So-called “eco-activists”—former and current representatives of the security services or the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan, members of state-funded public organizations, obeying a clear state decree, demanded to stop the “illegal” exploitation of minerals on the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh (NKR), which have allegedly led to environmental and other disasters. On December 3, members of this group closed the Lachin Corridor for the first time for several hours, “raising the issue of monitoring the Kashen mine in Artsakh, noting that its operation is being carried out in violation of environmental standards.” Through Russian peacekeepers, Azerbaijan conveyed that the Artsakh side demonstrated a constructive approach, and through Russian peacekeepers, the proposals were transmitted to the Azerbaijani side, and they were ready to allow the visit of environmentalists to the field. Azerbaijan did not comply with the agreement and did not visit the field. After that, on December 12, they began a long-term blocking of the road, causing serious humanitarian problems for Artsakh and grossly violating many norms of international law, as well as the provisions of the trilateral agreement of November 9, 2020. It is also important that authorities of the self-proclaimed NKR appealed to the UN within the framework of the Environment Program (UNEP) with a request to send an international monitoring group to the territory of the NKR and adjacent territories.
The blocking of the Lachin Corridor started by Azerbaijan on December 12 is proceeding according to tactics clearly planned by Azerbaijan. There is an operational propaganda group, which is at the main location and accepts new groups; a support base; base of operation; as well as a logistics base at the state level.
In the world’s eyes, this is a public action, but the real purpose of it is to enter into Artsakh and economic occupation, which, according to the plan, will be followed by political occupation.
The long-term blockade is a weapon of targeted action against the Republic of Artsakh, designed to create an atmosphere of psychological uncertainty and anxiety among the population and to eradicate faith in the future and thereby push the people of Artsakh to mass deportation. All the processes undertaken by Azerbaijan fit into the framework of the international convention on the prevention of ethnic cleansing and genocide.
Consequences of Azerbaijan’s Blocking of the Lachin Corridor and the Artsakh Blockade
The humanitarian crisis in Artsakh is deepening every hour for 120,000 residents, including 30,000 children. More than 1,100 people, including 270 children, remain on the other side of the corridor in Armenia, unable to reunite with their families in Nagorno-Karabakh. Due to the blockade, the construction of four-thousand apartments for displaced families has stopped. Fifteen-thousand displaced people living in Artsakh are in an extremely vulnerable situation.
Since the gas pipelines running from Armenia to Artsakh stretch along the former Lachin Corridor, which has remained under the control of Azerbaijan since August 2022, Azerbaijan, in parallel with the blockade, prevented gas supply to the NKR for three days. As the only communication route connecting the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic with the outside world, the corridor served the daily transportation of 400 tons of food and other essential goods from Armenia to Artsakh. On December 25, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) transported 10 tons of humanitarian cargo from Armenia to Artsakh. From December 19 until January 4, the ICRC helped in the transfer of nine extremely serious patients, including a four-month-old baby, to specialized clinics in Armenia. Medical supplies are running out. Planned operations have been temporarily suspended in hospitals. There are not enough supplies to care for children born in Artsakh. Along with the shortage of food and basic necessities, there is also the problem of diesel fuel. On January 3, the operational headquarters formed by the government of the Republic of Artsakh for the purpose of crisis management of the blockade decided to supply some types of products from state reserves to meet the primary needs of the population to stores. As of January 4-5, food and household chemicals stores are empty. Catering facilities are closed. Pharmacies are also empty; there are no baby diapers or antipyretic drugs.
Why has the blockade manifested itself with such acuteness since its first days?
Before the war, Artsakh had two highways connecting Armenia. According to the agreement of November 9, after the bloodless surrender of the Karvachar region to Azerbaijan, Artsakh has only one road connecting it with Armenia, which is five kilometers wide and has the status of a corridor. As a result of the war, Azerbaijan occupied 9,000 square kilometers of 12,000 square kilometers of the territory of Artsakh, which turned Artsakh into an enclave with the status of an independent unrecognized state. Artsakh, which claimed to be economically self-sufficient before the war, today can exist solely at the expense of external supplies. As an agricultural country, Artsakh lost its lands after the war. The entire state budget of the Republic of Artsakh is directed to the construction of 4,000 apartments for displaced persons. A small unrecognized state in such a difficult situation periodically faces problems created by Azerbaijan. In particular, the “creeping occupation” of Azerbaijan and gross violations of the ceasefire regime do not stop.
In whose area of responsibility is the Lachin Corridor, and why is Azerbaijan in a hurry?
In accordance with paragraph six of the trilateral agreement of November 9, the Lachin Corridor is under the control of the Russian peacekeeping contingent. While Russia is busy with its war in Ukraine, Azerbaijan periodically issues warnings about blocking the extension of Russian peacekeeping (its validity expires in November 2025). Azerbaijan counts on the fact that in connection with the Ukrainian crisis, Russia will not resort to the use of harsh force in the South Caucasus, especially since Russian peacekeeping does not have such a function. More specifically, Russia is busy with the Ukrainian crisis, and Azerbaijan is using time to its advantage. Cases of terrorism, killing of civilians, occupation and violation of the ceasefire regime by Azerbaijan are recorded in the daily bulletins of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation on the operational situation in the area of responsibility of the peacekeeping contingent of the Russian Federation in Nagorno-Karabakh. Only in 2022, in parallel with the deepening of the Ukrainian crisis, three major violations of the trilateral agreement of November 9, 2020 were recorded by Azerbaijan in the area of responsibility of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh.
- Escalation of Parukh-Khramort-Karaglukh in March-April 2022, as a result of which the village of Parukh of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic was completely occupied, and part of the Karaglukh hill was occupied;
- The August escalation from August 1 to August 3, 2022, followed by another violation of the agreement of November 9, 2020 – the relocation of the Lachin Corridor a year ahead of schedule;
- On December 3, 2022, the first blockade of the Lachin Corridor took place. Then on December 12, the complete blockade of the NKR began and continues to this day.
The blocking of the Lachin Corridor has raised the level of internationalization of the Azerbaijani-Karabakh conflict issue, registering only a declarative effect so far. Since November 2020, Azerbaijan has been pursuing a terrorist policy against 120,000 people of Artsakh. From the very first days of the blockade on December 12, Artsakh has been sounding the alarm about what a serious catastrophe it is facing. In the hours following the crisis, there were responses from many countries and international organizations. But they were declarative in style and had no practical effect. On December 20, a meeting of the UN Security Council was held, where speeches were made to immediately remove the blockade of the Lachin Corridor. It was emphasized in the speeches that this is a gross violation of international law and international humanitarian law. On December 31, it became known that no single statement would be adopted by the UN Security Council. On December 26-27, during the informal summit of the heads of the CIS member states, an informal tripartite meeting of the Prime Minister of Armenia, the President of the Russian Federation and the President of Azerbaijan took place, during which the topic of the blockade was also discussed. The meeting did not yield any results, and the blockade continues.
All these processes have shown that Azerbaijan continues to use the opportunities of impunity. Azerbaijan can only be restrained by painful and substantial sanctions. In this case the question is which states can take such a step, putting humanism above state interests. It is difficult for the international community to imagine the real situation of 120,000 residents of the Republic of Artsakh who are under blockade. It is a fact that 120,000 people are hostages as a result of the Armenian-hating policy of the neighboring state. In the conditions of the blockade, the Artsakh authorities see the use of Stepanakert Airport for humanitarian purposes for the transportation of humanitarian goods on medium-sized planes as the only way to mitigate the humanitarian catastrophe. There is no guarantee that Azerbaijan will not create obstacles now.
The population of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, which is under total blockade, appealed to the international community with a message of respect for self-determination through peaceful and civilized actions. The concept of “recognition for the sake of salvation” was the basis for the nationwide rallies in Stepanakert on October 30, 2022 and December 25, 2022 with the participation of tens of thousands of people.
The Republic of Artsakh warns the world that the introduction of international security and humanitarian mechanisms is a vital necessity, since the physical existence of an entire nation is called into question.