The Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART) supports people suffering from conflict and persecution in places with little or no international attention and help. HART works with partners in eight countries but because of the current conflict which is severely affecting their partner in Nagorno-Karabakh in the Southern Caucasus, we have focussed entirely on this subject.
At our online St Michaels @ 10 service on 15 November, Baroness Caroline Cox, founder of HART, spoke to us by video link and we have subsequently received updates from her fact-finding mission.
Sheltering in a basement in Stepanakert before the full evacuation from the Lady Cox Rehabilitation Centre, Nagorno Karabakh.
Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) – The War & its Current Aftermath
Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) is a 94% ethnic Armenian Christian enclave inside Azerbaijan’s western border. Its capital, Stepanakert, has been, for over 20 years, the location of the Lady Cox Disability Rehabilitation Centre. As we have previously reported, this helps around 1000 patients a year, some on a day attendance basis, others as residents. Some of the cases treated are people who are severely paralysed by disease or from spinal injury, for example.
On 27 September 2020 shelling and air attacks from Azerbaijan hit Stepanakert and other nearby areas. Soon after, Azerbaijani forces and Jihadist mercenaries, supported by Turkey, crossed into Nagorno-Karabakh and clashed with Armenian and Artsakh forces, whereupon a full-scale war quickly developed.
After several fragile and failed ceasefires, a tripartite cessation of hostilities was brokered on 10 November, which currently holds. This entailed the arrival, now complete, of some 2000 fully armed and equipped Russian soldiers and military engineers, to act as a peace-keeping and observation force. It is foreseen that they will be needed for at least five years. Russian officials report that some 4,000 lives have been lost – this is probably an underestimate. Reliable sources also report that some 70,000 people were made homeless and have been on the move in deteriorating weather conditions.
As regards the Disability Rehabilitation Centre, the warfare soon put the safety of the staff and patients at severe risk and it was necessary to evacuate them to Yerevan, the main capital of Armenia, where they now remain.
Lady Caroline Cox and a colleague Rev. David Thomas made an urgent visit between Monday 9th to 16th November. They met Vardan Tadevosyan, the Director of the centre, who, with a few colleagues, had delayed leaving Stepanakert to render assistance to the victims of the fighting.
They discovered that the centre’s buildings are thankfully undamaged. However, it is only 15km from another ancient city that has been lost to encroaching Azerbaijani forces, together with its cathedral, which is of deep spiritual significance. As part of the peace agreement, Armenia and Artsakh were obliged to cede territory that includes such historic cultural and religious sites, several of which are known to have been bombed and vandalised.
Shushi, the city lost by Nagorno-Karabakh in the conflict. The spire of its cathedral in front of the mountains, left of centre.
There were initial popular protests by Artsakh citizens against their government’s decision effectively to surrender territory to Azerbaijan, in order to avoid further bloodshed. However, it is believed that sufficient democratic civilian government infrastructure exists to permit discussions on the restoration of medical and humanitarian welfare services within the retained territories.
HART’s plan is to continue with the work of supporting paralysed, disabled, and autistic patients and their families in any way possible. But it is too soon to know when this care may restart and whether it will be at all possible to operate in Stepanakert.
On the Spot
On 2 November, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights warned of possible war crimes in the conflict. As part of the peace accord, the UN High Commission for Refugees was charged with the safety of displaced persons.
The International Committee of the Red Cross and the American Red Cross are active in the region, providing medical treatment and shelter.
Through the HART website at www.hart-uk.org current developments are frequently reported in the “Headlines” section. They are in chronological order: one on 23 October, “A Simple Guide to Nagorno-Karabakh and the Right to Self-Determination” explains the history of the situation and the legal basis of Nagorno-Karabakh’s claim to independence from Azerbaijan.