The Lachin Corridor

By Artak Khulian

YEREVAN (Azatutyun) — Ten days after blocking the movement of humanitarian convoys through the Lachin corridor, Azerbaijan allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Sunday, June 25, to resume the evacuation of seriously ill persons from Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia.

“We resumed yesterday the transfer of patients to Armenia through the Lachin corridor,” Eteri Musayelian, a spokeswoman for the ICRC office in Stepanakert, told RFE/RL s Armenian Service on Monday, June 26. “We evacuated 15 patients yesterday and 16 others today.”

Videos released by Azerbaijani government-controlled media showed those patients, family members accompanying them and ICRC vehicles undergoing meticulous checks at an Azerbaijani checkpoint controversially set up in the corridor in April.

According to health authorities in Stepanakert, nearly 190 Karabakh residents were waiting to be evacuated to Armenian hospitals for urgent treatment as of Saturday.

The medical evacuations have been carried out only by the ICRC ever since Azerbaijan stopped last December commercial traffic though the sole road connecting Karabakh to Armenia. Baku blocked them as well as Russian peacekeepers’ food supplies to Karabakh on June 15 following a shooting incident near the Azerbaijani checkpoint.

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The evacuations resumed one day after Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov met with an ICRC delegation in Baku. The situation in the Lachin corridor was reportedly high on the meeting’s agenda.

Gegham Stepanyan, Karabakh’s human rights ombudsman, linked the development to serious concerns expressed by Russia, the European Union and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) at the tightening of the Azerbaijani blockade, which aggravated food shortages in Karabakh.

“But we cannot consider [the international pressure] fully effective because although the transport of patients and medicine through the Red Cross has been restored, 120,000 people are still denied access to food and other essential items,” said Stepanyan.

The European Union expressed serious concern on Friday over the tightening of Azerbaijan’s seven-month blockade of the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia.

Baku stopped on June 15 the movement through the Lachin corridor of humanitarian convoys organized by the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Karabakh and the International Committee of the Red Cross. The move followed a shootout near an Azerbaijani checkpoint controversially set up in late April by a bridge over the Hakari river, the starting point of the Lachin corridor.

Armenia said its border guards opened fire to stop Azerbaijani servicemen manning the checkpoint from placing an Azerbaijani flag on adjacent Armenian territory. Azerbaijan insisted, however, that they did not cross into Armenia.

“The near total blockage of the Lachin corridor, in place since June 15 is very worrying,” Nabila Massrali, the EU’s foreign policy spokeswoman, said in a statement. “It directly threatens the livelihoods of the local population and raises serious fears of a potential humanitarian crisis.”

The EU was also alarmed by heightened tensions along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and the Karabakh “line of contact.”

“Following the series of recent high-level meetings, the EU continues to be engaged at the highest political level to help defuse these tensions and find mutually acceptable solutions,” added Massrali.

Her statement came two days after a group of European Parliament members and the head of the EU Delegation in Yerevan, Andrea Wiktorin, joined EU monitors for a patrol near the Hakari bridge. Nathalie Loiseau, who led the visiting parliamentary delegation, demanded an immediate end to the “illegal” blockade.

The Azerbaijani side showed on Friday no signs of planning to lift it. A video released by Karabakh’s leadership showed that Azerbaijani security personnel placed concrete road blocks on the bridge, making renewed traffic through the corridor even more difficult.

Several other bodies as well as governments have spoken out against the blockade.

The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) has called on Azerbaijan to reopen the sole road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh Armenia and unblock electricity and gas supplies to the Armenian-populated region.

In a resolution adopted late on Thursday, June 22, the PACE deplored the December 2022 “interruption of the free and safe passage through the Lachin corridor and the subsequent deliberate cutting of electricity and gas supplies to the region.”

It said Baku should “urgently” comply with a ruling handed down by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in February. The UN court ordered the Azerbaijani government to “take all measures at its disposal to ensure unimpeded movement of persons, vehicles, and cargo along the Lachin Corridor in both directions.”

“The Assembly stresses that the current situation is not sustainable and may well lead to the Armenian population being forced to leave their homes and communities if there is no resolution to the conflict,” reads the PACE resolution adopted by 48 votes to 16.

“In this context, it urgently calls for addressing the issues of the rights and security of the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh through dialogue between Baku and Khakendi/Stepanakert and a neutral international involvement in any peace implementation mechanism to be put in place,” it says.

Such a mechanism is strongly supported by Armenia but opposed by Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said last month that the Karabakh Armenians “will either live under Azerbaijani rule or leave” their homeland.

The PACE resolution does not mention Baku’s decision to completely block the movement of special humanitarian convoys through the Lachin corridor which followed a shooting incident there on June 15. The move aggravated the shortages of food, medicine and other essential items in Karabakh.

Paul Gavan, an Irish lawmaker who drafted the resolution, acknowledged and criticized the tightening of the blockade during a PACE debate that preceded the adoption of the text. Gavan cited information received from the European Union’s monitoring mission deployed along Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan.

Russia urged Azerbaijan to unblock the road.

“We call on Baku to take steps to completely unblock the [Lachin] corridor for humanitarian purposes and not to hold Karabakh’s population hostage to political disagreements with Yerevan,” said Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman.

Zakharova said Moscow keeps trying to restore vital supplies of food, medicine and other essential items to Karabakh.

Karabakh’s leadership charged on Wednesday that Baku’s actions amounted to a “war crime.” It demanded that the international community take “coercive measures” to end the blockade.

“Azerbaijan has elevated to a new level its systematic policy of ethnic cleansing of Artsakh and the destruction of its people,” read a statement released by the foreign ministry in Stepanakert.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan raised the “illegal blockade” with a group of members of the European Parliament at a meeting held in Yerevan on Tuesday. Pashinyan renewed his calls for the dispatch of an international fact-finding mission to Karabakh and the Lachin corridor.

On Wednesday, the visiting parliamentarians joined members of a European Union monitoring mission in touring an Armenian border area adjacent to the corridor. They discussed the security situation there and in Armenia’s Syunik province as a whole with Robert Ghukasian, the provincial governor.

“I reaffirm the European Parliament’s position that the blockade of the Lachin corridor is illegal and must end,” the head of the delegation, Nathalie Loiseau, told reporters afterwards.


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