A leading politician serving the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) has strongly echoed the Pope Francis' concerns about the humanitarian situation in the fragile region.
In an interview with CNA, Ruben Vardanyan, State Minister of Artsakh, said that the international community must act in order to prevent a “humanitarian catastrophe” resulting from the blockade of the Lachin Corridor, which links the enclave of Nagarno-Karabakh with neighboring Armenia.
Vardanyan told CNA Deutsch on Dec. 20: “If the Lachin corridor is not unblocked in the upcoming days, states and international organizations should start to organize flights to Artsakh using a humanitarian air corridor to get to Stepanakert. This will certainly prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in Artsakh.”
Approximately 120,00 Armenians, including 30,000 children, live in Nagarno-Karabakh, which they refer to as the Republic of Artsakh. It is reported that due to Azerbaijan’s blockade of the Lachin Corridor, individuals cannot access basic necessities, such as food and medicines, and families have been separated from one another.
In an Angelus address before Christmas on Dec. 18, Pope Francis expressed his concern about the situation: “I am concerned about the precarious humanitarian conditions of the people, which are in further danger of deteriorating during the winter season.”
In his interview with CNA, Vardanyan accused Azerbaijan of trying to create a humanitarian crisis in the unstable region. He said: “As you know, since Dec. 12, Azerbaijan has blocked the Lachin corridor, which is the only road between Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh) and the outside world.
“We made several suggestions to negotiate and try to find a solution without keeping as hostages 120,000 people, but unfortunately Azerbaijan aims to create humanitarian catastrophe in Artsakh, which will be an additional tool to force Armenians to leave their homeland," he continued.
"With the support of the entire international community, we need to put more pressure on Azerbaijan, because we can’t put in danger the lives of 120,000 people. We have 30,000 kids living in Artsakh, who have the right to have a normal, peaceful life.”
Vardanyan also said that the Republic of Artsakh was significant for Christians everywhere. He told CNA: “Artsakh is not important only to the Armenian people. It’s a significant place for the entire Christian world. Artsakh carries a 1,700-Year Christian heritage. We are grateful to all those who called upon Azerbaijan to unblock the corridor, which is truly a road of life for 120,000 people.”
He added that the road map to peace must begin with unblocking the pivotal corridor.
“Azerbaijan should unblock the Lachin corridor,” he began. “Then, with an establishment of certain international mechanisms we are ready for a dialogue with Baku. We always prefer negotiations and discussions. The coercive measures taken by Azerbaijan to put psychological and physical pressure on people on an everyday basis and force them to leave Artsakh are going to fail.
"People here are strong-willed and stubborn; they will never give in to pressure," he said.
Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but is a disputed territory subject to peace talks mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group.
In 2020, a war broke out in Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding region. The result was a trilateral ceasefire agreement between Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russia, which compelled Armenia to return all the remaining occupied territories surrounding Nagorono-Karabakh and stated that “the Republic of Azerbaijan shall guarantee the safety of traffic of citizens, vehicles, and goods along the Lachin corridor in both directions.”
“Currently the situation is hard, but we try to keep it under control, stay strong and endure as long as it’s possible until international calls and pressure bring tangible results forcing Azerbaijan to implement its obligations, which are fixed in international conventions and November 9th trilateral statement back in 2020," Vardanyan explained.
"Azerbaijan has a duty not to create any obstacles to the connection between Artsakh and Armenia, but they probably think that international law norms can be ignored," he said.
“They never faced the consequences for initiating an aggressive war against Artsakh in 2020. Thus they feel that, in flagrant violation of the UN Charter, by using force or the threat of force, they can obtain their goals," he went on.
“With the support of the entire international community, we need to put more pressure on Azerbaijan, because we can’t put in danger the lives of 120,000 people. We have 30,000 kids living in Artsakh, who have the right to have a normal, peaceful life.”
Madeleine is the former associate editor of the Catholic Herald. She has contributed to Sky News, BBC News, Woman’s Hour, Beyond Belief and many other programmes. She is also a regular Pause For Thought contributor on BBC Radio 2.
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