Tensions ease in Karabakh as humanitarian supplies resume

Nagorno-Karabakh (AFP): Months-long tensions in Nagorno-Karabakh eased a notch on Monday as aid supplies resumed following agreement between Armenian separatists and the Baku government, Azerbaijan and the Red Cross said.

Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of fuelling a humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh after Baku last year blocked the sole road linking the mountainous region with Armenia, the Lachin corridor policed by Russian peacekeepers.

The closure has led to shortages of food and medicine in the region, with Yerevan accusing Baku of pursuing the “policy of ethnic cleansing.”

Azerbaijan has rejected the accusation, arguing Nagorno-Karabakh could receive all the supplies it needed via Azerbaijan.

Baku has said that the separatist authorities had simply refused its proposal to simultaneously reopen both the Lachin corridor and the Aghdam road which connects Nagorno-Karabakh with the rest of Azerbaijan.

The months-long crisis as well as Baku’s deployment of troops near Nagorno-Karabakh and along the border with Armenia have sparked fears of a fresh all-out conflict between the arch-foes locked in a decades-long dispute over of the region.

On Monday the “Simultaneous passage of the Red Cross cars was ensured” through the Lachin corridor and the Aghdam road, Hikmet Hajiyev, foreign policy advisor to Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev said on social media.

“The whole international community once again witnessed that there was no so-called blockade but deliberate self-blockade, weaponization and politization of humanitarian issues and theatrical dramas (…),” he said.

– ‘Lifesaving work’ –

International Committee of the Red Cross said that thanks to “a humanitarian consensus between the decision-makers, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is today bringing shipments of wheat flour and essential medical items to people in need via the Lachin Corridor and the Aghdam road.”

Nagorno-Karabakh residents “urgently need sustained relief through regular humanitarian shipments. This consensus has allowed our teams to resume this lifesaving work,” said Ariane Bauer, ICRC’s regional director for Europe and Central Asia.

The European Union and United States have called for the reopening of Lachin and Aghdam routes for humanitarian aid.

Azerbaijan’s Armenian-populated enclave was at the centre of two wars between Armenia and Azerbaijan – in 2020 and in the 1990s.

Six weeks of fighting ended in autumn 2020 with a Russian-brokered truce that saw Armenia cede swathes of territory it had controlled since the 1990s.

There have been frequent clashes at the two countries’ shared border despite the ongoing peace talks between Baku and Yerevan under the mediation of the European Union and United States.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have said they are committed to the conflict’s peaceful settlement, but the negotiations have so far failed to bring about a breakthrough.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, ethnic Armenian separatists in Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan. The ensuing conflict claimed some 30,000 lives.