Since December 2022, Artsakh, or the self-proclaimed Nagorno Karabakh Republic, has faced a blockade imposed by Azerbaijan. It started with protests by so-called “eco-activists.” Then, on April 23, 2023, Azerbaijan established a checkpoint at the entrance of the Berdzor (Lachin) Corridor. Since mid-June 2023, it has effectively prevented supplies of any goods from reaching Artsakh via the corridor. These actions have brought the region to the brink of actual starvation, as local resources have been almost completely depleted by the absence of deliveries of food and other necessities.
Given the deteriorating humanitarian situation, the Armenian government has launched a campaign calling on the international community to intervene and accusing the Azerbaijani government of committing genocide against the Armenians of Artsakh. Simultaneously, Armenia continues negotiations with Azerbaijan to sign a peace treaty, with multiple talks taking place in Washington, Brussels and Moscow. The Armenian government has reiterated its willingness to recognize Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity under the 1991 Alma-Ata declaration, including Artsakh, and has dropped any demands for the autonomy of Artsakh within Azerbaijan. Instead, it has called for Stepanakert-Baku negotiations under an international mechanism to address the issue of the rights and security of the Armenian population living in Artsakh. Azerbaijan rejects any international mediation between its government and Artsakh, claiming that the rights and security of the Armenian population are the internal affairs of Azerbaijan.
Meanwhile, Baku calls for the usage of the Aghdam-Stepanakert road to supply goods to Artsakh, arguing that as every state, including Armenia, recognizes Artsakh as part of Azerbaijan, no one should reject the idea of supplying goods from Azerbaijan, as is the case with other regions of the country. Artsakh authorities reject this possibility, arguing that it will validate the use of blockade as a negotiation tactic. They also raise concerns that once the road via Aghdam is functional, Azerbaijan will have another argument not to open the Berdzor Corridor, thus entirely cutting off the connection between Armenia and Artsakh.
Amidst these ongoing debates and mutual accusations, the humanitarian situation in Artsakh worsens daily. As a part of its diplomatic pressure on Azerbaijan, Armenia called on the U.N. Security Council to convene an extraordinary meeting to discuss the situation around the Berdzor Corridor. During the meeting, almost all members of the Security Council raised concerns about the humanitarian situation in Artsakh. They demanded the opening of the corridor, while some also accepted the possibility of using other routes to deliver supplies to Artsakh. However, the discussion at the Security Council ended without any statement or resolution adopted. Statements and concerns from states and international organizations are insufficient to force Azerbaijan to restore the supplies of goods to Artsakh via the Berdzor Corridor.
Currently, there are only a few options to prevent the looming hunger crisis in Artsakh, and only Armenia can take steps to end the stalemate. All calls to the international community, U.N. Security Council members, and international and regional organizations will only bring results if Armenia takes tangible actions to solve the conundrum.
There are several scenarios through which Armenia can restore supplies via the Berdzor Corridor. First, Armenia should clearly state that as Azerbaijan pursues a policy of genocide against Artsakh’s Armenians, Armenia cannot recognize Artsakh as part of Azerbaijan. Armenia may say it was willing to recognize Artsakh as part of Azerbaijan to contribute to long-term regional peace and stability, while knowing that Armenians will face multiple hardships living in Azerbaijan as Azerbaijan citizens. Armenia was ready to make this sacrifice, but it cannot do so while the Azerbaijani government commits genocide against Armenians. Armenia may return to its policy of recognizing Artsakh as part of Azerbaijan only after Azerbaijan ends its genocidal policy. By withdrawing its former declaration, Armenia can provide legitimacy to its demands that no supplies should be provided from Azerbaijan via Aghdam, and the supplies of goods via the Berdzor Corridor should be restored. However, this will not bring any change on the ground. Azerbaijan will continue to prevent the supply of any goods via the Berdzor Corridor.
If it withdraws its recognition of Artsakh as part of Azerbaijan, Armenia has two options. One is to threaten the use of force to open the corridor. This is quite challenging, as it may open the way for another large-scale war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, with unclear implications. Given the dynamic changes in regional and global geopolitics, it is almost impossible to assess the reaction and steps of external actors – Russia, Iran, Turkey, the EU and the U.S. – if Armenia launches a military operation to end the blockade. Given the gap between Armenian and Azerbaijani military power, this option is risky, even if international reactions are neutral or favorable toward Armenia. The second option is the launch of an airlift to Stepanakert using drones. Azerbaijan may use its air defense systems to shoot down the drones bringing food to Stepanakert. However, it will be challenging to shoot all drones, and it will significantly harm Azerbaijan’s global image, simultaneously bringing additional international attention to the situation around Artsakh.
Suppose Armenia does not withdraw its recognition of Artsakh as part of Azerbaijan. In that case, it will be highly challenging to demand the reopening of the Berdzor Corridor and reject the option to use the Aghdam-Stepanakert route. In this scenario, to prevent hunger in Artsakh, Armenia should start negotiations with Azerbaijan and international actors, including Russia, the EU and the U.S., on the modalities of the use of the Aghdam-Stepanakert road and the possibilities of simultaneous supplies to Artsakh from Armenia via the Berdzor Corridor and from Azerbaijan via Aghdam.
Not taking steps toward any of these scenarios will only exacerbate the situation and increase the suffering of the Armenians living in Artsakh, making the deadlock even more dangerous.