For over 30 years, Artsakh women have survived fierce territorial wars for the right to self-determination. With husbands and sons defending their territory amidst the first Artsakh war, a shift in traditional gender identity began, making women household heads, breadwinners, caretakers of families, and property defenders. With support from women from Armenia, women also have become peacebuilders, mediating conflicts within their villages and towns, formed NGOs, and developed peace-building and democratic rule of law programs across Artsakh.
On December 12, 2022, Azerbaijan began a blockade of Artsakh, 2,000 pregnant women, 30,000 children, 20,000 elderly, and 9,000 disabled persons had been deprived of critical food and medical supplies. Artsakh women have spent their days searching for food to feed their families and safeguard their security and health. Their lives have consisted of standing hours on breadlines (the only food available) which start forming at 4 a.m., with many returning home empty-handed to empty refrigerators and pantries. Today in Artsakh, miscarriages have tripled, pregnant women and children faint in the streets, and elderly people and others do not get the medicine and medical care they urgently need.
The blockade of the Lachin Corridor, the only roadway connecting Armenia and Artsakh, was not an isolated act: rather, it was yet another egregious action Azerbaijan and its President, Ilham Aliyev, have committed. Events now are fluid, with the Lachin Corridor “opened” on September 18, 2023, but totally controlled by the government of Azerbaijan in terms of the people and goods that can enter Artsakh. Azerbaijan also alleged that the people of Artsakh have not suffered during the blockade and announced that 400 people are on their wanted list.
The goal of the government of Azerbaijan remains the same: to starve the population and accelerate the ethnic cleansing of the Christian Armenian community by forcing them to leave their ancestral homeland.
Here are some stories of the women of Artsakh:
- The young single mother of a three-year-old boy and a six-year-old girl was forced to leave her sleeping children at home to walk five kilometers to a nearby town to find food. When the children woke up, they wandered into the streets and, not finding their mother, climbed into an abandoned car and fell asleep under the scorching heat. Their bodies were found the next day after a search of nearly 24 hours.
- Anush, a 30-year-old internally displaced person (IDP) from Shushi, attempted suicide after a miscarriage. She had suffered serious psychological trauma and stress since she lost her younger brother in the 2020 war and her father was severely injured in the first Artsakh war of the 1990s. She was in the fourth month of her first pregnancy when the blockade began, with her husband stranded on the other side. Anush attempted suicide on February 1, 2023, after she miscarried and lost her long-awaited firstborn due to the effects of the blockade: malnutrition and her increased levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.
- Astghik, a 25-year-old young woman from Martuni cannot find essential products. She told the Human Rights Ombudsman of Artsakh: “I have allergies and other medical problems and need specialized items including, for example, antiallergic cotton sanitary pads. Because of the blockade, the pharmacies and shops are empty, and it is impossible to find any sort of personal hygiene products. I am embarrassed to say, but women of Artsakh now have to use rags, napkins and bandages for their female hygiene. Just for being an Armenian, we are deprived of the most essential things that all women in the world should have easy access to.”
- Aida, a 39-year-old internally displaced woman from Talish, a village in the Martakert region, has four children, including one with a disability and no home. Aida told the Human Rights Ombudsman of Artsakh that: “By the end of 2022, we were supposed to move into our new house the government provided under the state housing program for IDPs. However, due to the blockade, the construction of our house has been suspended until further notice. We have to live in a very cold shelter now, which is too small for our family. We live for today and don’t know what to expect tomorrow. It is simply impossible to plan for the future. As a mother of four, I am extremely worried and stressed about my children – their physical, mental and emotional well-being. Their lives have been totally upended. Sometimes I feel like we do not belong anywhere anymore. I feel homeless, and this prolonged uncertain situation makes me anxious. All I wish for my kids is that we live peacefully in our Homeland. Is this too much to ask?”
- Lida, an 80-year-old woman from Chartar suffered from terminal lung cancer and died alone. Before the blockade, Lida was taken to Armenia for chemotherapy followed by surgery. During the blockade, her health suddenly worsened and she died at a Yerevan hospital. The blockade prevented her only son, 50-year-old Arshak, from being by her side and her family cannot bring her body back to Artsakh for burial in her native land.
- Mariam (23 years old) and her 30-year-old husband Ruben are from Stepanakert and are separated from their children due to the blockade. On December 12, 2022, Miriam and Ruben left their home for what they thought would be one day to go shopping in Armenia. The blockade now separates them from their 3-month-old son whom they had left with Mariam’s mother. Miriam told the Human Rights Ombudsman Mariam that: “I couldn’t even imagine in my worst nightmare that I will be separated from my baby for such a long time. Every time I call my mother and she shows me my son, I can’t stop crying. I feel so guilty. My mother and son have been freezing due to rolling blackouts and disruption of the gas supply by Azerbaijanis. My son doesn’t like the darkness, so he starts to cry once the lights go out. My mother is ill and cannot queue for food for hours and also cannot search for the necessary infant formula. I will not forgive myself if something bad happens to my baby. I am having panic attacks and breakdown all the time. My husband is nervous too and his hair is turning grey. We are deprived of our basic right to go home and hug our own baby. Why do we deserve so much hatred from our neighbors?”
- Larisa, a 45-year-old internally displaced person (IDP) from Hadrut, lost her husband in the war of 2020 and her son in the 2020 war. Ever since, she has had to cope with a severe psychological disorder and had a mental breakdown during the blockade. Larisa’s daughter noted the panic attack her mother had once she learned about the blockade and cried out, “Azerbaijanis will come and kill us all!” Her family members had to have her hospitalized given her reaction: hallucinations, deep depression, suicidal tendencies and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Larisa does not recognize her family members, she cries at night, talks to herself, and calls for her deceased son and husband, asking them to take her back home. Larisa gets triggered by the news about the blockade. While she is under the supervision of psychiatrists at the Stepanakert hospital, because the necessary medications are unavailable, doctors are forced to use less effective substitutes.
- Nina, a 63-year-old woman from Stepanakert, suffered a stroke upon learning that the blockade had stranded her beloved grandchildren, 12-year-old Aren and 15-year-old Arina, in Yerevan. They had been on a school trip to watch the Eurovision song contest that took place on December 10-11, 2022. In an interview with the Human Rights Ombudsman, Nina said: “Every time I think of my grandchildren being deprived of parental care and their normal life, separated from their family for such a long time for the first time in their life, I start to cry. Not letting children reunite with their parents is one of the most cruel and inhumane things in this world. I can’t handle the suffering of children. They are innocent creatures, and they have done nothing to Azerbaijan. The other day, I felt extremely bad, and I had a strange pain in my chest. I didn’t even realize I had a stroke. My daughter called the ambulance, and when the doctors examined me, they confirmed the diagnosis. I am just devastated. Why should we suffer so much? Why do we deserve this?”
- Alina, a 67-year-old woman from Stepanakert, has chronic asthma and a disability, and suffered gas inhalation because the Azerbaijani’s regularly disrupt the gas supply. On February 7, 2023, when the gas supply from Armenia to Artsakh was cut off and then restored by Azerbaijan, Alina was in the kitchen. As her daughter Maria told the Human Rights Ombudsman, Alina started to complain of dizziness and nausea. Having already been deprived of nutritious food, Alina was feeling very weak and went to lie down in her room. Maria got scared that her mother would lose consciousness, and she took her to the hospital where the doctors found that she had suffered gas inhalation. Luckily, the doctors managed to clear her airways and save her life.
- Inga is a 28-year-old mother from Stepanakert whose 8-year-old son Suren has been struggling during the blockade due to malnutrition and congenital lactose and gluten intolerance, celiac disease, and many other food allergies. There is no food for him available at the stores. Suren thus has lost 5 kg (11 lbs) during the blockade, becoming underweight for his age category. He is also apathetic, depressed and isolated, given that he is unable to attend school anymore. Although he is being supervised by doctors, Suren’s prognosis is not good if the blockade continues.
- Lusine, is a 75-year-old woman with diabetes and a disability who lives alone in Stepanakert and cannot get the insulin she needs. In an interview with the Human Rights Ombudsman, she said: “I need to get insulin injected several times daily. I have to do it myself because I live alone and I have no family members by my side. My husband died in the first Artsakh war in 1993, while the family of my daughter currently lives in Armenia. Because of the blockade, she can’t come to Artsakh and take care of me now. I cannot obtain my regular dosage because there is not enough insulin in Artsakh. There is also no food available at the stores suitable for my dietary needs. Besides, I am physically unable to queue for food anyway, given my disability. I am extremely weak and exhausted and feel like I am slowly fading away. I can’t stand on my feet for a long time, and I want to sleep all the time. Sometimes I think I may die alone in my apartment, and nobody will ever notice.”
- Mariam is a 30-year-old mother of three children, including 18-month-old twins, is concerned about the present and future. Like other mothers, Mariam focuses on how to survive given that many families do not have anything and mothers are sharing the last bits of food they have. Like other mothers, she has participated in all the demonstrations that were organized to make their voices heard, but fears that she, like other mothers, no longer can be their families’ problem-solvers and that: “I do not see [a future here]. Artsakhi mothers are strong and expressive. Their deep connection with their homeland is historic and multi-generational. But I also do not see a future elsewhere. After the war [of 2020], we had the opportunity to move, but we stayed. I do not know if it is love for the motherland or something else, but I cannot imagine myself living anywhere else.”