Azerbaijan again blocks Red Cross from Karabakh, citing ‘smuggling’

By Mark Dovich

Azerbaijan has again blocked vehicles belonging to the International Committee of the Red Cross from transporting patients between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, in effect putting the region under total blockade.

In a statement Tuesday morning, Azerbaijan’s State Border Service accused the Red Cross of using its vehicles to “smuggle” mobile phones, chargers, cigarettes, and gasoline from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh at least four separate times since the beginning of the month.

“Passage through the ‘Lachin’ state border checkpoint has been temporarily suspended,” the agency said, referring to an Azerbaijani checkpoint set up in April along the sole overland route between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh in violation of the 2020 ceasefire. The Kremlin-brokered ceasefire says Russian peacekeepers should control the Lachin corridor.

In response, the Red Cross said it was “aware of concerns raised about the transport of unauthorized goods” to Nagorno-Karabakh, adding: “Without our knowledge four hired drivers tried to transport some commercial goods in their own vehicles which were temporarily displaying the ICRC emblem. These individuals were not ICRC staff members and their service contracts were immediately terminated.”

The organization added that its “strictly humanitarian” work in Nagorno-Karabakh “must be allowed to continue.”

Last month, Azerbaijani border guards blocked the Red Cross from passing through their checkpoint for 10 days following a shoot-out between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces nearby that left at least one Azerbaijani soldier wounded.

It marked the first time Azerbaijan blocked the humanitarian organization from Nagorno-Karabakh since its near-total blockade of the region began last year. Since last December, Azerbaijan has typically allowed vehicles belonging to the Red Cross and Russian peacekeepers to pass, even while blocking all other traffic.

Azerbaijan’s blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh, now approaching its seventh month, has prompted a major humanitarian crisis for the region’s more than 100,000 Armenians, who are grappling with severe shortages of food, energy, medicine, and other essentials.

Since the blockade began, the Red Cross has evacuated more than 600 people in need of medical treatment from Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, according to a tally kept by the authorities in Stepanakert.

Azerbaijan did not immediately indicate how long the suspension of traffic along the Lachin corridor would last.

leave a reply