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 Thursday, February 9 2023 12:45
Marianna Mkrtchyan

Azerbaijan: Blockade of Lachin corridor putting thousands of lives in  peril must be immediately lifted - Amnesty International

Azerbaijan: Blockade of Lachin corridor putting thousands of lives in  peril must be immediately lifted - Amnesty International

ArmInfo. The ongoing blockade of the Lachin corridor is endangering the lives of thousands of people in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Amnesty  International said today. The human rights organization called on  Azerbaijan's authorities and Russian peacekeepers to immediately  unblock the route and bring an end to the unfolding humanitarian  crisis. 

The road, which connects Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, has been  inaccessible to all civilian and commercial traffic since 12 December  2022 after being blockaded by dozens of Azerbaijani protesters,  widely believed to be backed by the country's authorities. The  situation has left some 120,000 ethnic Armenian residents in  Nagorno-Karabakh without access to essential goods and services,  including life- saving medication and health care.  

Interviews conducted with health workers and residents in the region  revealed the blockade's particularly harsh impact on at-risk groups  including women, older people, and people with disabilities.  

"The blockade has resulted in severe shortages of food and medical  supplies, as humanitarian aid delivered by the International  Committee of the Red Cross and Russian peacekeepers has been  insufficient to meet demand. Disruptions to the supply of  electricity, natural gas and vehicle fuel add up to extreme hardship,  especially for groups who are vulnerable to discrimination and  marginalisation. This must end now," said Marie Struthers, Amnesty  International's Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. 

"The Azerbaijani authorities have internationally recognized  sovereignty over these territories and exercise control over the  territory from which the blockade is being carried out. It is  Azerbaijan's obligation to undertake to ensure that the population in  Nagorno-Karabakh is not denied access to food and other essential  goods and medications. For its part, the Russian peacekeeping mission  is mandated to ensure the safety of the Lachin corridor. However,  both parties are manifestly failing to fulfil their obligations."

According to Nagorno-Karabakh de-facto officials, since the blockade  began the number of vehicles arriving in the region has decreased  from 1,200 a day to five to six trucks belonging to the Russian  peacekeeping mission and the ICRC.  

Lack of medicines and access to health care 

Access to healthcare has become the most pressing issue in the  blockaded region, with a deficit of medicines and medical supplies as  well as insufficient fuel to enable outpatient care. The situation is  particularly acute for older people and people with disabilities,  many with chronic health conditions, whose access to healthcare  services is severely limited or in some cases completely disrupted.  

Vardan Lalayan, a cardiologist at a hospital in Stepanakert  (Khankendi), saw 30 to 40 patients - almost all of them older people  - per month before the blockade. Now he only sees five or six  patients per month, usually those requiring acute care after a heart  attack. He told Amnesty International that most patients in need of  stenting checks are largely unable to get the care they need because  of insufficient supply of stents and other medical supplies. 

"We are doing 10% of the procedures now. We simply do not have enough  stents [.] We will have a very big [number of] heart attacks at home.  Every day we lose many people, many patients," he told Amnesty  International.

Biayna Sukhudyan, a neurologist, told Amnesty International: "A week  ago, we had a child [with epilepsy] who needed an urgent medication,  and we did not have it, and no one had it, stock was empty. [.] After  one week, after negotiations with the Red Cross, they managed to send  the child for treatment to Yerevan."  

According to Vardan Lalayan, the ICRC transfers only those in "stable  condition" to facilities outside the region, where care might be  available. Patients in a critical condition at his hospital had to  remain in a health facility where appropriate care was not available,  resulting in several preventable deaths. Many patients are also  reluctant to use the transfer as it often means separation from their  families for a prolonged, uncertain period of time, without the  guarantee of return.

Women's health and maternal health are also under serious threat due  to shortages of medical supplies. 

Meline Petrosyan, an eight-months pregnant woman from Martakert  (Aghdere) town, told Amnesty International: "The maternity ward was  full, while medicines, hygiene products and baby essentials, diapers,  formula milk were in short supply. The hospital room was often cold  because of the electricity shortage. They could only operate one  incubator and three premature babies had to take turns using it.   When I think about all the uncertainties of giving birth in these  conditions, I feel terrified."

Health workers, older people and people with disabilities said that  medication for chronic conditions, including those to manage blood  pressure; heart conditions; epilepsy, and asthma as well as pain  medication and antibiotics had become much more difficult or  impossible to access, with many pharmacies in Nagorno-Karabakh closed  completely. When they were able to find medication, it was  significantly more expensive due to the blockade, forcing people to  reduce their use.  

Food and fuel shortages The blockade has caused a food shortage,  which led the de-facto authorities to introduce a rationing system in  early January. According to one resident: "each individual can get  half a kilo of rice, pasta and one litre of oil and little sugar,"  limiting products by one kilo or litre per month per person,  regardless of age.  Interviewees said that while those efforts had  helped prevent spiking prices for essential food products, fresh  vegetables and fruits have completely disappeared from store shelves,  while long queues form for milk and eggs when they become available. 

Based on Amnesty International's interviews with residents, it  appeared that women typically prioritized giving food to other family  members over themselves. Healthcare professionals interviewed by  Amnesty International noted a significant increase in cases of  immunodeficiency, anaemia, thyroid disease, and worsened diabetes  conditions among women and children, as a direct result of food  shortages. 

Nara Karapetyan, a mother of two, told Amnesty International: "We  have not had any fruits or vegetables for over a month now. Whatever  food I find I make sure my children get fed first, I simply do with  what is left over."  

Several healthcare workers in Nagorno-Karabakh told Amnesty  International that pregnant women were showing increased  complications, and the numbers of miscarriages and premature births  have grown, as expectant mothers were unable to access vital  medication and the nutrients required during pregnancy. 

People with disabilities, including those with limited mobility, said  they were suffering more from isolation during the blockade, as they  were unable to use either public or private transportation due to the  lack of fuel. Yakov Altunyan, who uses a wheelchair since both of his  legs were amputated after stepping on a mine in the 1990s, is  effectively stuck in his apartment. "Even since I was injured, I  always try to be outside and socialize, because for me being in these  four walls means being in a prison. [.] Not being able to drive, to  communicate and socialize with others, makes my life very hard," he  told Amnesty International.  

Worsening humanitarian crisis 

Among other dire consequences inflicted by the blockade is the  violation of the right to education. All schools and kindergartens,  attended by around 27,000 children, were temporarily closed due to  the lack of heating and electricity shortages. Although schools  partially reopened on 30 January 2023, school time is limited to four  hours a day. 

1,100 residents of Nagorno-Karabakh have been left stranded outside  of the region and unable to return home since the beginning of the  blockade, including at least 270 children. They are accommodated in  hotels or in the homes of relatives and volunteers in Armenia.  

The shortage of gas and petrol is further exacerbated by frequent  cuts to the supply of gas from Azerbaijan and electricity cuts that  last an average of six hours a day. 

"With the blockade now in its ninth week, all eyes are on the  Azerbaijani authorities and Russian peacekeepers. We call on both  parties to immediately take effective measures, in line with  international human rights standards, to lift the blockade of the  Lachin corridor without any further delay and end the unfolding  humanitarian crisis," said Marie Struthers.

Amnesty International has conducted 16 phone interviews with de-facto  officials, healthcare professionals and residents, including older  persons and people with disabilities, of Nagorno-Karabakh, a  breakaway region of Azerbaijan inhabited mostly by ethnic Armenians  that proclaimed its independence as the Republic of Artsakh in 1991.  

In September 2020, a full-scale war broke out between Azerbaijan and  Armenia over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, during which both  sides committed violations of international humanitarian law,  including war crimes. Following a 10 November 2020 tripartite  agreement backed by Russia, Azerbaijan regained control over large  parts of the self-proclaimed republic, successfully cutting its ties  with Armenia.  According to the terms of the ceasefire agreement, the  so-called Lachin corridor remained the only road connecting  Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, the security of which was to be  provided by the Russian peacekeeping contingent.

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