Azerbaijan has closed the entrance of the Lachin corridor connecting Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, starting the installation of a checkpoint.
On Sunday, Azerbaijani border guards moved in to block the Hakari Bridge, near the Armenian border, as Russian peacekeepers watched on.
The move is a violation of the November 2020 ceasefire agreement, which states that the Lachin Corridor falls under the control of the Russian peacekeeping mission in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The corridor, the sole route connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to the outside world, has been under blockade for over four months by what the Azerbaijani government insists are independent ‘eco-activists’. Amidst food and fuel shortages in the region, crucial supplies have been allowed through with the Red Cross and Russian peacekeepers.
Azerbaijani authorities said the latest move was designed to prevent the transfer of weapons and soldiers from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh. In a statement on Monday, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry cited ‘the continued systematic and large-scale misuse’ of the corridor. They said a ‘control mechanism’ would be implemented in ‘interaction with the Russian peacekeeping force’.
Azerbaijan has constantly accused Armenia and the Russian peacekeeping mission of transferring weapons and military personnel to Nagorno-Karabakh, a claim both deny.
Armenia instead accused Azerbaijan of using the closure to ‘scuttle’ peace talks between the two countries. In a statement on Sunday, the Foreign Ministry called on the UN to ‘take effective steps’ towards the implementation of an International Court of Justice ruling demanding the corridor be reopened.
Armenia also called on Russia to ‘finally fulfil its obligation’ under the 2020 ceasefire agreement and to remove the blockade and ‘ensur[e] the withdrawal of Azerbaijani forces’ from the corridor.
Armenian officials have grown increasingly exasperated with Russia’s failure to support their ally since the 2020 Second Nagorno-Karabakh War.
While expressing ‘serious concern’ over the installation of the checkpoint on Tuesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry repeatedly appealed to ‘both sides’.
They said that Moscow ‘considers unacceptable any unilateral steps that violate the basic provisions of the [2020 ceasefire agreement], including changing the regime of operation of the Lachin corridor.’
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the situation was ‘difficult’, and that ‘Baku and Yerevan must understand that there is no alternative to all the provisions of the trilateral settlement agreements’.
‘The beginning of the end’ for Nagorno-Karabakh
Since the beginning of the blockade of the Lachin Corridor in December, officials in Nagorno-Karabakh have expressed increasing concern for their future.
Following news of the checkpoint on Sunday, an extraordinary session of the Security Council was held including opposition figures.
In a statement adopted during the meeting, the Security Council called on Russia to ‘immediately start discussions on lifting the blockade of Artsakh [Nagorno-Karabakh], preventing the establishment of an Azerbaijani checkpoint, and providing real guarantees for the security of the people of Artsakh’.
In a separate statement on Monday, the Foreign Ministry accused Azerbaijan of ‘trying to give new impetus to its policy of ethnic cleansing of Artsakh in an environment of complete impunity and permissiveness’.
They also called on Russia to lift the blockade and ‘ensure the physical security’ of the region’s population.
The State Minister of Nagorno-Karabakh, Gurgen Nersisyan, also stated they ‘sincerely hope’ that Nagorno-Karabakh’s ‘just struggle for our own rights’, would receive ‘proper international support’.
Nersisyan’s adviser and former State Minister, Artak Beglaryan, was sharper in his statements. In a post on Twitter on Sunday, Beglaryan wrote that Russia’s ‘failure’ to prevent the blockade, the West’s unwillingness to sanction Azerbaijan, and, some ‘statements’ from Armenia were among the reasons for Azerbaijan’s latest move.
Marut Vanyan, a journalist based in Stepanakert, said people in Nagorno-Karabakh were afraid of what would come next.
‘Installing another checkpoint just means tightening the noose. Everyone understands that this is the beginning of the end of everything’, Vanyan told OC Media.
Vanyan said the population was frustrated with the local authorities, the Russian peacekeeping mission, and the rest of the world.
He said that many in the region believed that trusting Russia would lead only to a ‘slow death’. He said that unlike the authorities, who only hinted at dissatisfaction with the Russian peacekeepers, ordinary people were voicing frustration much louder. He added that many still believed that Russia was their only hope.
Bahruz Samadov, a political scientist and peace activist from Azerbaijan, said one of the goals of the blockade of the Lachin Corridor was to ‘de-Armenianise Nagorno-Karabakh’, a goal he said they had ‘gradually achieved’.
Samadov told OC Media that the corridor was ‘of course’ being used to transport weapons and ammunition, ‘because that's what you need for self-defence there’.
‘By establishing a checkpoint in the Lachin Corridor, Azerbaijan disabled the self-defence mechanism in Nagorno-Karabakh and questioned its existence.’
‘Azerbaijan is gradually achieving its goals, but unfortunately, it is very difficult to say good things about the future of Nagorno-Karabakh.’
Samadov also speculated that the Azerbaijani government sought the prior agreement of Russia before installing the checkpoint.
He said that while it was important for Russia to extend the presence of its peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh, what was occurring would ‘result in the departure of approximately 50%–60% of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh’.
‘As it is Aliyev’s desire and goal, this is the policy of de-Armenisation of Nagorno-Karabakh.’
The authorities in Baku have been demanding Azerbaijani checkpoints on the Lachin corridor for several months, with Armenia firmly opposing the proposition and Russia looking for alternatives.
One alternative suggested by Russia was a ‘scanner’ installed in the Russian checkpoints across the corridor to check vehicles passing through it.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov too opposed the idea of checkpoints several times. During a visit to Baku in late February, Lavrov said that ‘setting up any checkpoint there [on the Lachin corridor] is not envisaged’, referring to the blockade of the road and ways to solve the issue.
Yerevan has repeatedly referred to the November 2020 agreement signed by the leaders of Russia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, which makes no reference to checkpoints on the Lachin Corridor. The agreement states that the Corridor would be under the control of Russian peacekeepers and that Azerbaijan would ‘guarantee the security of persons, vehicles and cargo moving along the Lachin Corridor in both directions’.
Azerbaijan’s demands for checkpoints echoed Armenia’s opposition to a ‘Zangezur corridor’, connecting western Azerbaijan with its exclave of Nakhchivan, instead proposing a route that would go through border checkpoints.
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.