“They [Azerbaijan] want to control the road, which is unacceptable to us,” Ruben Vardanyan, the Karabakh state minister, told News.am on Thursday.
“The November 9  document makes it very clear that we shall have a free road through which we can move freely without asking for anyone’s permission,” he said, referring to the Russian-brokered agreement that stopped a six-week Armenian-Azerbaijani war.
The truce agreement placed the Lachin corridor under the control of Russian peacekeeping forces and committed Baku to guaranteeing free and safe traffic through it.
A section of the vital road used for supplying Karabakh with food and other essential items was blocked on December 12 by government-backed Azerbaijani protesters. They demanded that the Azerbaijani government be allowed to inspect “illegal” ore mines in Karabakh and assess their environmental impact.
While rejecting these demands, Karabakh’s leadership decided last week to suspend production operations at Karabakh’s sole functioning copper and molybdenum mine pending an “international ecological examination” requested by it.
Vardanyan said that Baku has still not publicly reacted to the move. He stressed that the Karabakh Armenians will not bow to the Azerbaijani pressure despite increasingly struggling with shortages of food, medicine and other essential items.
“We will endure,” he said. “We are somehow solving the issue of medicines. It’s not that we are going die of hunger, but the conditions are very difficult. This situation can continue for a long time. We are preparing for that.”
Faced with the deepening food shortages, the Karabakh authorities decided earlier this week to supply local stores with cooking oil, sugar, rice and salt from their strategic reserves. Vardanyan stressed the importance of “evenly distributing” these foodstuffs when he met with officials in Stepanakert. He praised Karabakh retailers on Thursday for making sure that a single person cannot buy more than one kilogram of each of these products.
Some Stepanakert residents complained on Thursday that not all shops have received such emergency supplies so far. They also said the authorities should issue coupons for a mandatory rationing of the basic foodstuffs.
Meanwhile, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian again condemned the “illegal” Azerbaijani blockade, saying that it is aimed at depopulating Karabakh. Pashinian said the Lachin corridor was closed primarily because “the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh continue to live in their homeland.”
He also renewed his calls for Russia to do more to unblock the road in accordance with the 2020 truce accord.
Pashinian charged last week that the Russian peacekeeping forces have become a “silent witness” to Baku’s efforts to cleanse Karabakh of its ethnic Armenian population. Moscow strongly denied that.
Vardanyan likewise rejected criticism of the peacekeepers, saying that “they are doing as much as they can.”
“The people who criticize the presence of Russian peacekeepers in Artsakh do not understand that they are consciously or unconsciously helping Azerbaijan because they say the same thing: that Russian peacekeepers should leave,” he told News.am. “By not offering any solution, they are simply helping to destroy the very important unity that exists in Artsakh.”