First Red Cross aid convoy heads to Karabakh since Azerbaijan retakes region

First Red Cross aid convoy heads to Karabakh since Azerbaijan retakes region


First Red Cross aid convoy heads to Karabakh since Azerbaijan retakes region

NEAR KORNIDZOR, Armenia (Reuters) - An aid convoy of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) headed to Nagorno-Karabakh on Saturday, the first since Azerbaijan retook the breakaway region three days ago, as ethnic Armenians there complained of being abandoned by the world.

The Armenians of Karabakh, which is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, were forced to declare a ceasefire on Sept. 20 after a lightning 24-hour military operation by the much larger Azerbaijani military.

Under the terms of the ceasefire, Russia's defence ministry said the Armenian fighters had begun handing over their weapons to Azerbaijan - including more than 800 guns and six armoured vehicles - under Russian supervision. Moscow has about 2,000 peacekeepers in the area.

Azerbaijani officials resumed talks on Saturday with Samvel Shahramanyan, the head of the self-styled Republic of Artsakh, as the Armenians call Karabakh, Azerbaijani media reported, but no further information was immediately available.

The mountainous region is home to around 120,000 Armenians, many of whom have been without adequate food or fuel supplies for months due to an effective blockade by Azerbaijani forces.

Russia said it had delivered more than 50 tonnes of food and other aid to Karabakh.

The ICRC said it had supplied 28,000 diapers as well as blankets and fuel. A Reuters witness saw a small ICRC aid convoy approaching Armenia's border with Azerbaijan on Saturday afternoon but then journalists were ordered to leave the vicinity before the trucks crossed the frontier.

More than 20 other aid trucks, bearing Armenian number plates, have been lined up along a nearby roadside since July. Azerbaijan said at the time this convoy amounted to a "provocation" and an attack on its territorial integrity.


Azerbaijan wants to integrate the long-contested region of Karabakh and has promised to protect the Armenians' rights but says they are free to leave if they prefer. Armenians say they fear they will be persecuted if they stay.

Azerbaijan's interior ministry said on Saturday its main task was ensuring the safety of the Armenian civilian population and that it was providing them with tents, hot food and medical assistance.

"We are also working on issuing documents to the Armenian population, passports and so on," ministry spokesman Elshad Hajiyev told Reuters. "There are already people who have applied to us."

US Senator Gary Peters, who visited the Armenia-Azerbaijan border on Saturday, said the situation in Karabakh required international observers and transparency from Azerbaijan.

"I think the world needs to know exactly what's happening in there," Peters, a Democrat from Michigan, told reporters. "We've heard from the Azerbaijani government that there's nothing to see, nothing to worry about, but if that’s the case then we should allow international observers in to see."

Armenia, which lost a 2020 war to Azerbaijan over the region, has prepared space for tens of thousands of Armenians from Karabakh, including at hotels near the border, though Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan says he does not want them to leave their homes unless it is absolutely necessary.

Azerbaijan launched its "anti-terrorist" operation on Tuesday against Nagorno-Karabakh after some of its troops were killed in what Baku said were separatist attacks.

The Karabakh region was more militarised than Baku realised, Hikmet Hajiyev, foreign policy adviser to Azerbaijan's president, said on social media on Saturday, publishing a list of weapons and ammunition that had been seized in the past three days, including four tanks, 300 explosives and 441 mortar shells.