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Nagorno-Karabakh: Azerbaijan sends humanitarian aid

September 22, 2023

Azerbaijan says it has sent tons of food aid and hygiene products to the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, days after a cease-fire was reached between Baku and ethnic Armenian separatists.

Man carries box at Armenia Food Bank collection point for Nagorno-Karabakh aid
Azerbaijan said it has sent humanitarian aid to the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Pictured is a collection point for aid in Yerevan, Armenia.Image: Alexander Patrin/TASS/IMAGO

Azerbaijan on Friday said it had sent 20 tons of humanitarian cargo to the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Nagorno-Karabakh is within Azerbaijan's internationally recognized borders but had been governed by ethnic Armenian separatists since a war in the 1990s, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

A cease-fire between the two parties was reached on Wednesday, and on Thursday Armenian separatists were in negotiations with the Azerbaijani government.

What aid has Azerbaijan sent to Nagorno-Karabakh?

Azerbaijan's Emergency Ministry said that the aid included two trucks full of food and hygiene products and two cars with bread.

The cargo had been sent from the western Agdam region, which borders the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory and had been occupied by Armenian separatist forces until it was retaken by Baku in 2020.

"The cargo will be delivered along the already operating Agdam-Khankedi road to its destination and will be distributed to the population," the ministry said in a statement. Khankedi is the Azerbaijani name for the main city of Nagorno-Karabakh, known in Armenian as Stepanakert.

"In the future, the delivery of similar humanitarian food cargo for Armenians in Karabakh will be ensured."

Hikmet Hajiyev, a foreign policy adviser for Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, told the Reuters news agency that the cargo had been sent at the request of local Armenians in the region.

The 120,000 people who live in Nagorno-Karabakh have faced shortages of medicine and food since Azerbaijan implemented a blockade on the main road connecting the region with Armenia last year.

Nagorno-Karabakh's ethnic Armenian leadership told the Reuters news agency on Friday that an agreement had been reached for a humanitarian convoy to enter Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia through the Lachin corridor. The corridor is part of Azerbaijan and is administered by a Russian peacekeeping force that entered the area as part of a 2020 cease-fire agreement.

A Reuters journalist reported seeing seven Russian peacekeeping vehicles enter Nagorno-Karabakh through an Armenian checkpoint.

No deal after talks in Nagorno-Karabakh

Baku to offer 'amnesty' — presidential adviser

Hajiyev said that Baku was considering offering amnesty to ethnic Armenian fighters in Nagorno-Karabakh.

"Even with regard to former militaries and combatants, if they can be classified in such a way, and even for them we are envisaging an amnesty or alluding to an amnesty as well," he said.

He said that while certain army groups will likely continue to mount resistance against Azerbaijani rule, Baku did not consider this to be a "big security challenge."

"Of course this will cause certain challenges and difficulties but not on a such a big scale," he said.

Hajiyev insisted that Baku will provide for the rights and security of the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh in line with the constitution of Azerbaijan. He added that Azerbaijan will ensure that Armenian civilians can safely evacuate Nagorno-Karabakh in their own vehicles.

While Azerbaijan's constitution enshrines the rights of ethnic minorities to use their languages, it does not contemplate any specific form of territorial autonomy for the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Baku abolished Nagorno-Karabakh's autonomy in 1991 after regional lawmakers voted to join Armenia.

Meanwhile, Armenian separatist leaders said on Friday that there were as of yet no concrete results in talks on security guarantees or amnesty for Nagorno-Karabakh fighters.

Ethnic Armenians flee Nagorno-Karabakh as ceasefire fails

Armenia open to thousands of refugees

Also on Friday, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that preparations had been made to accommodate tens of thousands of Armenian refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh if it becomes impossible for them to stay there.

"If the situation doesn't improve, then the [refugee] problem will be on our agenda," he was cited by Russian official news agency RIA Novosti as saying. He added that there were 40,000 spaces available for refugee accommodation and that access to food and medicine had been ensured.

However, he said that his primary goal was "to make sure our compatriots have the possibility to live in their homes without fear, in safety."

"There is a hope that the humanitarian situation could improve," he said.

Nagorno-Karabakh civilians evacuated by Russian peacekeepers at temporary accommodation point
Yerevan says it could take in tens of thousands of ethnic Armenian refugeesImage: Russian Defence Ministry/TASS/IMAGO

Opposition rallies continue in Yerevan

Anti-government protesters took to the streets in Armenia's capital on Friday over the government's handling of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Mass rallies broke out on Wednesday after Nagorno-Karabakh separatist forces agreed to lay down their arms.

Opposition parties have accused Pashinyan of making too many concessions to Azerbaijan and are demanding he resign.

On Friday, smaller groups of protesters blocked streets across Yerevan and vowed to hamper a cabinet meeting set to be held later in the day. During the protests, police detained organizer and lawmaker Andranik Tevenyan, who belongs to the opposition Armenia Alliance faction.

sdi/rs (Reuters, Interfax, AFP)