Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has confirmed that the city of Lachin and other nearby Armenian-inhabited villages will be handed over to Azerbaijan once an alternative road connecting Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh is complete.
In an online press conference that lasted over three-and-a-half hours, Pashinyan dedicated considerable time to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The press conference was boycotted by most local media organisations, who have accused the government of editing and distorting questions sent by journalists.
Asked about the boycott, Pashinyan accused the media of serving the opposition.
Speaking about the replacement for the current Lachin corridor, Pashinyan said that the change of route was to ‘ensure a more reliable and quality connection for Armenia’. He added that discussions on the new route were held with the Russian authorities, not with Azerbaijan. ‘The route will be changed after the peacekeepers take control of the [new] road’.
Armenia’s opposition has repeatedly claimed that the new road would be ready by 1 July and that residents of Lachin and nearby villages would face a last-minute displacement. Pashinyan’s critics have also claimed that the new road may be controlled by Azerbaijan.
The construction of the new route was outlined in the 9 November ceasefire agreement that brought an end to the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War. It states that Russian peacekeepers would relocate to the new road to ensure its safety.
According to Pashinyan, the villages that were part of the Soviet-era Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast will continue to fall under the control of the Russian peacekeeping forces.
Stalled peace talks
Pashinyan also accused Azerbaijan of not being constructive during peace talks and cancelling meetings to discuss the details of the process.
He said Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev wanted to continue a policy of keeping Armenia landlocked and was therefore postponing the opening of transport links in the region, which, he said would have a positive impact on Armenia’s economy.
Pashinyan also said that accusations by Azerbaijan that it was Armenia holding back the peace process, and his demands for a ‘Zangezur corridor’, had one goal — to legitimise a new war against Armenia.
He said the only alternative to war was peace in the region and a peace agreement with Azerbaijan.
Details of the process, which has become more active in recent months, remain scant. According to the Armenian authorities, one of the reasons for this is the unstable state of the main mediating body — the OSCE Minsk group.
Pashinyan slammed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for recently claiming that the Minsk Group ‘ceased to exist’, calling that statement ‘strange’ and saying that President Putin had reassured him that the negotiations on the final resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict would be achieved through the Minsk Group.
The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry denied Pashinyan’s claims that they were seeking a new war.
‘If Azerbaijan wanted a war, as Pashinyan said, it would not have made great efforts to rebuild and restore the territories destroyed by Armenia. It would not have presented to the other side the basic principles on which a peace agreement should be based’, they said in a statement.
They also accused Armenia of deliberately delaying meetings.
‘If Armenia really wants peace, it must show its political will and take concrete steps towards peace, rather than spending time reviving a format whose efficiency has always been low and whose members now openly acknowledge its impossibility’, the statement said.
A day earlier, on 27 June, the Azerbaijani President said in a video address at the World City Forum in Poland that ‘Azerbaijan wants to turn the page on war, normalise relations, and sign a peace agreement with Armenia on the principle of mutual recognition of each other's sovereignty and territorial integrity’.