Nagorno-Karabakh enters 100th day under blockade

By Mark Dovich

As Azerbaijan’s blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh entered its 100th day Tuesday, CivilNet looks back at the key developments of the past three months that have led the region to a point of crisis.

December 3, 2022: A group of staffers at Azerbaijan’s ecology and economy ministries and employees at the state-owned AzerGold mining company begin blocking traffic along the Lachin corridor, the sole overland route connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia. They say they want to investigate what they call “illegal mining” in the area. Russian peacekeepers hold negotiations to end that three-hour roadblock, allowing traffic to resume.

December 7: Representatives from Stepanakert and Baku meet at the Russian peacekeepers’ headquarters in Nagorno-Karabakh for talks.

December 10: A group of Azerbaijanis attempt to enter two mines in Nagorno-Karabakh but are blocked by Nagorno-Karabakh officials, mine employees, and residents of nearby villages. Baku says the Russian peacekeepers had granted the group advance permission for a one-time visit to the sites. Stepanakert says it had not agreed to the visits.

December 12: A group of self-styled Azerbaijani environmental activists set up a roadblock on the Lachin corridor, marking the beginning of the blockade. Many are later revealed to be connected with the Azerbaijani government.

December 13: Stepanakert says Baku has begun blocking the sole pipeline supplying natural gas to Nagorno-Karabakh, which runs from Armenia through areas ceded to Azerbaijan after the 2020 war. Nagorno-Karabakh’s gas supply will be temporarily cut off and then restored at least 10 more times during the first three months of the blockade.

The Russian peacekeepers say they are working to facilitate negotiations to reopen the Lachin corridor, noting that the road “has been blocked by the Azerbaijani side.”

December 14: Some schools in Nagorno-Karabakh close temporarily due to energy shortages. Classes will be repeatedly suspended in Nagorno-Karabakh during the first three months of the blockade.

Mid-December: Nagorno-Karabakh residents begin facing shortages of food, medicine, and other necessities.

December 19: The International Committee of the Red Cross completes its first medical evacuation of patients from Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. In the following weeks, the Red Cross will facilitate the transfer of at least 194 patients in need of urgent medical care to Armenia, according to a tally kept by Nagorno-Karabakh’s InfoCenter. Only vehicles belonging to the Red Cross and the Russian peacekeepers are allowed through Azerbaijan’s roadblock.

December 25: Nagorno-Karabakh residents gather in downtown Stepanakert to rally against the blockade. Nagorno Karabakh Observer, an independent Twitter account, estimates attendance at 65,000-70,000, or roughly half of Nagorno-Karabakh’s population, making it one of the biggest protests in Nagorno-Karabakh’s history.

Late December: Rumors begin to spread of growing tensions between Nagorno-Karabakh President Arayik Harutyunyan and State Minister Ruben Vardanyan, whom Harutyunyan appointed in November. Harutyunyan had granted Vardanyan significantly broader powers than previous state ministers enjoyed.

January 9, 2023: Stepanakert begins issuing food coupons amid severe shortages of grains and other staples. The coupons allow Nagorno-Karabakh residents to buy small rations of dry goods and sunflower oil every month.

Stepanakert says Baku has damaged the sole overhead power line that supplies electricity to Nagorno-Karabakh, prompting rolling blackouts. Stepanakert adds that Baku is refusing to allow technicians from Nagorno-Karabakh to visit the damaged section for repairs. Like the gas pipeline, the power line runs from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh through Azerbaijani-controlled areas.

February 13: Harutyunyan proposes to change Nagorno-Karabakh’s constitution to allow the legislature to appoint a new president if the office is vacated while martial law is in effect. The current setup says a president’s resignation automatically dissolves parliament, prompting fresh elections. Nagorno-Karabakh has been under martial law for decades.

February 22: The International Court of Justice orders Azerbaijan to “take all measures at its disposal to ensure unimpeded movement of persons, vehicles and cargo along the Lachin Corridor in both directions.” The ruling is legally binding, but the court has no enforcement powers.

February 23: Harutyunyan dismisses Vardanyan, citing the fact that “the situation then [when he appointed Vardanyan] and now differ greatly, both externally and internally.” Azerbaijani officials had repeatedly demanded that Vardanyan resign or be ousted as a prerequisite for direct talks between Baku and Stepanakert.

Vardanyan pledges to stay in Nagorno-Karabakh is replaced as state minister by Gurgen Nersisyan, formerly Nagorno-Karabakh’s prosecutor general.

February 24: Representatives from Stepanakert and Baku hold talks with the Russian peacekeepers.

March 1: Representatives from Stepanakert and Baku meet at the Russian peacekeepers’ headquarters for another round of talks. In competing read-outs, Stepanakert says the talks focused on “humanitarian and infrastructure issues,” while Baku says they centered on “the reintegration of the Armenians of the Karabakh region” into Azerbaijan.

March 5: A group of Azerbaijani soldiers ambush a Nagorno-Karabakh police car outside of Stepanakert, leaving three officers dead and one seriously injured. In the ensuing skirmishes, two Azerbaijani soldiers are killed and one injured.

The attack takes the number of ethnic Armenians killed in Nagorno-Karabakh since the end of the 2020 war to at least 21, according to a tally kept by Nagorno-Karabakh’s Human Rights Defender’s office. That figure includes both civilian and military casualties.

March 6: The Russian peacekeepers say Azerbaijani soldiers initiated the police car attack, prompting Baku to issue an unusual rebuttal of Moscow for having “distorted the facts and spread untruthful information.”

Early-to-mid March: Stepanakert, Yerevan, and Baku all report substantial upticks in ceasefire violations in the region. The Russian peacekeepers confirm more ceasefire violations in the first three months of 2023 than they reported in all of 2022, according to a tally kept by Nagorno Karabakh Observer.

March 15: Nagorno-Karabakh’s lawmakers vote unanimously to give their preliminary approval to Harutyunyan’s proposal to change the constitution to allow a president to resign without triggering snap elections. Parliament must vote on the amendments one more time before they can become law. The move fuels speculation Harutyunyan is preparing to leave office.

March 21: Azerbaijan’s blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh enters its 100th day.

Nagorno-Karabakh’s Human Rights Defender’s office says about 9,800 people, or more than half of all privately employed people in Nagorno-Karabakh, have lost their jobs due to the blockade. Losses to Nagorno-Karabakh’s economy are estimated at $190 million, equal to about a quarter of Nagorno-Karabakh’s gross domestic product in 2022.

Stepanakert warns that “any status for Artsakh within Azerbaijan is tantamount to the ethnic cleansing of Artsakh and the genocide of the Armenians of Artsakh.”

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