Azerbaijani armed forces have killed 21 Armenian residents of Artsakh since the end of the 2020 Artsakh War, according to Artsakh officials.
In a report released on March 8, the office of the Human Rights Defender of Artsakh said that six civilians and 15 military officials have been killed since the signature of the ceasefire agreement on November 9, 2020. The report details the most recent deadly shooting of three Artsakh police officers by Azerbaijani soldiers on March 5.
“The ongoing blockade of Azerbaijan, as well as the regular and consistent armed attacks, aim at subjecting Artsakh to ethnic cleansing through physical and psychological intimidation, creating unbearable conditions and destroying the indigenous Armenian population of Artsakh,” the report reads.
Officials say Lieutenant Colonel Armen Babayan, Major Davit Danielyan and Lieutenant Ararat Gasparyan were traveling in a vehicle belonging to the Passport and Visa Department of the Police of the Republic of Artsakh on Sunday morning when they were attacked and killed by a dozen Azerbaijani armed forces. Lieutenant Davit Hovsepyan was wounded and is in intensive care after surgery.
In its daily bulletin on March 6, the Russian peacekeeping mission in Artsakh confirmed that the Azerbaijani soldiers had instigated the shooting. The Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan said that the Russian peacekeepers had “spread untruthful information.” Azerbaijani authorities say that their soldiers had opened fire in response to shooting from the Artsakh police officers.
Two days after the shooting, Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry threatened to “take resolute, necessary measures to suppress the actions” of Armenia and Artsakh. It accused Armenian military officials of traveling along an unpaved route between Stepanakert and the Lisagor village accompanied by Russian peacekeepers. Armenia’s Foreign Ministry responded that Azerbaijan was spreading “disinformation and escalation” to “create a false information basis to launch a new aggression” against Artsakh and Armenia.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan had accused the Artsakh police officers targeted in this week’s shooting of using the route to transport weapons, ammunition, military personnel and landmines from Armenia to Artsakh. Azerbaijani armed forces had been sent to the route to inspect the vehicle.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry said that the vehicle was traveling from Stepanakert to the Hin Shen and Mets Shen villages of Artsakh. Armenian officials say there were no weapons or ammunition in the vehicle except for a service pistol. The Foreign Ministry called for an international fact-finding mission to the Lachin Corridor.
Azerbaijani authorities have repeatedly accused Armenia of illegally transporting mines along the Lachin Corridor, the road connecting Armenia and Artsakh. On February 22, the International Court of Justice rejected a request from Azerbaijan for provisional measures ordering Armenia to stop using the Lachin Corridor for this purpose, citing insufficient evidence.
After this week’s shooting, Azerbaijani authorities said that using a road besides the Lachin Corridor to travel between Armenia and Artsakh violates the terms of the ceasefire. The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry called for the “establishment of a border checkpoint regime” along the Lachin Corridor and the “immediate withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces” from Artsakh.
There are currently no units of the Armenian military stationed in Artsakh. Armenian authorities consider this a demand from Azerbaijan to disband the Artsakh Defense Army.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry later warned that if these demands are not fulfilled, “the Azerbaijani side will have to take decisive and necessary measures to disarm and neutralize illegal gunmen.”
Political scientist Tigran Grigoryan says that the unpaved road where the shooting took place has been used since the start of Azerbaijan’s blockade of Artsakh for “some irregular transits of individuals.” Grigoryan says the road cannot be used as an alternative to the Lachin Corridor because of its difficult terrain. Government sponsored Azerbaijani activists have closed the Lachin Corridor since December 12, placing Artsakh under blockade and creating a humanitarian crisis.
“The aim of this attack was to deter individuals from using this passage and force Nagorno-Karabakh into accepting such Azerbaijani demands as the installation of checkpoints on the Lachin corridor,” Grigoryan tweeted.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has proposed the establishment of checkpoints along the Lachin Corridor. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov ruled out such checkpoints while speaking with the press on February 28. He said that the corridor must operate in compliance with the ceasefire agreement, “which means the need to ensure free movement for exclusively civilian and humanitarian cargo and civilians.”
However, Lavrov added that it may be “possible to use technical means to remove the existing suspicions that the corridor is really used for its intended purpose,” in reference to Azerbaijan’s accusations that the corridor is used to transport mines and weapons.
European External Action Service (EEAS) said that the EU “deplores the outbreak of violence yesterday on the Karabakh Line of Contact. “We urge all stakeholders to show restraint in order to prevent any further actions which could further undermine regional stability and threaten the peace process,” the EEAS said in a statement.
The Artsakh Foreign Ministry noted that the attack took place days after a March 1 meeting between representatives from Artsakh and Azerbaijan since the start of the blockade.
“Through its actions, Baku openly demonstrates its rejection of negotiations as a means of finding solutions to any issues,” the Artsakh Foreign Ministry said.
Lusine Avanesyan, spokesperson for the Artsakh president, said that the representatives discussed “humanitarian and infrastructural issues,” specifically the restoration of movement along the Lachin Corridor, during meetings on February 25 and March 1. The Azerbaijani side said that the representatives discussed the “reintegration of Armenian residents living in the Karabakh region into the Republic of Azerbaijan,” which Artsakh authorities denied.
Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan said during a Security Council meeting on March 6 that the meetings “did not give results.” Harutyunyan said that, after the meetings, Azerbaijani officials conveyed through private channels that Artsakh must “accept the integration policy” or face “tougher and more drastic steps.”
“We did not accept and do not accept, and today I want to state again that it is not only a decision of the Security Council, but the overwhelming majority of our people accept that we will not deviate from our right to independence and self-determination,” Harutyunyan said.