Frozen kids in hospital. The siege cuts off the heating in Karabakh

Stepanakert, the capital of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region between Armenia and Azerbaijan, is suffering from a shortage of goods in shops and pharmacies, as Azeris cut a vital corridor to deliver goods to the region that has seen two wars since collapse of the Soviet Union.

Since December 12, people posing as environmental activists protesting illegal mines have occupied the Lachin Pass, a 32-kilometer mountain road linking Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia. But Yerevan sees this as an act of Azerbaijan aimed at destabilizing it.

On Friday, Agence France-Presse met with some residents of Stepanakert who recounted the details of their daily lives, summed up by power and internet outages, problems with heating and access to food and medicine.

“People are dying psychologically and morally,” says Erna Gasparyan, a human resources officer, “We have no light, gas is sometimes cut off. Children have neither food nor fruit.”

For her part, the unemployed Marina Ignatieva says: “We are cold. We have small children, I have a one-month-old grandson and we are in a very bad situation.”

As for the reporter in retired Michael Adjian, feels more optimistic and says, “We are resolute.”

He admits that the situation is “very difficult”, adding: “There is no more public transport… and the internet is cut off”.

“We get electricity intermittently. Imagine how cold it is in the apartments,” he says, as temperatures now drop to minus nine degrees at night in the city in high above sea level.

For Adjian, Azeris are “trying to break us,” adding, “but we can’t stand the cold, hunger and all that.”

Hospital without heating

About 120,000 people live in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which the international community sees as part of Azerbaijan, but which seceded from the Soviet Union after its collapse.

Armenia and Azerbaijan clashed in a war in the early 1990s that killed 30,000 people and ended in victory for the Armenians.

A second war took place, killing 6,500 people in the fall of 2020 and allowing Baku to recapture swathes of territory.

The holding forces of pace Russians were deployed on the ground after the second war between the two countries. However, Armenia has accused Russian forces of failing to prevent closure of the Lachin Corridor, while Moscow is preoccupied with war in Ukraine.

At Arevik Children’s Hospital in Stepanakert, chief physician Karen Melkonian is worried about a “humanitarian catastrophe”, especially as she sees children freezing in hospital beds.

To address the shortage, the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities have rationed energy, leaving several neighborhoods without electricity for hours, including the neighborhood where the hospital is located.

Even though some buildings are powered by generators, sometimes they run out of fuel.

“The hospital cools down very quickly, with temperatures below minus eight degrees,” says Karen Melkonian, adding: “There are a large number of children under one in hospital”.

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