Zhora Baghdasaryan is trying to call his brother Sarvan, but there is no signal (photo Gaiane Yenokian)

Life Is a Struggle for Families Divided by Blockade in Karabakh


By Gaiane Yenokian

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

GORIS, Armenia — Since morning, Zhora Baghdasaryan has been trying to call his brother, by phone or messenger. Every time he tries, there is no signal.

Zhora Baghdasaryan (photo Gaiane Yenokian)

This is a common scene over the past nine months after the two brothers were separated because of the blockade imposed by Azerbaijan on Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh).

Zhora’s brother, Sarvan, lives inside the blockaded area in Stepanakert, Artsakh’s capital, while Zhora and his family are outside, in Goris, Armenia. The distance between the two brothers is almost a two-hour drive. However, it is impossible to cross the border in either direction.

“As they have electricity only several hours during the day in Artsakh, it is hard to reach them via internet connection. Even when you manage to contact them, the conversation is constantly interrupted because of the weak signal. Telephone connections also do not work well, so the phone number is mostly unavailable,” said Zhora.

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Our correspondent tried to contact Sarvan Baghdasaryan in Artsakh, but was unable to get through.

As stated by the Human Rights Ombudsman Staff of the Republic of Artsakh, Azerbaijan deliberately jams mobile communication and the internet. However, the difficulties families face under the blockade extend far beyond the inability to connect with their relatives.

Zhora and Nelly Baghdasaryan with their six children (photo Gaiane Yenokian)

Zhora’s family was displaced from Artsakh’s Melikashen village after the war in 2020, when the inhabitants of the area had to leave their houses in a short period in accordance with the ceasefire statement signed between Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia on November 9, 2020. Zhora was one of the nearly 93,300 civilians displaced from Karabakh because of the war, as stated in official Armenian data.

More than half of the displaced people were able to go back and establish themselves in the area of Artsakh supervised by Russian peacekeepers. Zhora’s family was among them, but they were soon compelled to relocate again.

“We rented a house in Stepanakert with the hope that things would return to normal soon,” he said. “But that was not the case. Conditions of life in Artsakh were worsening day by day.”

Azerbaijan often cut off the gas and electricity supplies, impacting the family’s daily life and the education of the children, who were unable to go to school during the winter cold without proper heating. Meanwhile, Zhora struggled to find work and the price of basic goods rose after the war.

Zhora left Stepanakert for the Armenian town of Goris, the nearest city to Artsakh’s border, with his wife and five children after an incident on December 3, 2022, when the Lachin Corridor was blocked for several hours. His brother and father stayed behind. Zhora has not seen them since.

During this period, Zhora’s wife gave birth to their sixth child, but the other family members have not been able to meet the newborn.

On the other side of the blockade zone, the rest of the family is waiting for a new baby: Zhora’s brother’s wife, Nune is six months pregnant․ Pregnancy under blockade has become perilous as the lack of supplies and medical care have resulted in a higher risk of miscarriage.

The empty streets of besieged Stepanakert. The blockade of Artsakh has led to the depletion of fuel reserves, so cars parked on the streets cannot be operated and people mostly move on foot (photo Alyona Hayrapetyan)

Fuel shortages have made it difficult for Nune to reach the hospital for prenatal examinations, while the hospital operations are impacted by electricity cuts.

“I have been asking Nune to look after herself but she has been telling me that it is impossible to eat properly, as the stores are empty and on some days, they do not even manage to get bread after standing in lines for several hours. We miss them and worry about them a lot,” Zhora’s wife, Nelly, said.

An empty supermarket in Stepanakert. Today, the supermarkets of Artsakh lack even basic food and hygiene items (photo Alyona Hayrapetyan)

As stated by the executive director of Stepanakert’s Mother and Child Health Care Center, in the last months, the rate of reproductive losses has increased almost three times.

Sergey Ghazaryan, the minister of foreign affairs of the Artsakh Republic, told reporters in a recent briefing that there are many separated families in the wake of the blockade living not only in Goris, but also in other towns of Armenia waiting for their opportunity to go back to Artsakh.

Zhora Baghdasaryan is also willing to move again to Artsakh in case things get back to normal.

“For the moment it is impossible to go back even with the Red Cross. After several incidents of Azerbaijani border guards capturing Artsakh’s citizens when passing the illegal checkpoint, it is becoming extremely dangerous. Who knows? If I go to Azerbaijan’s checkpoint, they might accuse me of the deeds I have not done and imprison me as it was in the case of Vagif Khachatryan,” said Zhora.

On September 7, the Azerbaijani side returned three students of Artsakh kidnapped on August 28 and illegally deprived of their freedom while being transported from Artsakh to Armenia accompanied by the Russian peacekeeping contingent. Meanwhile, two other imprisoned civilians, the aforementioned Vagif Khachatryan and Rashid Beglaryan, continue to be held in Azerbaijan․

In this regard, the Office of the Human Rights Defender of Artsakh stated: “The abduction and arbitrary imprisonment of civilians, as well as Azerbaijan’s request for false and fabricated criminal cases indicate that the illegal Azerbaijani checkpoint located at the Hakari Bridge is a direct and irrefutable threat to the physical existence and protection of the fundamental rights of the civilian population of Artsakh.”

On September 9, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell once again stated that the Lachin corridor must be re-opened. “Other roads, such as Aghdam, can be opened as part of the solution, but not an alternative.”

Meanwhile, the humanitarian catastrophe in Artsakh is taking lives, and families like the Baghdasaryans are left in limbo.

“I just do not understand, does not the international community see all this? How can they not be able to punish Azerbaijan and find a solution?” Zhora said. “The negotiation phase takes time, but at least they should press for humanitarian aid to reach Artsakh as children there are suffering.”

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