Incidents in the Lachin corridor. Commentary: what to expect from Baku
Blocking of Lachin corridor
The situation in Nagorno-Karabakh was extremely tense over the weekend. On December 3, Azerbaijanis closed the only highway connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, citing environmental concerns. It took three hours of negotiating to get the road open again.
The next day, a brawl broke out between Azerbaijanis who had stopped at the Getavan settlement along the Mataghis-Karvachar highway (Azerbaijani: Sugovushan-Kelbajar) and the local Armenian youth there. According to preliminary information from local police, Azerbaijanis in civilian clothes who participated in the incident were “military police officers.” This is especially emphasized in reports from Nagorno-Karabakh, since “the use of this route with the mediation and escort of Russian peacekeepers should pursue exclusively humanitarian goals.”
According to Azerbaijani scholar Tatevik Hayrapetyan, Baku’s goal is to establish “a checkpoint under its own or joint Russian-Azerbaijani control” on the road linking Armenia with Nagorno-Karabakh.
Monitoring of natural resources or provocation?
On December 3, a group of Azerbaijanis in civilian clothes blocked the highway from the capital of NK to the Armenian city of Goris.
The Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Azerbaijan reported that Azerbaijani specialists were sent to the zone of responsibility of Russian peacekeepers “to review illegal exploitation of natural resources and the environmental consequences of this activity.” What kind of natural resources in question was not specified.
In response, the Committee on Ecology of the unrecognized NKR issued a statement that it cares about the health of its population and enviroment:
“Our periodic studies involving international experts have not identified any significant environmental risks associated with subsoil use.”
The committee said in a statement that “despite lack of international recognition and the complexities caused by the conflict”, the subsoil is used in accordance with “best international standards of environmental and social responsibility”:
“The results of any study […] will confirm compliance with environmental regulations and standards. Moreover, the Republic of Artsakh is even ready to invite an international expert group to further assess environmental risks and improve the system.”
A little later, a message was received that after lengthy negotiations with Azerbaijan, the road was unblocked.
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Official Yerevan has not issued a statement on the incidents that took place in NK. But the speaker of the National Assembly of Armenia, Alen Simonyan, raised the issue at a plenary session of the CSTO Parliamentary Assembly held in Moscow.
“We see Azerbaijan’s intentions to block the Lachin corridor, which is of humanitarian importance for the life support of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh. And in recent days, provocations by Azerbaijanis in the corridor area in the north of Nagorno-Karabakh have become more frequent,” he said.
Simonyan recalled Baku’s demand that the name “Nagorno-Karabakh” not be used and statements that “the Nagorno-Karabakh problem has been solved.” According to him, all this proves that there is a “threat of ethnic cleansing and genocide” in NK.
“Undermining the agreement on the Lachin corridor”
Reporting on the blocking of the Lachin corridor, the information headquarters of NK called this step a provocation with the aim of “breaking the land connection between Armenia and Artsakh and subjecting the civilian population to psychological terror.”
Artsakh Ombudsman Gegham Stepanyan said that after the establishment of the ceasefire, Baku has repeatedly taken similar steps “aimed at deliberately attacking infrastructure.”
According to him, lately “Azerbaijan has been coming up with false news stories in order to legitimize the possible blocking of the road.” The reason, according to Stepanyan, is the lack of a proper and targeted response:
“I urge and demand that the main actors of the international community take targeted and tough punitive and preventative measures, otherwise the repetition of such cases and a humanitarian catastrophe are inevitable.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the unrecognized republic also called on the international community to “severely condemn the anti-Armenian state policy of Azerbaijan and take effective steps to curb the aggressor.” According to the ministry, all of Baku’s actions prove that “Azerbaijan’s main goal – to de-Armenize Artsakh, to carry out ethnic cleansing and genocide there – has remained unchanged.”
“This terrorist act also undermines the international agreement reached on the Lachin corridor and delivers a dastardly blow to the peacekeeping mission of the Russian Federation to ensure peace and stability in the region,” the statement said.
Brawl between Azerbaijanis and Armenians
On Sunday a convoy of Azerbaijani trucks and one passenger car drove through the area of responsibility of Russian peacekeepers and accompanied by them.
According to the NK police, the convoy stopped “due to technical reasons” and four Azerbaijanis in civilian clothes got out of the car. They “began to behave rudely and defiantly toward Armenian youths who were there, mocking and insulting them.” An argument ensued, which escalated into a fight.
It is reported that the participants in the scuffle received minor injuries, and an Azerbaijani car was damaged.
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According to member of the European Parliament Lars Patrick Berg, this is the first step that needs to be taken to contain Azerbaijan. Berg stated this to Armenian agency Armenpress, adding that the Azerbaijani authorities will accept international norms only if they are forced to do so:
“These constant provocations must be stopped immediately. I call on European institutions and the international community to express deep concern over this latest incident, which is detrimental to ongoing peace and reconciliation efforts.”
According to Azerbaijani expert Tatevik Hayrapetyan, if the Azerbaijanis had immediately started fighting, the situation would have become more complicated. He says that Baku has chosen a more convenient option for them – to first close the road under the pretext of protecting the environment:
“They give their provocations such an external character that they are subjected to criticism as little as possible.”
According to Hayrapetyan, for this reason the Azerbaijanis brought journalists with them.
Hayrapetyan believes that this was a carefully planned operation. She believes that it is no coincidence that a few days before the incident, Baku disseminated information that fourteen Iranian citizens allegedly entered NK illegally, and sent a note of protest to the Iranian side.
Baku’s goal is to establish a checkpoint on the road linking Armenia with Nagorno-Karabakh under its own control or jointly with Russia.
“Azerbaijan is trying to establish control over the corridor. And this means sooner or later, slowly or quickly, but achieving the goal of expelling the Armenians.”
She believes that Azerbaijan will try to advance this agenda in every possible way, and the course of events will become more clear after the Moscow meeting between Bayramov and Lavrov.
Russia, in her words, “has no right” to allow this, since the “requirement for a corridor” contradicts the obligations assumed by Russia in the November 9 statement.
Blocking of Lachin corridor