Empty shelves at a supermarket in Stepanakert, January 17, 2023.

By Susan Badalian and Narine Ghalechian

STEPANAKERT (Azatutyun) — Residents of Nagorno-Karabakh struggled with worsening shortages of food and medicine on Monday, June 19, four days after Azerbaijan completely blocked relief supplies to the Armenian-populated region.

Many essential items had already been in short supply since Baku blocked last December commercial traffic through the sole road connecting Karabakh to Armenia. Only vehicles escorted by the Russian peacekeeping forces and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have been able to pass through the Lachin corridor for the last seven months.

The movement of these humanitarian convoys was halted on Thursday, June 15, following a shootout near an Azerbaijani checkpoint illegally set up in the corridor in late April.

Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) said that its border guards stopped a group of Azerbaijani servicemen manning the checkpoint from advancing into Armenian territory and placing an Azerbaijani flag there. The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry insisted that they did not cross into Armenia while trying to hoist the flag on a bridge located right next to the checkpoint.

Health authorities in Stepanakert said on Monday that local hospitals have suspended non-urgent surgeries due to a resulting shortage of drugs and other medical supplies. According to them, a total of 175 critically ill Karabakh patients and their family members are now awaiting evacuation to hospitals in Armenia.

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Such evacuations were carried out for months by the ICRC. They also stopped on Thursday.

“We are monitoring the situation and remain in touch with all decision-makers,” Eteri Musayelyan, an ICRC spokeswoman in Stepanakert, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “We hope to resume our work as soon as the situation allows.”

Also, locals said that shops in and outside Stepanakert are running out of imported foodstuffs such as flour, cooking oil and sugar that have been rationed by the authorities since February.

“We have ration coupons but there is little we can buy with them now,” complained Arega Ishkhanyan, a Stepanakert resident. She also spoke of an increasingly “visible” shortage of fruits and vegetables.

Artak Beglaryan, a Karabakh official, warned at the weekend that Karabakh will run out of some types of food and medicine within several days if the relief supplies are not restored.

“There is already an acute shortage of quite a few items. medicines, some foodstuffs, gasoline and diesel fuel,” he said.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Friday, June 16, condemned the complete blockage of humanitarian traffic through the Lachin corridor, accusing Azerbaijan of continuing its “policy of ethnic cleansing in Nagorno-Karabakh.” The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry rejected the accusation. It said Baku will do everything to “integrate” the Karabakh Armenians into Azerbaijan’s “political, legal and socioeconomic frameworks.”

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