Azerbaijan said it was delivering food and other humanitarian aid to Nagorno-Karabakh on Friday, two days after the region's ethnic Armenian separatist government called a cease-fire in a short but intense fight with Azerbaijani forces.
Nagorno-Karabakh's 120,000 people have suffered severe shortages of food and medicine since late last year when a blockade began of the road connecting the region to Armenia. Improving the supply of food and other basic needs will be a key issue in building stability in the region, which is within Azerbaijan but had been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces since 1994.
Azerbaijan on Tuesday launched intense fire on Armenian positions in what it called an “anti-terrorist operation,” demanding that the Armenians lay down their arms and the separatist government disband. A day later, Nagorno-Karabakh authorities agreed to the military demands, but talks on how the region will be reintegrated into Azerbaijan have not reached final agreement.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Friday said at a government meeting that there was no immediate need for the region's ethnic Armenians to leave their homes, but said Armenia is prepared to receive as many as 40,000 evacuees if needed.
Azerbaijan's emergencies ministry said two 20-ton trucks with food and hygiene products as well as two trucks with bread were dispatched to Nagorno-Karabakh on Friday, travelling on the road from Aghdam, which lies east of the region. Supplies for Nagorno-Karabakh previously had come from Armenia, to the west.
Jeyhun Bayramov, Azerbaijan's foreign minister, said at the United Nations on Thursday that his country is determined to guarantee Nagorno-Karabakh residents “all rights and freedoms” in line with the country’s constitution and international human rights obligations, including safeguards for ethnic minorities. Talks with Nagorno-Karabakh in the Azerbaijani city of Yevlakh will continue, he said.
Nagorno-Karabakh came under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by the Armenian military in separatist fighting that ended in 1994. Armenian forces also took control of substantial territory around the Azerbaijani region.
Azerbaijan regained control of the surrounding territory in a six-week war with Armenia in 2020. A Russia-brokered armistice ended the war, and a contingent of 2,000 Russian peacekeepers was sent to the region to monitor it.
The agreement left the region’s capital, Stepanakert, connected to Armenia only by the Lachin Corridor, along which Russian peacekeepers were supposed to ensure free movement. But a blockade by Azerbaijan deprived Nagorno-Karabakh of basic supplies for the last 10 months, until Monday, when the International Committee of the Red Cross was able to make a delivery via that road from Aghdam.
Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan said at the U.N. that Azerbaijan's offensive this week targeted critical infrastructure such as electricity stations, telephone cables and internet equipment, killed more than 200 people and wounded 400 others, including women and children. More than 10,000 people fled their homes to escape the offensive, he said.
Electricity and phone service were knocked out, leaving people unable to contact each other, and “Azerbaijani troops control main roads in Nagorno-Karabakh, which makes it impossible to visit and get information on the ground,” he said.
Associated Press journalists Aida Sultanova in London and Jim Heintz in Tallinn, Estonia, contributed to this report.