YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — The International Committee of the Red Cross said Monday that it shipped badly needed flour and medical supplies to an ethnic Armenian region within Azerbaijan that has been suffering under a road blockade since late last year.
The region, Nagorno-Karabakh, has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces, backed by Armenia, since the end of a separatist war in 1994. They also took control of sizable areas outside Nagorno-Karabakh itself, but Azerbaijan regained those territories in a six-week war in 2020.
That war left Nagorno-Karabakh with only a single road connection to Armenia. Since December, Azerbaijan largely blocked the road amid allegations that Armenia was using it for illicit weapons shipments and mineral extraction.
The closure caused severe food shortages for Nagorno-Karabakh's approximately 120,000 people. Azerbaijan proposed using a road that reaches the region from the opposite direction, but Nagorno-Karabakh authorities resisted, claiming it was a strategy for Azerbaijan to take control of the region.
On Monday, flour was shipped in via the road from Armenia and medical and hygiene supplies came in from Azerbaijan, the ICRC said.
“We are extremely relieved that many people reliant on humanitarian aid will finally receive much-needed support in the coming days,” said Ariane Bauer, ICRC’s regional director for Europe and Central Asia. “Health structures are lacking medical supplies. People are queueing for hours for bread. They urgently need sustained relief through regular humanitarian shipments."
However, David Babayan, a spokesman for the Nagorno-Karabakh president, said the shipments do not mean the roads are fully open, and that Monday's deliveries were necessary as “a small drop of aid,” according to the Armenian news portal News.am. Babayan said about 20 tons of flour came from the Armenian side.
Last month, Armenia requested a U.N Security Council emergency meeting to discuss the humanitarian conditions in Nagorno-Karabakh.