Fact sheet: ICRC activities in connection with the Nagorny Karabakh conflict

The cease-fire agreement signed by the parties to the conflict in May 1994 has been generally respected and, apart from occasional incidents on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the front lines around Nagorny Karabakh have been calm for over two years. During the last few months, the Russian Federation and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), working through the "Minsk Group", have intensified their efforts to bring about a peace agreement.

The ICRC is represented in Yerevan, Stepanakert, Baku and Barda. It has been working in the region since 1992 and has deployed 23 expatriates and 118 local employees to carry out its activities.


The ICRC has constantly intensified its approaches to the parties with a view to gaining access to all individuals, both combatants and civilians, held in connection with the conflict or with internal unrest. It has asked for permission to visit them in accordance with its usual procedures, which are based on international humanitarian law.

The release by the Armenian and Azeri authorities of about 100 detainees known to the ICRC between March and July 1995 was followed by that of some 50 others held by the Nagorny Karabakh authorities. Finally, two years after the end of active hostilities, on 8, 9 and 10 May 1996, the authorities of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorny Karabakh released another 109 detainees. These operations took place under the auspices of the ICRC. In each case delegates were able to speak individually to all the captives, in order to make sure that they were being transferred of their own free will.

Since 1992, the ICRC has visited more than 800 people held in connection with this conflict and has itself transferred over 240 of them, under agreements reached between the parties.


The detainees visited by the ICRC have been given the opportunity to restore contact with their families by means of Red Cross messages, which have also enabled large numbers of civilians with no other means of communication to correspond with relatives from whom they have been separated as a result of the conflict.

In 1995, over 7,000 family messages were exchanged by the ICRC in connection with this conflict. In addition, the ICRC is stepping up its efforts to find out what happened to soldiers still listed as missing after the hostilities of late 1993 and early 1994. In August 1995 the ICRC submitted a list of tracing requests concerning 500 missing Armenian, Karabakhi and Azeri combatants to the respective competent authorities. Since then additional cases have been collected and will soon be submitted as well.


With a few exceptions, notably in March and September 1995, the front lines have remained quiet since the signing of the cease-fire agreement in May 1994. The number of war-wounded has declined considerably, and most of the wounds now reported are due to landmine explosions or snipers' bullets.

While continuing its tours of hospitals on both sides of the front to assess needs, the ICRC has been able to reduce its medical assistance.

An experimental programme for combating tuberculosis in the prison hospital run by the Ministry of Justice in Baku has been under way since June 1995.


The decline in the number of war casualties has highlighted the problem of injuries caused by landmines. The use of such weapons has appalling consequences and creates vast needs for surgical and orthopaedic treatment. Although the actual fighting has ceased, mine-blast accidents continue. They occur during mine-clearance operations, made dangerous by the absence of maps of minefields, and also when civilians venture too close to the front lines.

After carrying out a survey of needs, the ICRC decided to tackle the problem by launching an orthopaedic programme in Baku, designed in particular to provide amputees with artificial limbs.

In cooperation with the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare in Baku and the Azeri Red Crescent, the ICRC has set up a project aimed at fitting hundreds of war amputees in the region with artificial limbs. After extensive restoration of a workshop in Baku, ICRC specialists began the production of orthopaedic components and initiated a training programme for local staff in May 1995. The first prostheses were delivered in August, and by now about 50 people have either received artificial limbs or are about to do so.


The aim of the water and sanitation programme is to restore water supplies to hospitals where damage caused by fighting and bombing presents a serious health risk for the patients.

In Nagorny Karabakh, a programme for the rehabilitation of water supply systems began in October 1994. The ICRC has upgraded the facilities in several medical establishments: the hospital in Cheldran has been connected to two sources of safe water and a wing fitted with toilets and hot-water showers has been built; water towers have been constructed for the paediatric and maternity hospital in Stepanakert, giving it a round-the-clock water supply; and workers engaged by the ICRC have repaired or replaced sanitary facilities and have installed water heaters in half a dozen other hospitals. Water and sanitation projects are currently underway in six villages in Mardakert and Hadrut regions.

In Azerbaijan, five villages in Fizuli district, which was particularly affected by the fighting, are having their water pump repaired by the ICRC.


Under the ICRC's programme for families which have lost their breadwinners, more than 3,400 families in Armenia and 3,300 in Nagorny Karabakh have received assistance, mainly food parcels, candles, clothing and shoes, in 1995. In Armenia, a second distribution began in September for the same beneficiaries and for about 2,500 additional recipients, mostly the war disabled.

The programme covering some 8,000 families living in four districts of north-eastern Armenia, a region constantly affected by exchanges of fire between Armenian and Azeri forces, continued in early summer with the distribution of sugar and jar lids for bottling fruit and vegetables. This programme is being carried out by the American Red Cross in cooperation with the Armenian Red Cross, under an ICRC project delegation arrangement.

An ICRC survey conducted in Nagorny Karabakh, where few humanitarian organizations are present, showed that despite the cease-fire poverty was growing, especially in non-rural areas. In June 1995, the ICRC launched a distribution programme for 27,000 elderly people throughout the territory. During the summer a general distribution of relief supplies was carried out in Stepanakert, reaching some 55,000 persons. It was followed by another assistance programme throughout Nagorny Karabakh for 18,000 elderly people and for large families (7,000 people). Recently the ICRC distributed clothes to nearly 4,000 women and children. Iin Mardakert and Hadrut regions, the seed distribution programme was launched and 3,000 families received 10 kg of potatoes, one vegetable seed kit and one food parcel.

In Azerbaijan, 3,500 vulnerable families living in the front-line districts of Barda, Terter,

Agdam, Gadabay, Tovuz, Kasakh and Agstafa received food parcels every two months. In October, this operation was taken over by the American Red Cross working with the Azeri Red Crescent, again in the framework of a project delegation. In the Fizuli district the ICRC provided food and other relief supplies up to May 1995 for the entire population, comprising 35,000 residents, displaced people and families which had returned to their homes.

As part of the population has since become self-sufficient, the ICRC has confined its assistance to some 15,000 displaced people and 10,000 particularly vulnerable persons in the district.


The cease-fire has enabled ICRC delegates on both sides of the front line to step up their activities designed to spread knowledge of international humanitarian law. A special effort has been made to establish links between the ICRC's universal humanitarian message and the local culture in order to reach the audiences concerned, particularly the armed forces. This message calls upon everyone to respect the civilian population, people detained in connection with the armed conflict, the red cross and red crescent emblems and those protected by the emblems, and stresses the need to place limits on violence during hostilities.

Specialists in dissemination to the armed forces regularly organize courses for the military in Armenia and Nagorny Karabakh, and in Azerbaijan humanitarian law has been incorporated in army training programmes. Several thousand officers and soldiers have taken part in ICRC courses.

The ICRC is continuing its programme of publications in Armenian and Azeri, and dissemination material has been produced for the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies of the two countries and for the general public. Some original ideas have been used to convey the message: calendars illustrating humanitarian law through local literature, first-aid kits containing a handbook of the basic rules to be respected by combatants (distributed to the military of both sides), dubbing of ICRC films in the local language, etc. Other means of dissemination are now being used, such as strip cartoons, songs and even a puppet theatre. In addition, as a result of constructive contacts established with the respective Ministries of Education, and through them with the teaching profession, slots for the propagation of the moral values that form the basis of international humanitarian law have been introduced into the school curriculum. Finally, a dissemination programme has been started at university level.