Checkpoint on the Lachin Corridor: What’s Next?
On April 23, Azerbaijan established a checkpoint on the Lachin Corridor on the Hakari bridge. Thus, after a four month-long blockade of the Lachin Corridor by so-called “eco-activists”, Azerbaijan undertook another step in total contradiction with the sixth point of the November 9, 2020 trilateral statement.
The issue of a checkpoint was first officially brought to the table by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev at the meeting with Armenia’s PM Nikol Pashinyan in Munich on February 18 during discussions with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. A few days later, on February 22, Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan rejected Azerbaijan’s proposal by announcing that any renegotiation of the regulations of the Lachin Corridor that were established by the tripartite statement “is not and cannot be an acceptable solution for us” especially if it is done through the use of force.
At the end of February, Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, publicly objected to Azerbaijan’s proposal during his visit to Baku, stating, “The Lachin Corridor operation should be fully in line with the first trilateral statement of November 9, 2020, which implies the need to ensure the free movement of civilians and humanitarian goods. This is exactly what we want to achieve, first of all, with the help of the Russian peacekeeping contingent. It does not envisage the establishment of any checkpoints.”
Two signatories to the November 9 trilateral statement publicly announced their categorical rejection to the establishment of a checkpoint. However, Azerbaijan, the third party, completely disregarded their objections and established a checkpoint in the Lachin Corridor. Azerbaijan is not merely ignoring the trilateral statement signed by Aliyev approximately three years ago; Baku is actively changing the situation on the ground in order to renegotiate a new status quo where the Nagorno-Karabakh issue is completely off the table. Azerbaijan has not only undermined the November 9 statement, but has also ignored all international calls for compliance with the trilateral statement, as well as the International Court of Justice’s decision calling for the opening of the Lachin Corridor.
Right after an urgent UN Security Council session held on April 23, President Arayik Harutyunyan of Artsakh made a direct call to Russia to prevent the establishment of a checkpoint along the Lachin Corridor. “We appeal to the parties of the Tripartite Declaration, and especially the Russian Federation, to immediately start discussions on lifting the blockade of Artsakh, preventing the establishment of an Azerbaijani check point and providing real guarantees for the security of the people of Artsakh. We expect effective steps to solve the security and humanitarian problems facing the people of Artsakh in the shortest possible time, the absence of which will allow the authorities and the people of Artsakh to decide what to do next.”
Following Azerbaijan’s establishment of a checkpoint, Russia promptly replaced Andrey Volkov, the commander of the Russian peacekeeping mission, with Aleksandr Lensov. It remains unclear whether this decision was simply a way to use Volkov as a scapegoat, or if Russia believes that Lensov’s appointment could help prevent further dangerous developments in Artsakh. Lensov is currently engaged in negotiations, but no result has been reached so far.
It is noteworthy that right after the establishment of the checkpoint, Azerbaijan’s expert community generated two main narratives. The first suggests that the establishment of a checkpoint will facilitate the realization of the so-called “Zangezur corridor.” According to political expert Farhad Mamedov, “the installation of the checkpoint will likely result in the ‘Zangezur corridor’ issue being put back on the agenda.”
The second most common assumption is that the Armenians of Artsakh will soon abandon their homeland, effectively closing the Nagorno-Karabakh issue for good. One such proponent of this theory is journalist Fardin Isazade, a known mouthpiece for the Aliyev regime, who promotes what is generally accepted as state policy and is known for making provocative statements such as jokingly suggesting to “kill Armenians and shed their blood on kebab” and saying “They need to be given a certain time and a green corridor to exit Karabakh…” on his telegram channel.
These narratives which are mainstream in the Azerbaijani media are totally in line with Aliyev’s statement from January 10, when he made two significant points:
“…The realization of the Zangezur Corridor is a historical necessity. That is why I said it would happen whether Armenia wants it or not.”
“Therefore, whoever does not want to become our citizen, the road is not closed; it is open. They can leave whenever they want; no one would stop them.”
These narratives are not new, they have been actively circulated by Azerbaijan over the past three years. However, the establishment of a checkpoint opens up a window for new and dangerous developments in the region. On the one hand, Azerbaijan will use all possible means to depopulate Artsakh and get rid of the Armenian population. On the other hand, they will now focus on Armenia’s southern region of Syunik with a strong possibility of a new escalation.
Does Azerbaijan Want Only Artsakh?
On May 1, another round of negotiations kicked off in Washington between the foreign ministry delegations of Armenia and Azerbaijan with the mediation of Secretary Blinken. According to the statement released by the State Department, “the sides negotiated upon the agreement on the normalization of relations.” However, the statement goes on to say that the discussions are very comprehensive and cover a wide range of issues, including the rights and security of ethnic minorities. This suggests that the agreement the U.S. officials referred to in their comments may classify the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh as an ethnic minority under the jurisdiction of Azerbaijan. This narrative is concerning, and it may be one of the outcomes resulting from Pashinyan’s announcement in April 2022 when he said that the international community had advised Armenia to lower its benchmark on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh and to seek greater international support for Armenia and Artsakh. It appears that the international community has also lowered its benchmark, shifting the conversation about the necessity of Baku-Stepanakert direct talks within international mechanisms to an issue of the rights of ethnic minorities.
This narrative not only poses a serious threat to the Armenians of Artsakh but also raises several issues for the Republic of Armenia. If the Nagorno-Karabakh issue is considered “closed,” Azerbaijan may feel emboldened to target territories within Armenia proper, leading to further complications because Baku will see that using force and aggression will yield results.
The entire negotiation process for Nagorno-Karabakh was based on three main principles: territorial integrity, the right to self-determination, and the exclusion of the threat or use of force. However, in September 2020, Azerbaijan violated one of these principles and initiated a new war. Consequently, they now seek to deny the right to self-determination, potentially establishing war and aggression as a means to “resolve” conflicts. Failing to address the issue of self-determination and relegating Artsakh Armenians to the status of an ethnic minority without proper protection mechanisms puts the lives of 120,000 people in danger. It’s quite well known that Azerbaijan’s state policy is founded on anti-Armenian rhetoric, as supported by numerous international reports.
Aliyev’s disregard for agreements, like the November 9 statement, and his ability to unilaterally alter the situation on the ground with impunity have made the pursuit of regional peace significantly more challenging.
The recent order by Aliyev to actively promote the concept of “Western Azerbaijan” (implying the whole territory of the Republic of Armenia) is evidence that Azerbaijan’s aggressive plans are not limited to Artsakh alone. This development suggests that Azerbaijan may have further territorial ambitions beyond Nagorno-Karabakh.
Territorial claims against the Republic of Armenia are not a new phenomenon; however, their recent resurgence suggests that they are not limited to propaganda purposes. They may also be part of a strategy to prepare historical grounds for further aggressive actions against Armenia. Aliyev has admitted that following the 2020 Artsakh War, he feels emboldened to make new territorial claims. This admission suggests that the recent resurgence of territorial claims against Armenia may not be limited to rhetoric, but may also be part of a more aggressive posture by Azerbaijan towards its neighbor. Back in December, Aliyev said, “Armenia was never present in this region before. Present-day Armenia is our land… In parallel with this, let us work together on returning to Western Azerbaijan. Now that the Karabakh conflict has been resolved, this is the issue on our agenda. Of course, it was premature to talk about it before the Karabakh conflict was resolved. But we should not waste any time now. A concept of return should be developed.”
After Aliyev’s speech, the Azerbaijani media began actively publishing materials aimed at proving that Armenia is “ancient Azerbaijan.” The state-sponsored materials include numerous videos showcasing Syunik, Gegharkunik, Vayots Dzor, and other regions of Armenia, as well as the capital city of Yerevan as Azerbaijani territory. This propaganda aims to influence the Azerbaijani people and ultimately provoke another war with Armenia.
The conclusion is that achieving real peace in our region cannot be accomplished by closing the Lachin Corridor and cutting off 120,000 Armenians from the rest of the world. Nor can it be achieved by fundamentally changing the essence of the conflict, which can only be resolved through the right of self-determination of the people living in Artsakh. If international mediators and the Armenian government recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as a part of Azerbaijan and Armenians as an ethnic minority due to the aggression initiated by Azerbaijan in 2020 against Artsakh, it could be seen as a “green light” for further escalations in our region. Azerbaijan has already prepared ground for that scenario.
By completely disregarding the state-sponsored anti-Armenian propaganda and placing 120,000 people at risk, genuine peace in the region becomes highly unlikely. The leadership of Azerbaijan has never concealed its intentions to eradicate the Armenian population in Artsakh. Therefore, if the fate of these 120,000 Armenians is treated as solely Azerbaijan’s international concern, it poses a significant threat to their lives.
During his press conference on May 23, Pashinyan announced that Armenia is ready to recognize the 86,600 sq/km territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. And it is our understanding that Azerbaijan is ready to recognize the 29,800 sq/km territorial integrity of Armenia.
As for Nagorno-Karabakh, he mentioned that it is highly important to create international guarantees for the direct talks between Stepanakert and Baku over the rights and security of Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh. However, Azerbaijan has consistently rejected this offer, indicating their unwillingness to make even minimal concessions in order to reach a peace agreement. It suggests that Azerbaijan is seeking to shape the entire text of the agreement according to their own agenda, without considering the proposed compromises.
The ultimate truth is that peace cannot be achieved solely through papers, as world history has proven many times. True peace is attained when there is a peace process in place. This involves taking into account the will of the people who will be living under the terms of the peace agreement and addressing the serious security threats they face on a daily basis. Sadly, more than 120,000 people, 30,000 of whom are children, are trapped in a blockade, and despite international calls, Azerbaijan refuses to stop its inhumane policies. It appears that Azerbaijan has no genuine desire for peace, and may only be seeking a paper agreement to consider the Nagorno-Karabakh issue “closed” by expelling the Armenians residing there.
The negotiation process cannot produce anything of substance if the peace treaty that is being negotiated does not have substantive and concrete enforcement mechanisms from third actors and international instruments. Without a robust recognition of the reality on the ground, especially Azerbaijan’s obstructionist behavior, and without substantive enforcement instruments provided by international actors, a piece of paper cannot serve as a real peace deal.
Aliyev’s regime is quite frank about its intentions, and until we all acknowledge this, there is little hope for peace for those living in Armenia, Artsakh and Azerbaijan.
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The Azeri blockade of Artsakh is being *enforced and even encouraged* by Russia as punishment against Armenia for its Western inclinations. This as obvious as 1 + 1 is 2.
The Azeri invasions of Armenian are *encouraged* by Russia as punishment against Armenia for its Western inclinations. Russia and the CSTO are violating their defense agreements with Armenia. This is more obvious than 1 + 1 is 2.
The 2020 war by Azerbaijan, Turkey, Israel, and terrorists was *permitted and encouraged* by Russia. This is more obvious than 1 + 1 is 2.
The statements by Lavrov, Peskov and others that intend to deny these things and *humiliate* Armenians are proof of this.
There are Armenian writers who will not acknowledge these things because this is a fear of angering Putin.
So the Armenian public remained uninformed and fooled.
We Armenians are doing this disservice to ourselves.