Siranush Sargsyan and Lynn Zovighian , independent journalist; philanthropist, and co-founder of The Zovighian Partnership
A month into a blockade in Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh with still no international diplomatic mediation underway, 120,000 ethnic Armenians, 30,000 of whom are children, remain shut out from the world.
The United Nations Security Council recently held a session to discuss the Lachin Corridor blockade that connects Armenia with Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh, and encouraged all parties to show restraint. But member states could not agree on a statement of condemnation and next steps.
The international media has only just begun to talk about the humanitarian disaster on the ground. One month into the Lachin Corridor blockade, the world is beginning to ask serious questions that deserve serious answers.
Blockaded young and first-time mothers have been asking tough questions since day one, Dec. 12, 2022. We talked to them at the one-month mark of the blockade, because as the adage goes, mothers know best.
In Stepanakert, Marta Kostanyan, a 24-year-old mother of 5-month-old Sona, asked us, “How should I, as a young woman who has just started a family, feel when instead of enjoying the warmth and love of my family and my child, I have to think about how to prevent my child from getting cold and where to get food for her?” With temperatures as low as -6 degrees Celsius since the start of the new year, the immunity systems of babies and children are being compromised.
As the blockade continues with no end in sight, there are significant pressures on cargo and supply chains; stores no longer have food and goods on their shelves. The risk of malnourishment, and even starvation, for babies and young children, is real.
Thirty-year-old Mariam Abrahamyan, who has three children with 18-month-old twins told us, “I think that mothers with young children are being revealed as a target of the blockade. In my opinion, the blockade has affected families with young children the most.”
She asked us, “In these extreme conditions, parents do not know what to do: focus on their kids? Go to work? Get bread?” Resourceless and helpless, mothers are no longer able to be problem-solvers for their families. “It seems to me that we are witnessing additional problems every day,” she explained from her father’s living room in Stepanakert.
“Despite standing ready to address urgent humanitarian needs, the ICRC’s resources may still be reasonably limited,” Zara Amatuni, the communications and prevention manager at the International Committee of the Red Cross Delegation in Armenia, told us over the phone from Yerevan.
Ani Tovmasyan, the head of information and public relations at the Ministry of Social Development and Migration in Artsakh, is the mother of a 3-month-old, and asked from her office in Stepanakert, “How do you take care of a child in these conditions? With what do you replace the diapers so that the child does not get sick, especially that there also is no medication in the pharmacies? In reality, the situation is truly horrible.”
Global inaction is endangering mothers and children, who will have lifelong scars if they’re not prioritized now. The health implications of conflict and instability on children are immeasurable. The fears of mothers have grown beyond just feeding their children. The focus is now also on preserving the mental stability of children and avoiding permanent damage to cognitive, emotional, and motor development.
While politics continues to dictate the terms and conditions on the global diplomatic stage, the mothers of Stepanakert are demanding that the Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh crisis be humanized. Their questions are what we need to start answering.
“What will happen if this situation lasts a little longer?” asked 28-year-old Mariam Sargsyan while cradling Sate, her now 1-month-old infant in her living room in Stepanakert. “A week or a month is also a very long time for us.” One hundred and forty-four babies have been born since the Lachin Corridor blockade began.
“If we do not even know what will happen and how long this situation will continue, I wonder: did I do the right thing by deciding for our children to live in Artsakh so that they inherit what we and our parents went through?” Abrahamyan asked. The questions are now existential. You hear and feel the anxiety of a community that continues to experience insecurity and uncertainty and a blockade that cannot be normalized and worked around. These mothers fear a genocide is upon them and their loved ones.
The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security encourages the inclusion of women as peacebuilders. Unfortunately, that often happens too late and sometimes only in post-conflict stages.
We need to listen to Artsakhi mothers. They are telling us what is dangerously at stake—before Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh becomes once again a long and complex conflict with few avenues to de-escalate and resolve meaningfully and peacefully.
It is time that their questions no longer remain unanswered.
Siranush Sargsyan is an independent journalist based in Stepanakert, Artsakh/Nagorno Karabakh covering human rights and politics.
Lynn Zovighian is a philanthropist and co-founder of The Zovighian Partnership, working with communities facing genocide in the Middle East and Caucasus.
The views expressed in this article are the writers’ own.