European Churches urge action for humanitarian crisis in Upper Karabakh
By Lisa Zengarini
The European Churches have reiterated their appeal for lifting the ongoing blockade of Upper Karabakh in the Southern Caucasus region by reopening the Lachin Corridor.
The Corridor is the only road that links the Armenian enclave (also referred to as Artsakh by Armenians) to the Republic of Armenia.
Despite the trilateral ceasefire agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia brokered by Russia in November 2020, the movement of people, vehicles and goods to and from the territory has been blocked by Azerbaijan since 12 December 2022.
Major humanitarian crisis
The over seven-month blockade is seriously affecting the lives and living conditions of 120,000 ethnic Armenians living there, including 30,000 children, who are lacking food, medication, electricity, and fuel.
“This is a crime against humanity,” said Raphaël Bedros XXI Minassian, the Patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenians, in a message to the Sir news agency. “There are children, elderly people, sick people, hungry people and in this desperate scenario nobody is doing anything,” the Patriarch lamented.
The Conference of European Churches (CEC) and the World Council of Churches (WCC) have also expressed their concerns for the humanitarian crisis in Upper Karabakh, and reiterated the need for urgent and immediate action by the international community.
“The humanitarian crisis in the blockaded enclave of Upper-Karabakh (Artsakh) is escalating into tragic levels of experiences with the prolonged deprivations and sufferings of civilians,” reads a joint letter they addressed last week to the European Union. “Their fundamental human rights are increasingly violated on a daily basis”.
Need for Armenia and Azerbaijan to normalize their relations
The WCC and the CEC therefore urge the European Union and the entire international community “to step up immediately their efforts and act without delay to bring the blockade to an end in order to save the lives of the Artsakh residents and to restore and respect their fundamental rights and freedoms.”
The letter also emphasizes the crucial need for Armenia and Azerbaijan to normalize their relations after decades of hostilities through a “sustained dialogue” between Baku and the breakaway Republic of Artsakh.
“We reiterate our firm conviction that lasting peace could be built only on the genuine commitment of all interested parties in negotiations who take seriously the full observance of all human rights and the fundamental freedom of all people based on mutual trust and respect,” said the letter.
Border conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan
The border conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Upper Karabakh and surrounding districts has its origins in the early 20th century.
However, it broke out into a full-scale war in the early 1990s following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. That war was won by Armenia resulting in the expulsion of Azerbaijanis from the Armenian-controlled areas.
The "Second Nagorno-Karabakh War" in late 2020 resulted instead in a clear-cut military victory by Azerbaijan, which regained all of the occupied territories surrounding Upper Karabakh as well as capturing one-third of Upper Karabakh itself.
Since the ceasefire mediated by Russia, skirmishes have continued and tensions have continued leading to the blockade of the Lachin corridor.