It was wonderful to report on 8th January that most of the Staff and patients have returned to the Lady Cox Centre for Rehabilitation in Stepanakert, Nagorno Karabakh. The work of the Centre continues with renewed vigour in its mission as the only Centre of Excellence for the treatment of people of all ages with disabilities in the region. Moreover, the need for its expertise has substantially increased following the conflict in 2020.
HART is encouraged to hear that of the approximately 100,000 Armenians who evacuated from Nagorno Karabakh last year, about 50,000 have returned. Furthermore, efforts at rebuilding and restoring the extensive damage inflicted by the war have begun, though rural areas are more difficult to access. Electricity and Wi-Fi have been restored in Stepanakert, but full power has not yet been restored to rural areas.
HART understands that the contribution of the Russians is appreciated on the ground. "Russians are being helpful and friendly and are cooperating with the people and are doing a lot to rebuild," one source told us.
As reported, the Centre is now helping to treat those injured in the recent conflict. However, there are major concerns in Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia for prisoners still held by Azerbaijan and about the unaccountability for crimes that were committed during the conflict.
Below are some of the key priorities that the government and people of Nagorno Karabakh have identified. We join them in requesting that these issues be urgently addressed by the international community:
Maltreatment of prisoners. Dozens of Armenian detainees are still being held. To call on governments to pressure Azerbaijan to assist the ICRC with the identification, treatment, and release of all detainees.
Despite a ceasefire, reports of brutality against military and civilian prisoners continue to emerge, including torture and beheadings, with claims that the Red Cross is unable to visit many detainees.
Violations of international law. To press for procedures to ensure that alleged war crimes are properly investigated by the appropriate international structures.
Neither Azerbaijan nor Turkey have been held to account for their actions, despite widespread evidence of atrocities and war crimes.
To provide urgent humanitarian aid, including aid for reconstruction.
Over 14,000 civilian structures in Nagorno Karabakh were reportedly damaged or destroyed during 45 days of conflict in 2020, including schools, hospitals, roads and electricity networks. An urgent plan of protection, economic support and development is needed to create an environment that makes it easier for people to return.
Safeguarding cultural and religious sites.
There is a deep fear that Azerbaijan will destroy Armenian Christian monuments and cultural heritage sites in territories under its control, including churches and holy crosses as they did in Nakhichevan.
Self-determination. The final status of Nagorno Karabakh has not been agreed. Most Armenians wish to press for the international community's recognition of Karabakh's right to self-determination.
Many fear that without this, the future rights, interests and well-being of the Armenian-majority population of Nagorno Karabakh will not be secure.
As Baroness Cox says: "HART is not just 'another aid organisation'. We are distinctive in that we combine aid with advocacy, working for peoples suffering from oppression, exploitation and persecution who are generally not served by major aid organisations and are off the radar screen of international media."
HART's report from our November 2020 visit to Nagorno Karabakh is available here.