Competing aid convoys approach Karabakh as bread supplies dwindle

By Mark Dovich

Azerbaijani and French aid convoys arrived near Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) this week as the authorities in Stepanakert introduced new rules limiting bread purchases in the region.

Two trucks belonging to the Azerbaijan Red Crescent Society carrying 40 tons of flour reached the Azerbaijani town of Aghdam on Tuesday after state-run news agencies said Baku intended to deliver the supplies to Stepanakert.

The convoy plans to use the long-shuttered route connecting the Nagorno-Karabakh town of Askeran and Aghdam, which Armenia ceded to Azerbaijan after the 2020 war, but as of Wednesday evening local time, the trucks reportedly remained stuck in Aghdam, with Russian peacekeepers deployed to the area blocking them from moving forward.

The Azerbaijan Red Crescent Society is Azerbaijan’s national affiliate of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and is separate from the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has been conducting medical evacuations from Nagorno-Karabakh throughout the blockade.

Meanwhile, more than a thousand Nagorno-Karabakh residents gathered in Askeran Tuesday night to set up preemptive barricades on the road in case the peacekeepers allow the trucks to move forward.

“They are slaughtering us, and then bringing us flour,” Askeran resident Alla Arzumanyan told CivilNet’s Nagorno-Karabakh correspondent.

A spokesperson for Nagorno-Karabakh President Arayik Harutyunyan insisted Tuesday his administration had not agreed to the delivery and would not accept the aid.

The reopening of the Aghdam road is seen as a step forward in Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s “reintegration” plan, which many in Nagorno-Karabakh fear will lead to ethnic cleansing.

Aid from France reaches Lachin corridor

The next day, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, alongside a large delegation of other French mayors and officials, arrived in Yerevan to escort a convoy of 10 trucks carrying humanitarian aid to the entrance of the Lachin corridor, the sole overland route connecting Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Azerbaijan has blocked nearly all traffic from the Lachin corridor for more than eight months, pushing Nagorno-Karabakh’s roughly 120,000 Armenians to the brink of famine and prompting the former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court to warn of genocide.

The supplies were donated by the Paris city government and other French municipalities and arrived Wednesday afternoon in Kornidzor, the final Armenian village before the corridor begins.

They joined a convoy of trucks sent to Kornidzor last month by the Armenian government. Those trucks, carrying more than 350 tons of cooking oil, flour, and other basic supplies, have been blocked from moving forward for weeks by Azerbaijan.

“Here at the Lachin corridor, we testify that no humanitarian aid can enter Artsakh, in total violation of human rights. Our 10 humanitarian aid trucks are blocked,” Hidalgo wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Social media videos appeared to show Nagorno-Karabakh residents gathering in central Stepanakert holding signs thanking France for the gesture of support.

What’s the context?

The competing aid convoys arrived amid an escalating fight in the region over two key routes, the Aghdam road and Lachin corridor.

On Tuesday, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev indicated he would be willing to lift the blockade of the Lachin corridor if the Aghdam road was reopened first.

Earlier, his foreign minister put forward a proposal to deliver humanitarian aid to Nagorno-Karabakh via Aghdam, a prospect quickly dismissed by officials in Stepanakert, who argued it would legitimize Azerbaijan’s ongoing blockade of the Lachin corridor.

Russia, the only outside power with boots on the ground, floated a proposal last month at the United Nations to reopen both roads “simultaneously.”

The European Union, which oversees its own track of negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, has said it “notes” Azerbaijan’s position but that reopening the Aghdam road “should not be seen as an alternative to the reopening of the Lachin corridor.”

For its part, the International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed last month it remains unable to supply aid to Nagorno-Karabakh through either Lachin or Aghdam “despite persistent efforts.”

In February, the UN’s top court ordered Azerbaijan to lift its blockade of the Lachin corridor, but the International Court of Justice does not have the power to enforce its legally binding rulings.

The ceasefire declaration that ended the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war says Russian peacekeepers should control the corridor, while Azerbaijan is expected to “guarantee the security of persons, vehicles, and cargo” using the route.

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