State Minister Ruben Vardanyan speaks at a meeting in Martakert, December 17, 2022

Karabakh-Armenia Road Still Blocked by Azerbaijan

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STEPANAKERT (Azatutyun) — Nagorno-Karabakh’s leadership continued to strike a defiant note on Monday, December 19, as the only road connecting the region to Armenia remained blocked by Azerbaijan for the eighth consecutive day.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan expressed serious concern, meanwhile, about growing shortages of some basic goods and other humanitarian problems in Karabakh resulting from the blockade.

“People of Nagorno-Karabakh are stuck on roads in the cold, families are finding themselves on different sides of the blockade,” Pashinyan wrote on Twitter. “Citizens with serious health problems are deprived of medicine and health services.”

“We have been in a blockade for 168 hours,” the Karabakh premier, Ruben Vardanyan, said in a daily video address to the population. “Life goes on. We are going ahead with our decision to act in a way that would preserve our dignity.”

Vardanyan spent the weekend touring two districts of Karabakh and meeting with local residents.

“They [the Azerbaijani authorities] didn’t realize that this blockade is uniting us and making us stronger,” he said in the town of Martuni on Sunday. ”They are only now realizing that they gave us strength.”

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Speaking in another Karabakh town, Martakert, Vardanyan again accused Baku of seeking to force the Karabakh Armenia to leave their homeland.

People attending his meeting in Martakert included employees of a copper and gold mine located in the area. The company operating it is Karabakh’s leading corporate taxpayer.

The Azerbaijani government is demanding that Baku be given access to this and another mine. When denied, they blocked the road on December 12.

Karabakh and Armenian officials reject this demand, saying that it runs counter to the terms of a Russian-brokered agreement that stopped the 2020 Armenian-Azerbaijani war.

The ceasefire agreement led to the deployment of around 2,000 Russian peacekeeping troops in Karabakh. They are now locked in a standoff with the government-backed Azerbaijani protesters blocking the so-called Lachin corridor controlled by the peacekeepers.

The Russian Defense Ministry said over the weekend that the commanders of the peacekeeping contingent are continuing to negotiate with both conflicting sides. It gave no details of those talks.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said last Thursday that the sides must “strictly” comply with the truce agreement.

The United States and the European Union have explicitly urged Azerbaijan to unblock the corridor.

“The closure of the Lachin Corridor has potentially severe humanitarian implications and, quite frankly, sets back the peace process,” a US State Department spokesman, Vedant Patel, said on Friday.

Patel also said Washington is also “pleased” that natural gas supplies to Karabakh, blocked by Baku on December 13, resumed earlier on Friday.

The supply disruption forced the authorities in Stepanakert to close all Karabakh colleges, schools and kindergartens using gas for heating purposes. Classes there resumed on Monday.

According to the authorities, about 300 Karabakh schoolchildren remain stranded in Armenia and its Syunik province in particular. They will attend schools in Syunik pending the opening of the road.

Later on Monday, Azerbaijan allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to evacuate a Karabakh Armenian man who needs to undergo urgent heart surgery in Armenia.

The director of Stepanakert’s main hospital, Mher Musayelian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that the 62-year-old man is one of his several patients who were due to be transported to Yerevan for surgeries or checkups last week. Musayelian said a few hours later that one of those patients died.

The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said that the ICRC asked Baku to allow the evacuation and that the request was “granted immediately.”

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