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06/27/2023 Artsakh (International Christian Concern) ––For the past two weeks, Azerbaijan has banned entry of humanitarian aid to Nagorno-Karabakh (Armenian: Artsakh), leaving more than 100,000 Armenian Christians further isolated.

Since mid-December, Azerbaijan has set up a blockade in the disputed region –– known to its indigenous Armenian population as Artsakh –– violating a 2020 ceasefire that guaranteed an open corridor with Armenia. It also set up illegal checkpoints and armored vehicles in late April.

On June 22, however, Azerbaijan installed concrete barriers to block the Lachin corridor. As a result, 120,000 Armenian Christians, including 30,000 children and 9,000 people with disabilities, are totally isolated. Not even Russian peacekeepers or Red Cross vehicles have been allowed through. 

Residents have been denied necessities and access to medical care. 

Narine consoles her one-year-old son, Monte, as he wakes up from anesthesia. He’s in critical condition with brain inflammation. Stepanakert’s Arevik Children’s Hospital, where he receives treatment, in Nagorno-Karabakh (Armenian: Artsakh) after Azerbaijan blocked the only road leading in and out of the state. For other residents, the road mitigates living conditions––an import for food and necessary goods. For Narine’s child, it is quite literally the road of life itself. 

In Stepanakert’s “Arevik” children’s hospital, a mother tries to revive her one-year-old son after anesthesia.

The central market of Stepanakert was never so empty and colorless –– not even during the 2020 war. In the once rich, fruitful, colorful, and crowded market, empty boxes and half-empty displays are now the gazes of merchants shrouded in uncertainty, half-hurriedly walking almost empty-handed occasional buyers.   

Seventy-year-old Roza Musayelyan has been selling herbs and seeds in the market for 30 years.   

“These are the most difficult times in the history of the market,” said Musayelyan. “There are almost no buyers, people keep the last money they have for bread.” She also talked about the lack of vital products skyrocketing prices. 

70-year-old Roza Musayelyan, one of the oldest workers of the central market of Stepanakert, tells about the challenges that she has been trying to overcome for six months

No end in sight 

Global government leaders have been doing what they can to pressure Azerbaijan. Leaders on both sides met with ceasefire talks in Washington, D.C. this week — just as four Armenian soldiers were killed in Artsakh by Azerbaijani forces.

Sam Brownback, former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, recently returned from a fact-finding mission to Armenia. He spoke at the June 21 Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing called Safeguarding the People of Nagorno-Karabakh. He testified and called for sanctioning Azerbaijan in the face of a second Armenian genocide brewing in the region.   

“Azerbaijan, with Turkey’s backing, is really slowly strangling Nagorno-Karabakh…working to make it unlivable so that the region’s Armenian-Christian population is forced to leave,” said Brownback. “That’s what’s happening on the ground.” 

Along with the ongoing blockade of the Lachin Corridor, Azerbaijan has deliberately disrupted the sole gas supply and electricity into Artsakh, resulting in daily blackouts. The population experiences severe shortages of food, medicine, fuel, and many other necessities, creating a serious humanitarian crisis and violation of fundamental human rights.   

According to the official bulletin of the local government, an estimated 11,000 people have lost their jobs and source of income as a result of the blockade and disruptions of vital infrastructures.   

The healthcare system is in worse shape. Critically ill patients like Monte could not be transported by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to Armenia over the past two weeks. This was recently changed, however, but Azerbaijan may change its mind at any given moment.  

“On June 15, we intended to bring patients for treatment in Armenia through the Lachin Corridor. However, following reports about tensions, we took a decision to suspend the operation and return. We have done so as part of our duty of care towards the patients and our own staff,” said Eteri Musayelyan, spokesperson of the Red Cross in Nagorno-Karabakh. “We are following the situation closely as well as we are in touch with the decision-makers. Once the situation permits, we hope to resume our transport of medical patients, food, and medical supplies.”   

An estimated 1,490 citizens have been deprived of the opportunity to receive medical treatment due to the suspension of planned surgeries in all medical facilities of Artsakh. According to the head of the neonatal intensive care department, Dr. Mesrop Margaryan, 33 children are currently receiving treatment, and seven children are in intensive therapy.   

A number of patients in the Republican Medical Center are waiting for their opportunity to be transferred to different medical centers in Armenia

“We have critically ill patients whose transportation to Yerevan has become impossible. One of them has an abdominal aortic aneurysm. We are trying to do everything to keep his condition stable, but at any moment, a tumor may appear,” said Dr. Boris Abrahamyan at the Republican Medical Center.   

Due to the suspension of the import of medicine, the Republican Medical Center is working under high demand and low resources. Only 40% of inpatients have enough medicine, and the outpatient sector has even less, with 20% of the number of medications needed.   

Currently, 95 patients receive treatment at the hospital; five of them are in the intensive care unit, with two in critical condition. For the 10th consecutive day, all planned operations and examinations have been suspended, with many patients in need of operations.   

Dr. Abrahamyan said that the medical staff is not able to properly diagnose patients due to limited resources. Chronic diseases become more acute and extreme without treatment, requiring emergency surgery.  

Artsakh ombudsman Gegham Stepanyan has appealed to the international community due to the ban on humanitarian access to Artsakh imposed by Azerbaijan. He stressed that the humanitarian situation was rapidly deteriorating, affecting Artsakh the healthcare system and jeopardizing its food security.  

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