Mardakert residents explain their demands to Russian peacekeepers on Jan. 19, 2021. video image grab.

Since the withdrawal of Armenian forces from Kelbajar (Karvajar) district last November, Armenians have not been able to use the Mardakert-Vardenis highway for travel. The withdrawal was agreed as part of the November 10 declaration by Armenian, Azerbaijani and Russian leaders, which also called for “lifting of restrictions on regional transportation links,” but so far had the opposite effect, restricting travel between Republic of Armenia and Karabakh.

At the same time, Azerbaijani government has been able to use roads in the Russian-controlled Armenian-populated portion of Karabakh to resupply its forces in Kelbajar and Shushi. Azerbaijani convoys, accompanied by Russian peacekeepers have traversed Mardakert, as well as Askeran-Shushi and Karmir Shuka-Shushi roads, almost on the daily basis.

On January 19, a group of Karabakh Armenians briefly blocked the road in front of one such convoy in Mardakert, and meeting with a Russian officer accompanying it, relayed their request to be able to travel via Kelbajar to and from Republic of Armenia as well. The issue was also raised by Vardenis area residents who travel to Karabakh for work.

While the Russian peacekeepers promised to consider the issue, the Kelbajar road remains closed for Armenian traffic. As a result, another Kelbajar-bound Azerbaijani convoy was stopped from entering Karabakh in Mardakert district on February 21.