Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has threatened to use force to establish a ‘corridor’ through southern Armenia connecting western Azerbaijan with the Autonomous Nakhchivan Republic. The comments were met with outrage in Armenia.
‘The creation of the Zangezur corridor fully meets our national, historical and future interests. We will be implementing the Zangezur Corridor, whether Armenia wants it or not’, Aliyev said during an interview with Azerbaijani Public TV. ‘If Armenia wants to, we will solve this issue more easily, if it does not, we will solve it by force.’
‘The Azerbaijani people are returning to the occupied Zangezur’, he said.
Aliyev’s statements instantly sparked outrage in Armenia. Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anna Naghdalyan condemned the comments, stating that they ‘do serious harm to regional peace and stability’ and ‘reveal the false nature of Azerbaijan’s recent peace statements’.
‘Armenia will take all necessary measures to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity’, she concluded. The Human Rights Defender of Armenia also released a statement, decrying the comments as reflective of ‘fascist policy’ by Aliyev.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan accused Aliyev of trying to 'abort the process' of the Tripartite peace declaration and of stepping back from his agreements.
'If Aliyev is speaking about the Zangezur corridor, then, with the same logic, we can talk about the corridor of Nakhchivan, about the northern-Azerbaijani corridor', Pashinyan said, adding that, according to the 9 November agreement, both Armenia and Azerbaijan will get ‘corridors’ with equivalent status for both countries.
Armenian political analyst Eric Hacopian told OC Media there are no credible military threats to ‘back up his rhetoric’, which, he added, was reminiscent of ‘Saddam Hussein’. Hacopian also said that he believes the remarks were not only meant for Armenia, but for a domestic audience as well.
With respect to the possibility of unblocking the transport links between the countries, Hacopian said that ‘as a matter of policy, anything that opens up the railway lines to Iran and Russia via Azerbaijani territory is good for Armenia’. But, he added, ‘there are limits, and this kind of Saddamesque language could lead to those limits coming into play’.
Point 9 of the Tripartite Peace Declaration stipulates that ‘the Republic of Armenia shall guarantee the safety of transport links between western regions of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic with a view to organising the unimpeded movement of citizens, vehicles and cargo in both directions. The Border Service of the FSB of Russia shall exercise control over the transport communication.’
It also states that ‘the construction of new infrastructure linking the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic with regions of Azerbaijan shall be carried out’ only ‘subject to agreement by the Parties [Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan].’
Armenia is currently in a military defence treaty with the Russian Federation and has one Russian military base based in the city of Gyumri. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, in a recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, proposed to have some of the troops stationed in Armenia’s southern Syunik province.
The controversy has taken place at the same time as Pashinyan is conducting a two-day visit to Syunik. The trip has been met with protests by local residents who attempted to prevent the Armenian Prime Minister from holding meetings or visiting local military cemeteries.
Pashinyan’s spokesperson Mane Gevorgyan dismissed the protests as being ‘organised’ by ‘well-known’ anti-Pashinyan ‘circles’ and that they had nothing to do with the residents of Syunik. The Prime Minister had to cut his previous visit to the region short after also being met with protests.
At the time, a number of local mayors in southern Armenia called for Pashinyan’s resignation, for what they considered failures in the border demarcation process with Azerbaijan.
[Read more: Tension in southern Armenia amidst border demarcation]