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Hardship in Nagorno-Karabakh as Lifeline Road Remains Blocked

Authorities Should Restore Free Movement of People and Essential Goods

Azerbaijanis protesting on the Lachin road, opposite Russian peacekeeping forces, in Nagorno Karabakh, leading to the closure of the road since December 12, 2022. © 2022 Resul Rehimov/Anadolu Agency via Getty Image

Hardships have accumulated for residents of Nagorno-Karabakh, the ethnic Armenian breakaway enclave in Azerbaijan, since the Lachin corridor, the lifeline road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia to the outside world, was closed to regular traffic on December 12, 2022.

Armine, 40, who lives in Nagorno-Karabakh with her family, told Human Rights Watch she is the sole breadwinner after her husband lost his job driving a taxi because fuel is unavailable. Her 12- and 14-year-old children recently returned to their school after it installed wood-burning stoves, but some other schools remain closed due to lack of heating. Food is increasingly scarce, rationed, or unaffordable as prices have spiked. Armine recalled standing for two hours in below freezing temperatures to buy eggs.

Armine now plans her days around multiple daily power cuts. In the few hours when there is electricity, she must tend to all meals and household chores, heat her kids’ room, and help with their homework.

Armine’s story is not an exception. The Lachin corridor’s closure has disrupted access to essential goods and services for thousands of ethnic Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh and prevented them from leaving the region and returning home. On one occasion, several dozen students, including Armine’s daughter, were stranded in Armenia for nearly two months after a school trip there. 

Since December 2022, several dozen Azerbaijanis have been demonstrating on Lachin road, demanding access to mining sites in areas controlled by Nagorno-Karabakh’s de facto authorities. Russian peacekeeping forces have guarded the road since the end of the 2020 war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. After the protests began, they barricaded the road to prevent further escalation. Azerbaijani authorities deny responsibility for the road’s closure but have backed the protests.

While Russian peacekeeping and International Committee of the Red Cross trucks can travel the road to deliver essential goods and transport critically ill patients to Armenia, disruption of the Lachin corridor is causing a humanitarian crisis as many needs remain unmet. Armine’s father has cancer and requires regular trips to Stepanakert from his village, but has missed recent medical appointments because of lack of fuel and transportation.

Azerbaijani authorities and the Russian peacekeeping force should ensure the protests do not deny Armine and other Nagorno-Karabakh residents their rights, including the right of access to health, essential services and goods, and to freedom of movement.

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