Humanitarian Crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh and Forced Displacements: Call to Action

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We, at the Women’s Fund Armenia and CEECCNA Collaborative Fund, are closely following the further developments and the unfolding of the humanitarian and human rights crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Following a 9-month-long blockade in Nagorno-Karabakh(NK)/Artsakh that had already triggered a severe humanitarian crisis, the Azerbaijani Government launched a large-scale offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh on September 19 resulting in Azerbaijan taking full control over the territory. This development has directly impacted the lives of 120,000 ethnic Armenians residing in the NK region given the decades-long conflict and ethnic tension, having no trust in the Azerbaijani government’s care and concern for the safety and well-being of Armenians in NK.

This statement builds on our previous call for action and offers highlights of the latest updates, current needs, and a call for action for the international community.

Ongoing Developments
Since September 19, the electricity supply was abruptly cut off, communication cables were severely impacted, and amidst the chaos, numerous people lost contact with their family members. For several days, the population had to endure extremely harsh conditions, sleeping in the vicinity of the airport, in the open air, without access to food and necessities, all while fervently demanding evacuation.

Regrettably, the attack has resulted in significant casualties, with 200 people killed and 400 injured. Among these casualties, there are 10 civilian fatalities, including 5 children, and 40 wounded civilians, with 13 of them being children. The Armenian population in Nagorno-Karabakh had to abandon their homes due to the deteriorating safety conditions and concerns about long-term safety and persecution under Azerbaijani control of the land, which are already underway. They demanded an evacuation and safe passage to Armenia.

On September 25th, around midnight, Armenians were allowed to flee through the Lachin corridor to Armenia, Syunik region. As of September 29, 10:00 am Yerevan time (today, as we write this update), there are already 88,780 forcibly displaced people in Armenia, vulnerable and traumatized populations, who are waiting to be accommodated and supported. Beyond the trauma of recent attack and undignified ways of displacement, these people have been living under a nine-month blockage, already being deeply malnourished and unwell. Moreover, they are moving into the  country with limited capacities and struggling with its own economic challenges. As the influx of the Armenian population continues, there is a high risk that Azerbaijan will not allow everyone to leave peacefully and may detain those whom they consider as ‘terrorists.’ In light of some detentions that have already occurred, certain individuals have been compelled to make positive statements on camera about Azerbaijan in order to be allowed passage to Armenia.

In addition, there was also a tragic explosion at a fuel storage depot in Nagorno-Karabakh, where people had gathered to collect fuel for fleeing. As a result, there are 170 confirmed deaths, 105 are not found, probably burned to ashes and an additional 300 people have sustained injuries, with most being severely injured. Regrettably, the available medical facilities lack the capacity and necessary resources to adequately provide for their urgent medical needs.

Connecting the dots across the region

While this conflict has its particular context, there are important parallels with the current and historical context across the wider CEECCNA regions that are important to understand. The Azerbaijani Government has labeled this attack as an “anti-terrorist” operation, resembling the terminology that the Russian Federation uses to describe their full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Furthermore, the Russian so-called “Peacekeeping” forces, which have been stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh since the second Nagorno-Karabakh war in 2020, haven’t fully proven effective in ensuring the safety and security of the Armenian population. During this time, the Azerbaijani Government has systematically silenced voices advocating for non-violence and peace among individual Azerbaijani activists. The Azerbaijani authorities have arbitrarily arrested 5 activists, who spoke out against Azerbaijan’s military offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh. That is a textbook tactic employed by the strong-man regimes across the region. In this critical moment, we stand in solidarity with activists in and from Azerbaijan speaking up, despite the risks posed by their government.

Pressing Needs

In our previous correspondence, we outlined the ongoing needs of communities in NK. Given the full-scale takeover of the NK by Azerbaijan, we have more extensive discussions with local organizations in Armenia. It has become alarmingly clear that there are pressing and immediate basic humanitarian needs such as a range of gender-sensitive hygiene products, essential clothing, warm jackets, vital medical supplies, foldable beds, sheets, blankets, heaters, psychosocial services, transportation, and various other indispensable goods and services. The Armenian Government is making efforts to accommodate the forcibly displaced population, but the influx poses significant management challenges. Both the United States and the European Union have pledged to offer urgent humanitarian aid to the ethnic Armenian population from Nagorno-Karabakh who are seeking refuge in Armenia. While it takes some time for the government and large humanitarian organizations to assess on-site needs and gradually initiate support, many local NGOs are responding with greater flexibility to address the immediate needs of the displaced population.

As we well know by observing crises and emergencies time and time again across our regions, local organizations and individuals are best positioned to offer adequate, timely, culturally appropriate response. We know that local organizations are concurrently formulating strategies for long-term crisis response mechanisms. In the meantime, we urge the donor and INGO communities to swiftly extend their solidarity and provide urgent support for the protection and welfare of those profoundly impacted by this crisis. These individuals are not only enduring severe trauma but have been left with virtually nothing to sustain themselves.

You can help with:

  1. We urge our peer networks and donor communities to disseminate this urgent appeal among your networks, donor communities, and international organizations.

  2. We call on humanitarian actors, funders and individuals to mobilize humanitarian aid and support for crisis response on the ground to go directly to the groups based in Armenia, preferably not through big international mechanisms.

  3. We encourage philanthropic organizations to recognize this situation not only as a humanitarian crisis but also as a human rights crisis that demands immediate attention and support for long-term rehabilitation, sustainable crisis response, and peacebuilding efforts.

You can support local organizations through Women’s Fund Armenia – Please see WFA’s Call to Action.

If you would like to directly resource organizations on the ground, feel free to consider:

  • Sose Women’s NGO in Goris – Providing first-hand humanitarian support to newly arrived forcibly displaced people in the Syunik region: one of the main recipients of the displaced population

  • Women’s Center Shushi – An organization previously based in NK, now working with displaced women in Armenia and providing short and long-term support

  • Women’s Agenda – Coordinating joint gender-responsive early warning efforts and providing crisis-response through working with journalists and international stakeholders

  • Women’s Resource Center – Providing emergency kits, gender-sensitive hygiene products and focusing on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of displaced women

  • Armavir Development Center – Primary needs assessment and psychosocial support to the displaced population from NK

  • Frontline Youth Network – Working with local government representatives to help them respond to crisis and receive the displaced people in regional towns

  • FemForward NGO – Providing emergency support to women in Gegharkunik region

  • Spitak Helsinki Group – Providing psycho-social support and kits with essential hygiene products to displaced groups, particularly women in the Lori region

  • Queer Sista platform – Safe space, trauma-healing psychosocial support and art therapy for LBQ community.

If you would like to engage in a conversation about the crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh, please contact us at (Women’s Fund Armenia) and (CEECCNA Collaborative Fund).

Women’s Fund Armenia and CEECCNA Collaborative Fund