“We are not speaking about a looming crisis anymore; we speak about an ongoing humanitarian disaster,” Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan told an emergency session of the Vienna-based Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. “The mediaeval practices should be ceased. This cannot continue if we are serious about values and principles.
“The international community in general and the OSCE in particular cannot remain silent simply because the lives of 120 thousand people are at stake,” he said.
Armenia initiated the meeting to draw greater international attention to the seven-month blockade of Karabakh’s sole land link with the outside world, which has led to severe shortages of food, medicine, fuel and other essential items in the region.
Azerbaijan has also cut off Armenia’s supplies of electricity and natural gas to Karabakh. The humanitarian crisis deteriorated after Baku blocked on June 15 relief supplies carried out, in limited amounts, by Russian peacekeepers and the Red Cross.
“Prior to the blockade, around 90 percent of all consumed food was imported from Armenia, and with every passing day the people of Nagorno-Karabakh don’t receive 400 tons of essential goods,” said Mirzoyan. “Furthermore, by using force and the threat of force, Azerbaijan continues to obstruct agricultural activities on approximately 10,000 hectares of land adjacent to the line of contact, which constitutes a significant portion of [Karabakh’s] total cultivated land.”
“As a result, today the people of Nagorno-Karabakh are on the verge of hunger and starvation,” he warned.
The United States, the European Union and Russia have repeatedly called for an end to the blockade. Moscow said late last week that it could have “the most dramatic consequences” for the local population.
Baku has rejected such appeals, denying the humanitarian crisis. It has offered to supply Karabakh with basic necessities from Azerbaijan proper. Karabakh’s leadership has rejected the offer as a cynical ploy designed to facilitate the restoration of Azerbaijani control over the Armenian-populated territory.
Mirzoyan said that the blockade could also “seriously harm” ongoing Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations on a bilateral peace treaty. But he stopped short of threatening to suspend the talks if Baku remains adamant in keeping Karabakh cut off from the outside world.
Mirzoyan also reaffirmed Yerevan’s readiness to recognize Azerbaijani sovereignty over Karabakh through the treaty. “The respect for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan should not and could not be anyhow misinterpreted and used as a license for ethnic cleansings in Nagorno-Karabakh,” he added.
Domestic critics of the Armenian government say the recognition openly pledged by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian in May only emboldened Baku to tighten the noose around Karabakh. They are also highly skeptical about Yerevan’s insistence on an internationally mediated dialogue between Baku and Stepanakert on “the rights and security” of Karabakh’s population.