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Nagorno-Karabakh aid convoy held at Lachin Corridor

27 July 2023
Lorries loaded with humanitarian supplies en route to Nagorno-Karabakh. Photo: RFE/RL.

A convoy of lorries loaded with aid is stuck at the entrance to the Lachin Corridor, with Azerbaijani border guards so far refusing to allow it to enter Nagorno-Karabakh.

The convoy was arranged by the Armenian Government, which says it consists of around 400 tonnes of food and other essential supplies. Late on Wednesday, the convoy passed the Armenian checkpoint on the border but was prevented from proceeding further. 

The convoy comes in response to a growing humanitarian crisis among Nagorno-Karabakh’s 120,000 residents, who have been cut off from outside food and medical supplies since mid-June. 

Azerbaijan’s State Border Service condemned the convoy before it left Yerevan on Wednesday, labelling it a ‘provocation’ and warning Armenia against ‘aggravating the situation’. 

The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said that Armenia not agreeing with the Azerbaijani Government before dispatching the convoy represented ‘an attack on the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Azerbaijan, and is another provocation against the Lachin border checkpoint’. 

They also accused Armenia of ‘not being sincere’ in the peace process and of carrying out an ‘aggressive policy’. 

Responding on Thursday morning, Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan said that if Azerbaijan did not allow the convoy to pass, this would ‘only prove Baku’s genocidal intention in Nagorno-Karabakh’.

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‘Isn’t it because the real goal of Azerbaijan is to starve the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, to subject them to genocide?’, he asked.  

Pashinyan emphasised that the convoy was solely humanitarian and said the government was awaiting a ‘positive response’ from both Baku and the Russian peacekeeping mission in Nagorno-Karabakh to ensure the supplies reached their destination. 

He added that allowing the aid to enter the region would be a ‘positive step’ towards peace. 

Aghdam ‘cannot be an alternative’ to the Lachin Corridor

In their statement on Wednesday, the Azerbaijani foreign ministry dismissed reports of the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh as ‘political blackmail’. They insisted that an alternative route to bring supplies into Nagorno-Karabakh, from Aghdam in Azerbaijani-government controlled territory, could be used. They said that the European Union and Red Cross backed the use of Aghdam Road.

The ceasefire agreement that brought an end to the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in November 2020 stipulated that the Lachin Corridor should remain open under the control of the Russian peacekeeping mission. However, since December 2022, Azerbaijan has limited traffic along the route, at times entirely, first with government-backed ‘eco protesters’ and then with the creation of a border checkpoint in April.

Following a meeting with the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan on 15 July, EU Council President Charles Michel appeared to back the use of the Aghdam road while also insisting that the Lachin Corridor should remain open.

‘I emphasised the need to open Lachin road. I also noted Azerbaijan’s willingness to provide humanitarian supplies via Aghdam’, his statement said. 

Michel’s statement was met with criticism in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, with local civil society organisations calling for the EU not to legitimise the blockade of the Lachin Corridor. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said he did not have a mandate to discuss the proposal, implying that such questions should be discussed directly with the authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh.

On Wednesday, EU High Representative Josep Borrell reiterated the EU’s position. He said the bloc ‘took note of the expressed readiness of the Azerbaijani authorities to also supply goods via the city of Aghdam’ but insisted ‘this should not be seen as an alternative to the reopening of the Lachin corridor’.

‘The EU also notes that ICRC activities in the region have been heavily impacted and calls for their full resumption, including medical evacuations and humanitarian supplies. The EU stresses that humanitarian access must not be politicised by any actors’, Borrell said. 

‘It is incumbent on the Azerbaijani authorities to guarantee safety and freedom of movement along the Lachin Corridor imminently and not to permit the crisis to escalate further’, he added.

The Red Cross has expressed a readiness to use the Aghdam road to deliver aid to the region’s population, but said on Tuesday that they had not received permission to do so, without mentioning which side was withholding permission. 

While still being able to transfer some patients requiring urgent medical needs to Armenia, the Red Cross has said they have been prevented from delivering medicine to the region.

Shortages of medical and hygiene supplies have been widely reported in Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as the dwindling fuel supplies affecting the operation of ambulances.

 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.