YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Authorities in an isolated ethnic Armenian region of Azerbaijan on Tuesday allowed entry of a humanitarian aid shipment in a step toward easing a dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan that has blocked transport to the region since late last year.
The region, called Nagorno-Karabakh, has been under the control of ethnic Armenians since the 1994 end of a separatist war. That war had left much of the surrounding territory under Armenian control as well, but Azerbaijan regained that territory in a six-week-long war with Armenia in 2020; Nagorno-Karabakh itself remained outside Azerbaijani control.
Under the armistice that ended the war, Russia deployed some 3,000 peacekeeping troops in Nagorno-Karabakh and were to ensure that the sole road connecting the enclave to Armenia would remain open. However, Azerbaijan began blocking the road in December, alleging Armenians were using it to ship weapons and smuggle minerals.
The blockage caused serious food shortages in Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan proposed that food be sent in on a road leading from the town of Agdam, but the region’s authorities resisted the proposal because of concern that it was a strategy to absorb Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azerbaijan agreed this week that both the Agdam road and the road to Armenia, called the Lachin Corridor, could be used for aid shipments under International Committee of the Red Cross auspices.
The aid delivered on Tuesday includes 1,000 food sets including flour, pasta and stewed meat, along with bed linen and soap.
“We regard the fact that the cargo was delivered precisely along the … road as a positive step and an important shift towards the opening of this road,” said Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Aykhan Hajizade.