Supplies Dwindle as Karabakh Siege Continues
Since December 12, the sole road to Armenia has been closed off, leaving as many as 120,000 people living under blockade.
When I heard on December 12 that a group of Azerbaijanis had blocked the Lachin corridor, my immediate feeling was relief.
“How lucky I am to be on this side of the road; at least I am home,” I thought. The road sneaking up the Nagorny Karabakh mountains is our only connection to Armenia and to the world.
Claiming to be eco-activists protesting over Karabakh authorities’ illegal mining activities, the protestors have put about 120,000 people, including 30,000 children, under siege. It would last only a few hours, we all thought, confident that the Russian peacekeepers deployed after the 44-day war of 2020 would break the roadblock.
But when Azerbaijanis set up tents and cut off the natural gas supply into Karabakh the next day, dismay spread through the towns and villages. People remembered how in March 2022, when half a metre of snow covered Karabakh, Azerbaijan severed the gas supply as shelling continued.
I thought of my family - of my younger sister who moved to Yerevan with her child after the 2020 conflict; of my older one, still grieving the loss of her husband to the war, and whose elder son is now a conscript and youngest is just four years old.
As hours became days and days became weeks, we started queuing: at cash points, at grocery shops, at market stalls, at pharmacies. Queuing for necessities is always associated with war; in the 1990s, then again in 2020. They say all wars end one day, but we seem to live between one war and another, waiting for the next one.
As queues grow, supplies shrink. Fresh groceries and staples like flour, sugar, oil and cereals are delivered regularly from Armenia; but no access means that shelves in shops are empty and markets stalls are shut.
People have also become kinder to each other, increasingly sharing what they have from cigarettes to food.
A usual greeting has been to ask, “Is your family divided or are you all together?” referring to whether there is a family member left on the other side of the road. Or we jokingly ask, "Would you like your coffee served with potatoes?” Potatoes have become one of the most difficult products to obtain right now.
We try to be philosophical, laughing with friends and relatives calling from Armenia and beyond. I tell them that what I really need is good coffee that I can't find in shops and cafes.
Once in the silence of my home though, a question torments me, “Why do we all go through this hell?”
Most schools closed after the gas was cut. Some children rejoiced over the unexpected time off, others were concerned. “What if Santa Claus doesn't come because the only road is closed?” a child asked me. On December 16, five days into the blockade, gas started flowing again but our fear continued.
“Who needs gas in this situation? Even if they open the road, how can we be sure it will not happen again? How can we trust [them]?” one woman told me.
As the medicine shortage started making itself felt, pharmacies began rationing basic products. Hospitals also struggled. On December 19, a 42 year-old man on hemodialysis in a Stepanakert hospital died. Several patients in critical conditions were transferred to Armenia by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Protests were held on December 23, 24 and 27 calling on Russian President Vladimir Putin to help. On Christmas Day, thousands flooded Stepanakert’s central Renaissance Square, with a flag of the republic stretching for metres.
Kamo, an eight -year-old child at the protest, said that he suffered from epilepsy and was scared that his medication will run out.
The authorities declared martial law and introduced a number of restrictions on purchases of groceries, fuel and medicines, on freedom of movement within the region and on the right of assembly and industrial action.
In Baku, authorities claim the Azerbaijani protesters act on their own initiative and insist that the road is open for humanitarian needs. In Moscow, the Kremlin states that it is committed to help break the deadlock. In Yerevan, Armenia’s prime minister Nikol Pashinyan said that the Russian forces are becoming “a silent witness” to the depopulation of Karabakh and if they are unable to ensure security they should make way for a UN peacekeeping mission.
In Stepanakert, people are waiting for their lives to restart.
This publication was prepared under the "Amplify, Verify, Engage (AVE) Project" implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway.