Protests in Stepanakert on July 14

STEPANAKERT (Azatutyun) — Thousands of people rallied in Stepanakert on Friday, July 14, in what local officials described as the start of daily protests against Azerbaijan’s seven-month blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) and a worsening humanitarian crisis caused by it.

Karabakh’s leadership and major political faction organized the protests one month after Baku further tightened the blockade by banning Russian peacekeepers from shipping limited amounts of food, medicine and fuel to Karabakh. Earlier in the week, the Azerbaijani side also blocked the evacuation of seriously ill Karabakh patients to hospitals in Armenia carried out by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) through the Lachin corridor.

The punitive measures aggravated the shortages of essential items in the Armenian-populated region which had already been rationing food, fuel and electricity since last December’s disruption of commercial traffic through the corridor.

The Karabakh premier, Gurgen Nersisyan, described the situation there as “critical” when he addressed the sizable crowd in Stepanakert’s central square. He said that Karabakh is running out of basic foodstuffs, life-saving drugs and even fuel reserved for ambulances. Nersisyan went on to urge Armenia, Russia and the international community to do more to make Azerbaijan lift the blockade.

“What are you waiting for?” he said. ”Do you want us to put the bodies of dead people in this square every day before reacting?”

“Tell me, how should I look in the eyes of … a malnourished pregnant woman whose child may be born with defects, mothers whose biggest dream is to find a handful of fruit or candy for their children, people who stand in lines for hours to get a handful of sugar or oil,” Gegham Stepanian, Karabakh’s human rights ombudsman, said for his part.

Get the Mirror in your inbox:

The protesters then marched to the ICRC office in Stepanakert and the headquarters of the Russian peacekeepers located outside the Karabakh capital. Nersisyan said that the peacekeepers must unblock the corridor to prevent a “humanitarian catastrophe” in Karabakh.

The commander of Russian peacekeeping forces, Alexander Lentsov, meets senior Karabakh officials, July 14, 2023.

Nersisyan and two other senior Karabakh officials were received by Alexander Lentsov, the commander of the peacekeepers. Nersisyan said afterwards that Lentsov pledged to do more to “resolve the situation” and “send information about the humanitarian crisis to the Russian Federation on a daily, hourly basis.”

A group of protesters pitched tents near the Russian headquarters. Many others camped out in Stepanakert’s Renaissance Square.

Russia has repeatedly called on Baku to lift the blockade but stopped short of ordering its troops to try to forcefully reopen the Lachin corridor. The United States and the European Union have also called for renewed traffic through the only road connecting Karabakh to Armenia.

Azerbaijan’s leaders continue to dismiss such appeals and deny the very fact of the blockade.

Baku appeared to allow the Red Cross to resume the medical evacuations after ICRC officials met with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov on Friday. According to the health authorities in Stepanakert, 11 Karabakh patients were transported to Armenia along with family members accompanying them.


Get the Mirror-Spectator Weekly in your inbox: