Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev has said that Baku is willing to offer ‘concessions’ and amnesty to Nagorno-Karabakh’s officials if they dissolve the region’s parliament and government and apply for Azerbaijani citizenship.
On 28 May, speaking at a ceremony opening a number of new businesses in Lachin and welcoming Azerbaijanis to the town, Aliyev said that Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenian population must ‘obey the laws of Azerbaijan [and] be a loyal and normal citizen of Azerbaijan’.
After stating that Nagorno-Karabakh’s ‘dream of independence’ was over, Aliyev called for the region to dissolve its parliament. ‘As if there is a “parliament” there’, added Aliyev, ‘as if there is a president, as if there is a minister — all this is funny’.
He added that while Azerbaijan was being ‘patient’, the country was capable of carrying out military actions in the region immediately.
Aliyev also said that the installation of an Azerbaijani border checkpoint at the entrance of the Lachin Corridor near the Armenian border on 23 April ‘should be a lesson’ for the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Nagorno-Karabakh has been under blockade since December of last year, when a group of Azerbaijanis claiming to be eco-activists blocked the Lachin Corridor — the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia — to protest illegal mining in the area.
The installation of the checkpoint was a violation of the November 2020 ceasefire agreement, which stipulated that the corridor should fall under the control of the Russian peacekeeping mission in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Baku claims that the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh is allowed to freely move to and from Armenia, while Yerevan accuses Baku of blocking the road and creating a humanitarian crisis in the region.
[Read more on OC Media: Opinion | Azerbaijan cannot be allowed to normalise its Lachin checkpoint]
The Azerbaijani president went on to state that he was willing to offer the authorities in Stapanekert ‘amnesty’ should they give up their positions and apply for Azerbaijani citizenship.
‘Either they will bend their necks and come themselves or things will develop differently now’, said Aliyev. ‘If I say that amnesty can be an option, they should not miss this opportunity. They have missed many opportunities, a number of opportunities, and each time, as they say, we had to knock them over to bring them to their senses’.
On Monday evening, the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned Aliyev’s speech as ‘warmongering’ and ‘genocidal’.
‘This is evidenced by President Aliyev's words that by controlling the Lachin [C]orridor Azerbaijan disrupted the connection between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. Moreover, in the same context, Azerbaijan openly threatens to carry out ethnic cleansing if the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh do not “learn lessons” from the blockade of the Lachin corridor’, read the ministry’s statement.
The ministry also accused Azerbaijan of ‘preparing the ground for another aggressive action against the population of Nagorno-Karabakh and depriving them of the right to live freely, safely and with dignity in their homeland’.
Also on Monday, Stepanakert condemned Aliyev’s remarks and dismissed them as threats to the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.
‘It is not the first time that Azerbaijan has spoken threateningly to the people of Artsakh after the Tripartite Declaration of a ceasefire, we have seen and continue to see manifestations of aggression in the form of local combat operations, blockade, energy and other pressures’, said Nagorno-Karabakh’s President’s Press Secretary Lusine Avanesyan.
‘This time, the President of Azerbaijan has added illegal demands to the elected authorities of the people of Artsakh’, added Avanesyan.
‘We are the stronger side’
Aliyev also stated that while one meeting had been held between Baku and Stepanakert in Nagorno-Karabakh after the dismissal of Ruben Vardanyan, Nagorno-Karabakh’s former state minister, Stepanakert had refused two subsequent invitations to meet in Baku and there would be ‘no third invitation’.
Establishing communication channels and guaranteeing dialogue between Baku and Stepanakert has been a key point of contention between Armenia and Azerbaijan in their peace talks.
Despite apparent optimism from the West that a peace deal could soon be struck between Yerevan and Baku, Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan had a heated exchange at a meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council in Moscow last week, and signed no new agreements despite expectations to the contrary.
However, Aliyev also stated that there were ‘no serious obstacles in the way of a peace treaty’, in light of Armenia having recognised Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. Aliyev was referring to remarks made by Prime Minister Pashinyan on 22 May, in which he described Azerbaijan’s territory as including Nagorno-Karabakh.
At the ceremony in Lachin, Aliyev stated that the peace treaty with Armenia should be based on ‘international conditions’, and that a route between Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan should be established. The ‘Zangezur Corridor’, an Azerbaijani-proposed route which would pass through Armenia, has been a point of disagreement in Armenia and Azerbaijan’s negotiations.
Aliyev also argued that border delimitation between the two countries should be based on Azerbaijan’s conditions, and went on to claim that Azerbaijan had the upper hand in the ongoing peace negotiations.
‘Whatever will happen there, the border will be where we say it should be. They know that we can do it. No one will help them, not the retired French policemen from Europe, not others, not anyone else’, said Aliyev, apparently referring to the EU Monitoring Mission in Armenia.
‘Even if the peace treaty is not signed, we will live comfortably and safely.’
In its Monday statement, the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also accused Azerbaijan of threatening to occupy Armenian territory.
‘Moreover, [Aliyev] emphasised that even the presence of the EU Monitoring Mission along the international border between Armenia and Azerbaijan cannot stop the territorial claims of Azerbaijan against Armenia’.
The deputy prime ministers of Russia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan are set to meet in Moscow next week, while another meeting between Pashinyan and Aliyev is scheduled to take place on 1 June in Chișinău, Moldova.
This article was amended to include the Armenian Foreign Ministry’s reaction to President Aliyev’s speech.
For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.