After Azerbaijan tightened its blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh and two ethnic Armenian children died, locals say the situation is reaching a critical point.
“I don't want to sound pathetic, but all I have in my kitchen right now is some buckwheat," says journalist Marut Vanian, who shared with RFE/RL photos from his Nagorno-Karabakh apartment shot on July 18.
Vanian is one of more than 100,000 ethnic Armenians effectively under siege inside the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but predominantly populated by ethnic Armenians.
A blockade of the region that has been in place since December was dramatically ramped up by Baku over the past month, pushing the region to the brink of a massive humanitarian crisis.
Gas has been shut off, and since June 15 no supplies are being allowed past a checkpoint that Azerbaijan recently set up on the Lachin Corridor, the primary road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia.
Previously, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was permitted to carry some essential supplies, and transport seriously ill medical patients through the blockade.
Baku has justified shutting the road by saying “various types of contraband," including mobile phones, cigarettes, and gasoline had been discovered in Red Cross vehicles coming from Armenia.
In a statement, the aid organization responded that “no unauthorized material has been found in any vehicle belonging to the ICRC,” but added, "we regret that without our knowledge four hired drivers tried to transport some commercial goods in their own vehicles which were temporarily displaying the ICRC emblem.”
“The last week has been the most difficult time of the blockade,” Vanian says. “There is nothing but alcohol in the supermarkets and small businesses and shops just closed and [the owners] went home.”
“Bread, which should be on the table of every Armenian three times a day, is hard to buy. You have to stand in line for hours in front of the bakery in order to buy two loaves.”
On July 8, the bodies of two children were discovered inside a car in the north of Nagorno-Karabakh after their single mother walked to a nearby town to receive an allowance of cooking oil and sugar. The young siblings -- a girl aged 6 and her 3-year-old brother -- apparently went looking for their mother before seeking refuge in an unlocked car during the hot summer evening. The cause of their deaths inside the vehicle has not yet been determined.
At a rally in Stepanakert on July 14, thousands of people gathered to protest the blockade amid an increasing sense of despair. “What are you waiting for?” one speaker rhetorically asked the international community during the rally. “Do you need to see corpses in this square every day before you respond?”
Baku sees the de facto government of Nagorno-Karabakh as illegal occupants of its internationally recognized territory and has called for the Stepanakert leadership to step down.
Azerbaijan says Armenians in the mountainous region will be afforded the rights of all other Azerbaijani citizens if Baku establishes control. But several brutal murders of ethnic Armenians blamed on Azerbaijani soldiers has left some observers fearing the worst if control of the region is handed back to Baku.
Vanian says Karabakh Armenians are not yet openly talking about leaving the region for Armenia, “but many understand that they cannot take care of a child in such conditions. After all, [children] need vitamins and a happy life.” But, the journalist says, “others say they are prepared to eat only greens, as long as they live in their own houses, as long as there is no war," in the hope the situation can be resolved.
Nagorno-Karabakh's de facto President Arayik Harutyunian said on July 17, while using the Armenian name for the region, that, "if the situation for the people of Artsakh does not return to a more or less stable and normal course within a week with international intervention, we will resort to tougher actions both in Artsakh and beyond."
It is unclear what actions the official is vowing to take.