbaijani control. The only electricity transmission line runs through these territories; due to an accident there, power cuts started in a fan. NKR residents now spend at least six hours a day (three times two hours a day) without electricity, and sometimes without hot water and heating. In January the cable damage left the region without Internet for a whole day.

With the blocking of the road the medical logistics also suffered: they stopped delivering medicines and medical equipment. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is helping to transport the most critically ill patients: according to the organization, its volunteers have transported more than 70 patients in two months.

The ICRC also helps people reunite with their families and delivers diapers, baby food and medicines as an intermediary. But the medications brought in are in short supply - they are only given to people in critical condition.

Over 100 tons of humanitarian cargo collected in Armenia is now in Goris, on the border with Karabakh, but it cannot be brought to NKR yet. People stuck in Armenia due to roadblocks are also temporarily staying in Goris.

From January 18 NKR authorities introduced a system of food coupons: they give one liter of vegetable oil, one kilo of buckwheat, pasta, rice and sugar per person per month. The residents of private houses in Stepanakert have become more active in planting gardens and greenhouses, so as to have at least some supplies on hand.

The Karabakh Armenians have their own meat and dairy production, but, according to local authorities, this has fallen to a minimum due to the lack of supplies of fodder and other agricultural products.

Karabakh Armenians perceive the blockade as an attempt by Azerbaijan to break their will and eventually expel them from the region. "Today, although I can resist all this and eat pasta and buckwheat, they make us feel psychologically depressed. In the long run, things will be much more complicated than just the limited living conditions we have now," says Alyona Melkumyan.

Major Arushanyan waited out the second war in his home in Stepanakert and, even under blockade conditions, has no intention of leaving it. "During the war days I used to pick apples and pears in our garden and send them to Yerevan for my granddaughter," he says.  "Now I'm waiting for the road to open so she can come to me to drink our wine."

There are few Karabakh Armenians who believe they can live in peace and security as part of Azerbaijan. Over the past 30 years, both Armenians and Azerbaijanis have been victims of mutual ethnic cleansing, pogroms and war crimes. But the blockade of Karabakh and periodic military escalations and shelling of positions in Armenia and NKR by Azerbaijan convince us that peace is still far away.

"It's impossible to imagine an Armenian family that can live, send their children to school, work, create any kind of business if you live in Azerbaijan, under their management," says Stepanakert resident Nonna Poghosyan. "Even now, when after 2020 an agreement was sort of signed, we see how Azerbaijan violates all the clauses of it. The history of the last century has many times proved that these two nations can't coexist together."

Despite the contradictory statements of the Armenian authorities about the fate of Karabakh, the residents hope to keep their independence and see it as the only opportunity to stay in their homes.

This text available in   Հայերեն and Русский
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