The Lachin Corridor In Nagorno-Karabakh: Unveiling An Ongoing Humanitarian Crisis

On July 11th, 2023 the Azerbaijani guards issued a communiqué, declaring the temporary closure of the Lachin corridor, which serves as the sole road connecting Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. The stated reason behind this closure was the alleged “involvement of Armenian Red Cross units in smuggling attempts” and they further announced that the closure would be lifted upon the conclusion of their ongoing criminal inquiry. However, it is worth noting that this situation is not new, as the corridor has been closed multiple times since December 2022. Initially, the closure happened because of ecologist activists blocking mines on the road, and later it was extended in April due to security concerns according to the Azerbaijani forces.

The closure of the Latchin corridor has had far-reaching consequences for human rights in the secessionist region. Access to vital necessities such as medicines, electricity, and food has been abruptly cut off for the 120 000 inhabitants, creating a dire situation. Dr. Vardan Lalayan, a cardiologist at the Stepanakert/Khankendi hospital, laments the shortage of stents and other medical equipment. He and his colleagues are only able to perform a mere 10% of the necessary procedures, which led to the heartbreaking loss of patients due to cardiac attacks. Moreover, this blockade has caused a food shortage, which led the de facto authorities to implement a rationing system since the beginning of January 2023. With rationing restricting to one kilo/litre of food products per person per month, health professionals have noted a significant increase in cases of immunodeficiency, anaemia, thyroid disease and worsening diabetes among women and children. In fact, as Nara Karapetyan, a mother of two children explained for Amnesty International: “We haven’t had any fruit or vegetables for over a month now. As soon as I can get hold of any food, I make sure my children eat it first, and I make do with what’s left.”. Finally, the blockade’s severe shortage of electricity and heating systems has also had a profound impact on children’s right to education: approximately 27,000 children can only access their schools for a few hours a day.

However, the tensions are not new. The Nagorno-Karabakh region has been integrated into the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist in 1923 despite being populated ethnically at 95% by Armenians. When Armenia and Azerbaijan both achieved statehood at the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, they began a war that resulted in 30 000 casualties. A ceasefire was brokered by Russia in 1994 under the name of the Bishkek Protocol, in which the Nagorno-Karabakh region has been proclaimed as independent but reliant on economic, political and military ties with Armenia. Despite attempts at peace, the mountainous enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh has rarely known a lasting ceasefire. For years, each side has accused the other of violating ceasefires, leading to renewed heavy fighting. In late September 2020, tensions erupted into the Second Nagorno-Karabakh war, which was eventually resolved by a peace deal proposed by Russia on November 9, 2020. The agreement saw Azerbaijan reclaim most of the territory, leaving Armenia with only a small portion of Karabakh. The deal also established the Lachin corridor, under the hands of Russian peacekeepers.

The peace deal has not provided definitive barriers to prevent Azerbaijan from taking control of the secessionist region. Despite ambitious international efforts to mitigate the risk of another full-blown war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, such as the dispatch of an unarmed EU mission to the Armenian side or the ruling of the International Court of Justice, diplomatic negotiations led by the EU, Russia, and the United States have faced significant challenges due to tensions in the region. Continuing mediation talks seem to be the only available option to ensure peace and ensure the fulfilment of human rights in the region, and both Baku and Yerevan appear to agree with this approach, recognizing the high costs of not reaching a negotiated peace deal.