In the early hours of Tuesday, a truck bearing the emblem of the Russian Red Cross passed through an Azerbaijani checkpoint, signaling a glimmer of hope in the humanitarian crisis burgeoning in Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan’s breakaway region.
After nine months of an unyielding blockade of a pivotal road linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh, the arrival of the Russian truck laden with much-needed aid marks a critical breach in the blockade. This essential aid arrived not via Armenia, its solitary link severed since December, but through an Azerbaijani thoroughfare.
The population of Nagorno-Karabakh, topping at 120,000 citizens, has been grappling with pervasive shortages for innumerable months. Interestingly enough, the aid’s arrival met with resistance from some locals who attempted to keep it from being dispersed.
Reports from Armenia indicate that the released consignment – which primarily consisted of food and toiletries – was contingent on Azerbaijan reopening the strategic Lachin Corridor into Armenia.
In response, Azerbaijan promised a “simultaneous use” of both routes under the purview of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Long-standing grievances from the citizens paint a harsh picture of endless bread queues, barren shelves in stores, and a dearth of medicines and basic toiletries ever since the Lachin Corridor was cordoned off by Azerbaijan on accusations of it being a conduit for Armenian arms smuggling.
The geopolitical chessboard of the South Caucasus has been marred by two wars between the sparring nations since the Soviet Union’s dissolution in the 1990s. Although Karabakh falls within Azerbaijan’s recognized borders, Armenian forces have held sway there since 1994. A recent war in 2020 saw all territories surrounding the enclave snatched back by Azerbaijani forces, holding ominous implications for the security of the ethnic Armenians in the region.
In a bid to ensure their safety, three thousand Russian peacekeepers were deployed; however, pointed observations by Armenia’s Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, suggest that Russia appeared disinclined or incapable of maintaining control over the Lachin Corridor. His remarks to La Repubblica newspaper highlighted his concerns about Russia’s seeming withdrawal from the embattled region.
He pointed a finger at Russia’s war in Ukraine, stating that Russia required arms for its campaigns, thereby making Armenia’s reliance on a single source of security a strategic miscalculation. In response to the situation, Armenia opened its doors to US forces for joint exercises this week, a move Moscow deemed as “unfriendly steps”. Despite the friction, Russia continues to keep its military base operational in Armenia.
Public sentiment was stirred when pictures emerged of Mr Pashinyan’s wife, Anna Hakobyan, meeting Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, in Kyiv, adding fuel to the already smoldering tension. Her visit, ostensibly to deliver humanitarian aid and support the local Armenian community, was viewed as Armenia’s stand against an ongoing full-scale Russian war.
Armenia’s membership in the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, Russia’s military alliance, is further complicated by Mr Pashinyan’s pronouncements, considering disengaging from the alliance if the CSTO withdrew from his country.
Despite blatant fractures in their relationship, President Vladimir Putin refuted Armenia’s disassociation with Russia. In a shocking assertion during an economic forum in Vladivostok, he stated that Yerevan had essentially acknowledged Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over the enclave.
With ethnic cleansing looming on the horizon, all eyes turn to Nagorno-Karabakh, anticipating respite for its beleaguered residents and lasting resolution to the ongoing conflict.