“Humanitarian terrorism” in Artsakh, population deprived of gas supply again

Artsakh authorities claim that Azerbaijan has disrupted the supply of natural gas from Armenia for the second time in two weeks, leaving the people of Artsakh without heating in sub-zero temperatures.

The pipeline was first damaged on March 8, depriving nearly 120,000 residents of heating and hot water and forcing schools and medical centers to close. The Russian peacekeeping mission in Artsakh mediated an agreement to allow sapper groups of the Artsakh State Emergency Service to restore the pipeline. However, the Azerbaijani side prohibited access to the damaged section of the pipeline, which runs through Azerbaijani-controlled territory near Shushi. 

Artsakh receives its energy supply from Armenia through a single natural gas pipeline that runs parallel to the Lachin corridor. Parts of the pipeline now traverse territories controlled by Azerbaijan following the cession of land after the 2020 Artsakh War. 

On March 19, Artsakh authorities announced that restoration work on the pipeline had commenced. Volunteers from Yerevan also delivered canisters of gas to Stepanakert in the meantime. 

However, on the evening of March 21, the natural gas supply was once again interrupted, which leaders of the republic blamed on Azerbaijani intervention. 

“We have sufficient grounds to assume that during repairs of the gas pipeline that was damaged on March 8, the Azerbaijani side installed a valve that stopped the gas supply a few hours ago,” the NKR InfoCenter said in a statement on Monday. “Adverse weather conditions serve Azerbaijan’s insidious purpose of creating additional humanitarian problems for our population, which is a crime.”

The Russian peacekeeping force was immediately informed of the damage to the gas pipeline, according to the NKR InfoCenter. The Russian peacekeeping contingent is holding talks with the Azerbaijani side regarding the restoration of the pipeline, Lusine Avanesyan, the press secretary of the president of Artsakh, told reporters on Tuesday. 

The interruption to the gas supply has forced residents to rely on electricity for heating. The NKR InfoCenter urged residents to use electricity “as economically as possible, to avoid power outages.” 

While residents have been left without heating, Artsakh has been submerged in subzero temperatures and unusually heavy snowfall. Parts of Artsakh have been blanketed in up to three feet of snow, resulting in road closures.  

Artsakh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has accused Azerbaijan of committing “humanitarian terrorism.”

“This heinous act is another demonstration of hatred and nationalism,” the Artsakh Foreign Ministry wrote in a statement. “Azerbaijan’s misanthropic steps cannot affect the will and determination of the people of Artsakh. We will continue to live and create in our historical homeland, develop and strengthen our independent statehood.”

The MoFA of Armenia also condemned the Azerbaijani leadership and its “outrageous policy of systemic violence against the Armenians of Artsakh.” It accused Azerbaijan of also preventing the entry of international humanitarian organizations into Artsakh, creating a “humanitarian crisis.”

“The current situation emphasizes the urgency of the clear response of the international community towards preventing the humanitarian crisis, as well as the immediate and unimpeded involvement of international humanitarian organizations in Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh),” the Armenian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Two days prior, the MoFA of Armenia had also condemned Baku for inviting representatives from the United Nations office in Azerbaijan to an event in Shushi.

Azerbaijani authorities did not respond to the accusations that it had deliberately interrupted the natural gas supply to Artsakh until this week.

A spokesperson for Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry Leyla Abdullayeva dismissed the “baseless allegations” from the MoFA of Armenia on March 23. She accused the Armenian Foreign Ministry of “interfering in the internal affairs of Azerbaijan” regarding the “participation of international organizations in the event held in Azerbaijan a few days ago, and now on another topic.” She did not explicitly mention the issue of the gas supply.

“We recommend that instead of making unfounded and illegal accusations, Armenia should ensure the fulfillment of its obligations, including the withdrawal of the remnants of its armed forces from the region, and thus contribute to regional peace and security,” Abdullayeva told reporters on Wednesday.

The chief of the general staff of the Azerbaijani Army Karim Valiyev met with the deputy commander-in-chief of the Russian ground forces on Tuesday. The sides discussed the “process of withdrawal of illegal Armenian armed groups from the territory of Azerbaijan,” according to a statement from the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan.

The European Union expressed its concern regarding “reports of a renewed disruption of the gas supply to Stepanakert” on Wednesday. A spokesperson for external affairs Peter Stano said that the EU had “encouraged Azerbaijan’s active engagement” following the first disruption on March 8, leading to repair works and the resumption of the gas supply.

“There is an urgent need to ensure the immediate resumption of the gas supply to the affected local population, in particular in the context of the dire weather conditions, and the EU calls on the authorities in control to allow this to happen,” Stano said in a statement.

The issues with a gas supply are unfolding against the backdrop of heightened tensions along the Artsakh border. Azerbaijan’s military fired on various civilian communities of Artsakh early in March. In February, videos spread on social media depicting Azerbaijani forces ordering Armenian civilians to evacuate border villages in Artsakh by loudspeaker.

Earlier this month, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry submitted a five-point proposal for peace talks with Armenia. The five points include mutual recognition of each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual affirmation of the absence of territorial claims to each other and a legally binding obligation not to make such claims in the future, refraining from threatening each other’s security, delimitation, and demarcation of the border and unblocking of communication and transport links.

While Armenia’s Foreign Ministry accepted the five points, officials say the proposal does not address the status of Artsakh and the rights and security of its Armenian residents. Armenia’s Foreign Ministry announced that it had applied to the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs to “organize negotiations on the signing of a peace agreement” between the two countries “based on the UN Charter, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Helsinki Final Act.”

On March 23, Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan said that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has “sharply complicated the work of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs up to the level of joint discussions.”

“Based on very specific, certain signals and messages that I have been receiving from the co-chair countries and many other countries, I want to reaffirm that the international community continues to see the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the context of the Minsk Group co-chairmanship,” he said during a parliamentary question-and-answer session.

Lillian Avedian armenianweekly.com

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