The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ruled that Azerbaijan must guarantee free movement along the Lachin Corridor.
The Lachin Corridor has been closed since December 12, placing Artsakh under blockade. The corridor, the sole route connecting Artsakh with Armenia, has been blocked by Azerbaijani activists supported by their government. Armenia sent a request to the ICJ on December 28 for provisional measures ordering Azerbaijan to reopen the corridor.
In its final ruling on February 22, the United Nations court observed that “since 12 December 2022, the connection between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia via the Lachin Corridor has been disrupted.” The ICJ ruled that Azerbaijan must “take all measures at its disposal to ensure unimpeded movement of persons, vehicles and cargo along the Lachin Corridor in both directions.”
“The disruption on the Lachin Corridor has impeded the transfer of persons of Armenian national or ethnic origin hospitalized in Nagorno-Karabakh to medical facilities in Armenia for urgent medical care. The evidence also indicates that there have been hindrances to the importation into Nagorno-Karabakh of essential goods, causing shortages of food, medicine and other life-saving medical supplies,” the decision reads.
Armenia had also requested that Azerbaijan “cease its orchestration and support of the alleged ‘protests’ blocking uninterrupted free movement along the Lachin Corridor in both directions” and “immediately fully restore and refrain from disrupting or impeding the provision of natural gas and other public utilities to Nagorno-Karabakh.” The ICJ rejected those provisional measures.
The ICJ also rejected a request for provisional measures ordering Armenia to halt any efforts to plant mines in territories that came under Azerbaijani control at the end of the 2020 Artsakh War, including “the use of the Lachin Corridor for this purpose.” Azerbaijan requested that Armenia provide information about the quantity and location of landmines and booby traps and allow Azerbaijan to demine these territories.
Azerbaijan presented a similar request to the ICJ in December 2021. The ICJ rejected that request on the grounds that it did not have enough evidence that Armenia’s alleged conduct violated the rights of Azerbaijani people under international law. It rejected the new request made by Azerbaijan on January 4, 2023 on the same grounds.
Armenia argued in the Hague court that it lay mines exclusively within its border for self-defense purposes. It said that booby traps had been found “within the old Lachin Corridor,” which came under Azerbaijani control after its route was changed in September 2022.
In the weeks before closing the Lachin Corridor, Azerbaijani authorities accused Armenia of using the route to conduct prohibited activities. On November 24, 2022, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov said that Armenia buried mines in Artsakh transported along the Lachin Corridor.
“The corridor is not being used for its intended purpose, and this must be stopped,” Bayramov told reporters, warning that Azerbaijan “will take all necessary steps.”
The closure of the Lachin Corridor, which surpassed 70 days this week, has created a humanitarian crisis in Artsakh. The daily import of about 400 tons of basic goods from Armenia has stopped, leading to a critical shortage of food and medicine. Artsakh residents have been using government-issued coupons to purchase sugar, rice, buckwheat, pasta, oil, fruits, vegetables, eggs and laundry detergent, as part of the authorities’ effort to conserve remaining supplies.
The gas and electricity supply to Artsakh have also been periodically disrupted throughout the course of the blockade, which Artsakh authorities blame on Azerbaijan. Families have been unable to heat their homes amid freezing winter temperatures. The government has distributed wood burning stoves to 700 families as an alternative.
It has also been difficult to heat hospitals properly due to the gas and electricity disruptions. At least 700 people have been unable to receive medical treatment due to the temporary suspension of all surgeries. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has transported over 100 patients to Armenia for medical procedures.
Azerbaijani authorities continue to insist that the Lachin Corridor is unblocked, since the ICRC and Russian peacekeepers have been able to use the route.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said that checkpoints should be established along the Lachin Corridor as well as along a route connecting Azerbaijan with its exclave Nakhichevan through Armenia. He proposed the idea during a trilateral meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the Munich Security Conference on February 18.
“Checkpoints should be established at both ends of the Zangezur corridor and the border between the Lachin district and Armenia,” Aliyev told reporters.
Under the trilateral ceasefire agreement ending the 2020 Artsakh War, Azerbaijan guaranteed “traffic safety along the Lachin Corridor of citizens, vehicles and goods in both directions.” The ceasefire agreement also commits Armenia to providing a transport link between Azerbaijan and the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic. The route should allow for “unimpeded movement of citizens, vehicles and goods in both directions.”
Aliyev has drawn parallels between the Lachin Corridor and the route to Nakhichevan, which he calls the “Zangezur Corridor.” He has said that the route should operate free of passport and customs controls. Armenian authorities have called a corridor without Armenian presence a “red line,” insisting that the route must respect the sovereignty of Armenia’s borders.
Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan rejected Aliyev’s call for checkpoints along the Lachin Corridor. He said that the principles regulating the Lachin Corridor were fixed by the ceasefire agreement.
“The renegotiation of the regulations of the Lachin Corridor, by the way again as a result of use of force, is not and can not be an acceptable solution for us,” Mirzoyan told reporters on February 22.
Armenian authorities have said that one of the motivations behind Azerbaijan’s closure of the Lachin Corridor is to pressure Armenia to agree to the “Zangezur Corridor.”
Armen Grigoryan, the Secretary of the Security Council of Armenia, said that the blockade is within Azerbaijan’s “so-called corridor logic.” “Naturally, that’s what all this pressure in Lachin is about,” Grigoryan said.