On 22 February, the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Azerbaijan must guarantee freedom of movement along the Lachin Corridor. The corridor, which is the only land route between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, has been blocked since 12 December by Azerbaijani activists backed by the government in Baku. The blockade has caused a humanitarian crisis in Karabakh, disrupting access to basic goods and services, including food, fuel and medicine for the 120 000 Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The so-called Second Nagorno-Karabakh War between Azerbaijan and the Armenian side ended in November 2020 with a ceasefire agreement that, among other things, discussed the existence and functioning of the so-called Lachin Corridor – a 5km-wide strip of land connecting Armenia to the part of Nagorno-Karabakh that remained under Armenian control. By signing the ceasefire, Azerbaijan guaranteed the security and passability of this corridor. Russia has stationed almost 2 000 troops in the area for this purpose. However, the Lachin corridor has been blocked since last December, which has meant a lack of oil, food or medicines and other medical supplies for Karabakh.
The blockade of the corridor began on 12 December 2022, when a group of Azerbaijani citizens claiming to be environmental activists blocked a road near a checkpoint built by Russian soldiers. The activists demanded that Russian commander Andrei Volkov allow Azerbaijan to monitor copper and molybdenum deposits located on the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. According to the activists, the Armenians are illegally exploiting them, which is also damaging the environment. Baku also has a direct economic interest in the Kyzlbulag and Demirli deposits. Azerbaijan has granted a mining concession to Anglo-Asian mining, but the company needs to gain physical access to the deposits to start exploration and production. Companies close to the family of Azerbaijan’s President Aliyev are also reported to have a stake in the mining operation.
Azerbaijani authorities claim that this crisis has a purely ecological dimension. In early December, Azerbaijan agreed with Russian forces that Azerbaijani specialists would arrive in the area on 10 December to inspect the situation at the sites, but this did not happen. According to Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov, Baku has been demanding the opportunity to monitor the sites for more than a year, but to no avail. At the same time, the Azerbaijani government denies responsibility for the blockade and claims that genuine environmental activists have blocked the Lachin corridor.
The Armenian side rejects these claims. According to Yerevan, these are not real activists but an action directed by the Azerbaijani government. In December, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan even spoke about the genocide of Karabakh Armenians. According to the Karabakh authorities, the road blockade is not the only element by which Baku is trying to show its strength. Gas supplies have been cut several times in three months, and power cuts are a regular feature. Behind this, according to local authorities, are damages to power lines in the section running through Azerbaijani territory.
The crisis has escalated to the point where it has had to be dealt with by the ICJ, which came to a conclusion on several points of dispute a few days ago. According to the Court’s verdict, Azerbaijan is obliged to use all means available to ensure the free movement of people, vehicles and cargo along the entire Lachin corridor in both directions. ICJ also rejected Armenia’s request for Baku to stop disrupting gas supplies to Nagorno-Karabakh. According to the court, the Armenian side had not presented sufficient evidence that there was organised sabotage. Azerbaijan had asked the court to prohibit Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh from laying mines and booby traps in areas where ethnic Azeris were to return. This request was rejected by the court.
Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons/Aykhan Zayedzadeh