Russian peacekeepers, Armenian civilians and the Azerbaijani army: who's got control of Lachin?
The status of the town of Lachin, a key point in the Karabakh zone, remains to be clarified, since the road that connects Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia passes through it.
Per the trilateral truce agreement signed by Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia on November 10, only Russian peacekeepers and the Armenian population should be in Lachin.
But the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry published a video on December 3 with Azerbaijani servicemen in the city. And President Ilham Aliyev had said two days earlier that Lachin would be returned to Azerbaijan.
Who’s controlling Lachin now?
The second Karabakh war began on September 27, 2020 and was stopped 45 days later, on November 10, after Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia signed a peace agreement. According to him, by December 1, Azerbaijan returned under its control three regions adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh. Russian peacekeepers are stationed in the region.
The Lachin region came under the control of Azerbaijan on December 1 and was the third in the list of three regions that were to be transferred to the Azerbaijani side under the terms of a trilateral agreement.
This region differs from the two previous ones in that the only road passes through it, which connects the territory of Armenia with the city of Khankendi (Stepanakert), the center of Nagorno-Karabakh.
It was this road which became the reason for the creation of the so-called ‘Lachin corridor’.
According to the terms of the trilateral agreement, the Lachin Corridor is an area 5 kilometers wide, the Azerbaijani army is not allowed to enter the area and it should remain under the control of the Russian peacekeeping forces.
The “corridor” includes not only the road itself, but also the regional center of Lachin and several villages through which it passes.
According to the agreement, these conditions should be valid for three years, and during this period a new road from Khankendi (Stepanakert) to Armenia should be built, which will bypass the city of Shusha.
The reason is that Shusha is under the control of the Azerbaijani army, and the Lachin corridor passes in the immediate vicinity of the city.
Soon after the signing of the agreement, observation posts of the Russian peacekeeping forces were installed along the entire route.
Along this road, the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh, who left this territory during the second Karabakh war, is returning to their homes, mainly in Khankendi (Stepanakert).
Armenian population received security guarantees, did not leave Lachin
A few days before December 1 – the date of the entry of the Azerbaijani army – the Armenian population began to leave most of the villages of the Lachin region.
The fate of the residents of the city of Lachin itself and the villages located on the Lachin corridor remained unclear until November 27. On that day, it was announced that the residents of these settlements could remain under security guarantees from the Russian peacekeepers.
It is known that at least as of December 1, the Armenian population did not leave the city of Lachin.
But it is also known – from Azerbaijani sources – that on November 30, Russian peacekeepers removed the Armenian flag from the building of the city administration.
Is the Azerbaijani army still entering the city of Lachin? Video
On December 3, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry published a video with the headline “Azerbaijani army enters the city of Lachin.”
There was no explanation for this video, despite the fact that it contradicts the clauses of the Lachin corridor agreement.
However, the day before, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev gave a different interpretation of who would control the city of Lachin.
Azerbaijani President Aliyev on fate of Lachin
“Now everyone is well aware that the Lachin corridor passes through the city of Lachin, it remains in the middle of this corridor. During my conversations with the President of Russia, I said that the city of Lachin should also be returned to us.
Therefore, we propose to develop a route and build a new corridor connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia.
The specified time [for the construction of a new road] is within three years. But I believe we can do it sooner.
After determining the parameters of the new corridor, the city of Lachin will also be returned to us,” Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said in his address to the people on December 1.
Revision of the trilateral truce?
The trilateral agreement talks about the construction of a new road within the Lachin corridor, but says nothing about the city of Lachin itself.
Therefore, some experts interpreted Aliyev’s words on this issue as a “revision of the conditions of the truce agreement.”