Since December 12, 2022, Azerbaijan has been illegally blockading Artsakh, an area historically populated by Armenians but claimed by Azerbaijan. For the last eight months, the ongoing blockade has severely impeded the supply of vital goods, leaving Artsakh’s population of 120,000, including 30,000 children, isolated and vulnerable to various existential and security threats.
The humanitarian catastrophe in Artsakh deteriorates day by day. The entire population is on the brink of starvation, deprived of access to food, essential goods, and fuel, as humanitarian aid has been completely blockaded by Azerbaijan since June 15 in an attempt to eliminate the Armenian population and take over the region.
The consequences of the blockade have been further exacerbated for rural villagers. They now face severe shortage of essentials like seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, fuel, spare parts, and other necessities. Moreover, Azerbaijani soldiers have repeatedly shot at agrarian workers in order to intimidate them, as well as further tighten their net of starvation and deprivation around Artsakh.
Robert Movsisyan, father of four young children, resides in the village of Chankatagh some hundred meters from the Azerbaijani positions. He provides the outside world with a glimpse into his family’s “normal” daily life, stating, “When the Azerbaijanis open fire, my three-year-old twins, Mary and Mery, sprint from the playground in to the house.”
Chankatagh is located approximately 67 km away from Stepanakert, the capital of Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh. The villagers consider Saint George’s Church, built at the beginning of the 17th century and surrounded by medieval khachkar headstones, to be their spiritual safeguard amid the challenging circumstances they face.
Robert Movsisyan in his cultivated field
Chankatagh and surrounding villages are directly targeted by Azerbaijani forces. The village is constantly menaced by shelling, civilians and soldiers alike. On the night of June 28, Azerbaijani forces opened fire using UAV guided artillery, killing four Armenian servicemen.
In the aftermath of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, Chankatagh faces significant challenges. According to Sasun Vanyan, a community leader, most of the village’s arable land came under the control of Azerbaijan. “Out of the 101 hectares of arable land in the community, the villagers cultivated only 13 hectares, and the arable land under our control is under the watch of Azerbaijani soldiers,” Vanyan stated in an interview. Moreover, not only are the villagers disallowed from sowing crops, but they are also banned from gathering grass as fodder for domestic animals. Additionally, due to the blockade, they cannot finish the construction of artesian wells, crucial for the irrigation and water supply of the village. The work has stopped due to the lack of fuel and building materials, leaving the villagers without a reliable water source or hope.
Most of the villagers formerly worked in the Kashen copper mine. However, due to Azerbaijan’s targeting of the mine, operations were suspended and 2,000 employees lost their jobs. Among the unemployed is Movsisyan who, despite challenges, is determined to find alternative means of livelihood. Movsisyan cultivates the family owned plot of land with potatoes, beans, and tomatoes. However, cultivating the vegetable garden is not easy under the conditions of shooting and lack of irrigation water.
Armine, Robert’s wife, recounts the hardships inflicted by the blockade: the disruption of gas and electricity as well as empty shops. The limited water, which should be used sparingly and for domestic purposes, and to irrigate the vegetable garden near the house.
Despite the numerous difficulties, the young couple is not complaining. “All the difficulties can be overcome, but it is impossible to accept the reality that your children are playing under enemy fire,” says the mother.
They express their strong attachment to the village, stating, “Where shall we go? This is where my family was created, where we built our home. This is where I want to raise my children.”
“If there is peace, we will create everything ourselves, with our own hands, in our home, in our homeland.”
Several kilometers away from Chankatagh is the village of Kichan, which has also been targeted by Azerbaijanis. According to Mayor Arto Hakobyan, most of the arable land around the community is now overseen by Azerbaijan. As a result, the once-thriving industry of animal husbandry, which was the primary livelihood for the villagers, has been severely impacted.
“Before the war, we had more than 500 cattle in the village, now there are only 16 left,” Hakobyan said. The mayor also commented, “The cattle either pass under Azerbaijan’s control land and never return, or the enemy steals them. Unfortunately there are no borders or boundaries for cattle, cattle do not know the enemy.”
Irina Baghdasaryan with her children in your home, Kichan Village, Artsakh
38-year-old Irina Baghdasaryan is a mother of five, widowed during the 2020 war. Being a single mother, she faces immense challenges that have only been exacerbated by the skyrocketing cost of essential goods amid the blockade. However, as in neighboring Chankatagh, Irina’s most pressing concern is the issue of security. The echoes of war persist for Irina and her children; the shootings and explosions on the night of June 28 were so close that they feared the war had resumed. “The shots were so strong that windows were shattered by the blast wave. I relived the war once more, this time without my husband,” she said with a trembling voice.
The safety of her children is a top priority for Irina. Her 13-year-old daughter underwent a serious surgery and requires close medical supervision and a stress-free environment for recovery. Danger from late night explosions as well as the inaccessibility of fuel made getting to a hospital to ensure Irina’s recovery extremely difficult.
“We will adapt and overcome every difficulty, I am not even complaining about the shortage, but I cannot have peace without the possibility of raising my children in a safe environment.”
Azerbaijan is purposefully creating an unlivable environment for the Armenians of Artsakh through their ongoing blockade and consistent low-level attacks. Despite Azerbaijan’s best efforts, however, the Armenians are defiantly staying where they are. The Armenians’ courage is admirable, but they need Western help. After all, worrying that your child might not survive the playground because Azerbaijani soldiers may shoot them should never be normal.
Saint George’s Church 1609, Chankatagh Village, Martakert District, Artsakh