Thousands rally in Karabakh against blockade

Residents in Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh rally in front of the local offices of the International Red Cross (PHOTO: CivilNet)

By Mark Dovich

At least 10,000 people, including senior officials, rallied in Stepanakert Friday to demand Azerbaijan lift its seven-month blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh in response to State Minister Gurgen Nersisyan’s call for a new “popular movement” in the region.

Addressing “the international community, Armenia, and Russia,” Nersisyan asked: “What do you need, what are you waiting for? Do you want us to have dead bodies on this square to make you respond?”

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Nagorno-Karabakh’s human rights defender, Gegham Stepanyan, warned the crowd that “our people are facing the undeniable threat of malnutrition, starvation, ethnic cleansing, forced subjugation, and genocide carried out openly by Azerbaijan.”

After gathering in Stepanakert’s central Renaissance Square, demonstrators marched to the local International Red Cross office and then to the Russian peacekeepers’ headquarters outside of the capital to present their demands.

In a widely shared video posted to Facebook Thursday evening, Nersisyan urged Nagorno-Karabakh residents to hold rallies every day until the blockade is lifted.

Other attendees at Friday’s mass gathering included President Arayik Harutyunyan and Artur Tovmasyan, the speaker of Nagorno-Karabakh’s parliament.

In a related development, Harutyunyan’s office confirmed Friday he had made written appeals to the United Nations and major world leaders, calling on them to “fulfill their international obligations and promptly implement effective measures to halt the illegal and complete blockade imposed on Artsakh by Azerbaijan.”

WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING

Demonstrators were “stronger in spirit and more determined” than at prior rallies, according to Ani Badalyan, a photojournalist and video editor at CivilNet’s Nagorno-Karabakh office.

“People are saying that this is our last chance and this step should have been taken a long time ago,” she said.

“As I understood from talking with people, they believe that we can really achieve something with this,” CivilNet reporter Siranush Adamyan added. “People are now realizing that there really is no other way out and they have to take some action.”

At the same time, she cautioned: “Of course, there have been many rallies here to no avail, and people lost hope and thought no matter what they do, nothing will change.”

7 MONTHS OF BLOCKADE

On Wednesday, Azerbaijan’s blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh reached seven months, leaving the region’s roughly 120,000 Armenians grappling with severe shortages of food, energy, medicine, and other essentials.

For most of that time, Azerbaijan had allowed a limited number of vehicles belonging to the Red Cross and Russian peacekeepers to travel between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, even while blocking all other traffic.

Also read: Uncertainty plagues Nagorno-Karabakh students pursuing higher education

But now, Nagorno-Karabakh faces total isolation: Azerbaijan has blocked the peacekeepers from the region since last month, and again began denying the Red Cross entry on Tuesday.

That is all despite a February ruling by a United Nations court ordering Azerbaijan to “take all measures at its disposal to ensure unimpeded movement of persons, vehicles, and cargo along the Lachin corridor in both directions.” Though the decision is legally binding, the court has no enforcement powers.

Since the end of the 2020 war, CivilNet has been the only outside media organization with a field office in Stepanakert, providing real-time, on-the-ground coverage of the critical situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.

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