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Humanitarian Crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh: Call to Action

Dear friends and colleagues,

We are writing as Women’s Fund Armenia and the CEECCNA Collaborative Fund to draw your attention to the ongoing humanitarian and human rights crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK)/Artsakh. As feminist funders, we are committed to putting this underreported and underfunded crisis on the map of philanthropic institutions, raising awareness of the latest developments, and mobilizing action for communities in the conflict zone and in forced displacement. 

This crisis, along with other protracted conflicts and emergencies, is in breach of the right to live in peace enshrined in the international human rights law. Recognizing that peace is beyond the absence of violence and conflict and implies equity, respect, justice, promotion, and protection of human rights, dignity for all, and access to essential services and that the right to live in peace is increasingly being recognized through international human rights framework, bold actions should be taken to restore the rights of people in NK and displaced communities to live in peace.

Below we are offering a brief summary of what is happening in Nagorno-Karabakh, including the lived experiences and needs of people impacted by the conflict, as well as some of our suggestions with regards to what could be done to address it.

Current context

Following the Second Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) war in September 2020, the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan remains unresolved, with ongoing incidents of attacks against Nagorno-Karabakh and the sovereign territories of Armenia. Since December 2022, the only road that connects Armenia with Nagorno-Karabakh has been blockaded, leaving 120,000 ethnic Armenians in isolation from the rest of the world for more than 270 days now. This includes 60,000 women, 9,000 persons with disabilities, and 20,000 seniors. Even with the Orders from the International Court of Justice on February 22 and July 6, 2023, explicitly instructing the Republic of Azerbaijan to guarantee unimpeded movement of individuals, vehicles, and goods along the Lachin Corridor in both directions, the corridor remains closed. 

This humanitarian emergency has caused severe shortages of essential food, medical supplies, hygiene products, fuel, electricity, gas, and other basic necessities for people to survive. As of June 15, 2023, Azerbaijan has banned the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) from delivering any kind of humanitarian aid.

The rapidly deteriorating situation resulted in massive threats to the human security of the population, particularly women, children, LGBTI people, individuals with different health conditions, people with disabilities, and other groups with disadvantaged backgrounds. 

The situation in Nagorno-Karabakh is undergoing rapid changes. After Azerbaijan initially blocked the Armenian and French humanitarian convoys to Nagorno-Karabakh through the Lachin corridor, they later allowed the truck from the Russian Red Cross Society loaded with food and humanitarian supplies to enter NK, via Aghdam road on the Azerbaijani side on September 12. An agreement has been reached to facilitate the resumption of humanitarian deliveries by the ´Russian peacekeepers´ and the International Committee of the Red Cross along the Lachin Corridor. While implementation of these political agreements is yet to be seen, the past 9 months have been of extreme hardship for the ethnic Armenian population in NK:

Food insecurity: Due to ongoing Azerbaijani shelling, agricultural work has stopped as civilians are afraid to work in their fields, and starting from August 21st, bakeries ceased their supply of bread due to a lack of flour entering the region. As a result of the ongoing malnutrition, incidents of fainting continue to rise. The first instance of a death resulting from starvation was documented following an eight-month-long blockade. Single mothers have to leave their children unattended and stand in long queues to buy overpriced food or walk long distances to find grocery products to feed their children. Three-year-old Leo and six-year-old Gita were found dead while their mother left them to find food in a nearby town.

Health and hygiene: Due to a severe shortage of medical supplies and limited healthcare services, women, children, the LGBTQI community, people with disabilities, and chronic illness grapple with a severe shortage of medical supplies and access to life-saving medication, safe birth control, STI prevention, etc.  Specialized nutrition and post-natal care for women is limited: due to inadequate food availability, there has been a notable rise in premature births in NK. The prevalence of anemia among pregnant women under medical supervision has escalated to approximately 90%. There has been a significant rise of 24.3% in newly diagnosed cases of malignant neoplasms (cancer). The healthcare crisis is further deepened by the shortage of basic hygiene products, such as shampoo, toilet paper, soap, and menstruation kits and the lack of washing products for clothes has increased the risk of infections, putting thousands of people at higher risk of health vulnerability.

Energy, fuel, and transportation:  Major electricity cuts hampered the daily routines of the NK population and limited their internet access, too. Since July 25 public transportation has stopped operating due to a shortage of fuel, causing fatal consequences like the case of a pregnant woman who was unable to reach the hospital in time due to a shortage of fuel for emergency vehicles, which led to her miscarrying. Neighborhoods lacking electricity and lighting threaten the safety and security of women, LGBTI individuals, and other populations at risk.

Stress and Trauma: The local population and forcibly displaced people live under tremendously traumatic conditions, having no access to in-person or virtual psycho-social services, which exacerbates the mental health issues people have developed, having lived for over 30 years in a conflict zone. Prolonged trauma leads to consequences, including mental, somatic, and chronic diseases that people would not have encountered if they lived under peaceful conditions. Women, trans and gender non-conforming people are put at deeper risk as the blockade has intensified instances of gender-based violence and domestic abuse.

While 120,000 Armenians are facing enormous hardships in Nagorno-Karabakh, there are 30,000 forcibly displaced individuals from NK to Armenia facing psychological trauma and challenges related to acquiring legal status, housing and adequate living conditions, and minimal support or services for their post-traumatic experiences. 

Need for Immediate Attention and Urgent Action: How Can You Help?  

The current situation cannot be described as anything less than a full-on humanitarian crisis with irreversible consequences that need the immediate and bold reaction of the international community in order to prevent further escalation of the Nagorno-Karabakh humanitarian disaster. 

In consultation with civil society representatives in Armenia and from Nagorno-Karabakh, we at Women’s Fund Armenia and CEECCNA Collaborative Fund call for solidarity and action to 

  1. Enhance the visibility of the ongoing crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh through statements and solidarity calls to put pressure on international stakeholders towards unblocking the Lachin Corridor and re-establishing dignified living conditions for 120,000 ethnic Armenians living under a blockade for eight months;
  2. Engage with civil society in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh along with independent activists and activist groups in/from Azerbaijan to learn more about the context and the pressing needs on the ground; 
  3. Amplify the work of and move resources towards civil society initiatives and organizations in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as independent grassroots groups and human rights defenders in Azerbaijan and living in exile due to the systematic shrinking of civil society;  
  • Working with communities within Nagorno-Karabakh and in displacement (see our suggested list below as a starting point);
  • Addressing the trauma and providing psycho-social support and rehabilitation services to displaced people in Armenia;
  • Create and maintain safe spaces, advocate for the use of digital and other security tools to strengthen the safety and resilience of civil society  in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Nagorno-Karabakh;
  • Maintain platforms and initiatives that are creating peace dialogue among the independent non-governmental groups and individuals from Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Nagorno-Karabakh with strong anti-militaristic and peacebuilding messaging;
  • Keep finding ways to engage with independent activists in and from Azerbaijan, to support their organizing and resistance.  

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

If you would like to follow regular updates about Nagorno-Karabakh, you can check International Crisis Group, OC Media, and Feminist Peace Collective.  

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).

In solidarity,
Women’s Fund Armenia and CEECCNA Collaborative Fund