A view of an Azerbaijani checkpoint set up at the entry of the Lachin corridor, by a bridge across the Hakari river, May 2, 2023.

Azerbaijan Rejects Russian Calls to Reopen Lachin Corridor

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By Heghine Buniatian and Astghik Bedevian

YEREVAN (Azatutyun) — Azerbaijan has rejected Russia’s latest calls for an immediate end to its seven-month blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh’s only land link with Armenia, which has led to a serious humanitarian crisis in the Armenian-populated region.

In a weekend statement, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry defended Baku’s decisions to set up a checkpoint in the Lachin corridor and block relief supplies carried out through it by Russian peacekeepers. It accused the peacekeepers of not preventing Armenia’s alleged shipments of weapons and military personnel to Karabakh and not ensuring the “withdrawal of the remnants of Armenian military units from Azerbaijani territory.”

“Armenian army units on the contrary receive assistance under the guidance of the Russian peacekeeping mission,” it said without offering proof of the allegations strongly denied by Armenia.

Baku reacted to Saturday’s statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry expressing serious concern over the worsening shortages of food, medicine and other essential supplies in Karabakh and warning of even more “dramatic” consequences of the blockade.

The Azerbaijani side dismissed those concerns, saying that Karabakh can be supplied with basic necessities from Azerbaijan proper and the town of Aghdam in particular. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev apparently insisted on this idea during his latest trilateral meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and European Union head Charles Michel held in Brussels on Saturday, July 15.

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Michel said after the talks that as well as urging Aliyev to reopen the Lachin corridor he “noted Azerbaijan’s willingness to equally provide humanitarian supplies via Aghdam.”

“I see both options as important and encourage the humanitarian deliveries from both sides to ensure the needs of the population are met,” he said.

Karabakh’s leadership rejected the Aghdam option earlier, saying that it is a ploy designed to facilitate the restoration of Azerbaijani control over Karabakh.

Michel’s reference to it was constructed by some Armenian analysts and critics of Pashinyan’s government as a serious setback for the Armenian side. One of those analysts, Tigran Grigoryan, on July 17 decried “the inactivity and incompetence of the Armenian diplomacy.”

“By including such a point in the statement [by Michel] and putting that point on the same plane with the issue of unblocking the Lachin corridor … Azerbaijan will be able to nullify the previous decisions of various international structures — and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in particular — regarding the unblocking of the Lachin corridor,” Grigoryan told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.

The ICJ court ordered Azerbaijan in February to “take all measures at its disposal to ensure unimpeded movement of persons, vehicles, and cargo along the Lachin Corridor in both directions.” The European Court of Human Rights issued a similar order in December.

The Armenian Foreign Ministry pointed to those injunctions on Monday. “Other international actors should follow this line,” the ministry spokeswoman, Ani Badalyan, said in a Twitter post that may have been a veiled rebuke of Michel.

Brussels Meeting

Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev met in Brussels on July 15 for fresh talks hosted by the European Union’s top official, Charles Michel.

Speaking after the trilateral meeting, Michel gave no indications that Aliyev and Pashinyan narrowed their differences on an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace treaty discussed by them. He said he urged them to “take further courageous steps to ensure decisive and irreversible progress on the normalization track.”

“Even though our meeting took place in the context of a worrying increase in tensions on the ground, I noticed an important momentum in the political discussions and efforts,” Michel said in a statement to the press.

“The Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders once again fully reconfirmed the respect for the other country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty based on the understanding that Armenia’s territory covers 29,800 square kilometers and Azerbaijan’s 86,600 square kilometers.”

“Real progress depends on the next steps that will need to be taken in the near future,” added the president of the European Council, the EU’s top decision-making body.

An Armenian government statement on the talks said the three leaders agreed to “intensify the work towards the settlement of the discussed issues,” which included not only the would-be treaty but also Azerbaijan’s continuing blockade of the Lachin corridor, “the rights and security of the Karabakh Armenians and planned transport links between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

According to Aliyev’s office, the agenda of the meeting included Baku’s demands for “the withdrawal of Armenian army units from Azerbaijani territory” and the dissolution of Karabakh’s “illegal” armed forces. Armenia has repeatedly denied any military presence in Karabakh.

Pashinyan said last week that the peace accord is not “yet ready for signing.” The Armenian Foreign Ministry reported earlier that Baku and Yerevan continue to disagree on practical modalities of delimiting the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and organizing a dialogue between Baku and Karabakh’s leadership.

Pashinyan charged earlier this month that the seven-month blockade of Karabakh’s only land link with Armenia reflects Baku’s intention to commit “genocide” in the region. He made it clear at the same time that he will not deviate from his “peace agenda” denounced by the Armenian opposition as well as Karabakh’s leadership. Opposition leaders claim that Baku was emboldened by his recent pledge to sign a peace deal upholding Azerbaijani sovereignty over Karabakh.

 

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