An Azerbaijani checkpoint recently installed at the entrance to the Lachin corridor, between Armenia and the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, on May 2, 2023. TOFIK BABAYEV / AFP
Azerbaijan assures that it is provisional. The country’s border guards announced in a statement on Tuesday July 11 that they had suspended “temporarily” traffic in the Lachin corridor, the only road linking Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. The border guards motivated this measure by “multiple smuggling attempts” with vehicles belonging to the Armenian branch of the Red Cross through this checkpoint. They add that a criminal investigation has been opened and that the border post will be closed until the end of “necessary investigative measures”.
Border guards say they seized, among other things, between July 1 and July 5 a dozen mobile phones and hundreds of cigarette packets during searches in these vehicles. They claim that the Armenian Red Cross did not take measures to prevent these “illegal actions”.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) maintained on Tuesday that no unauthorized goods had been found in its vehicles on the Lachin corridor. “However, we regret that four drivers who had been commissioned tried without our knowledge to transport commercial goods in their own vehicles, which temporarily displayed the ICRC emblem. These people were not ICRC staff and their service contracts were immediately terminated”reacted the organization.
Since December 2022, Armenia has accused its neighbor of hindering supplies to the breakaway region and creating a humanitarian crisis there by blocking this corridor. Initially, Baku claimed that Azerbaijani environmental activists were blocking the road to expose illegal mines. In April, Azerbaijan then announced that it had installed, on grounds “safe”this checkpoint giving access from Armenia to the Lachin corridor.
Two wars since the late 1980s
At the end of June, the Armenian branch of the Red Cross announced that medical deliveries to Nagorno-Karabakh hospitals as well as transport of seriously ill patients had been suspended through the corridor. The announcement of the closure of the border post risks straining the negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan which are to take place in July under the mediation of the European Union.
Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Anna Badalian on Tuesday called for “international efforts” to reopen the Lachin Corridor. In June, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian denounced a sharp deterioration in the humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh with food deliveries “almost stopped” and patients prevented from seeking treatment in Armenia. According to him, Baku’s actions illustrated a desire to “ethnic cleansing” in the secessionist region.
The two countries have been fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh since the late 1980s, resulting in two wars, the last of which, in 2020, saw the defeat of Armenian forces and significant territory gains for Azerbaijan. Part of the enclave, with an ethnic Armenian majority but located on the internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan, remains under the control of Armenian separatists, but it is now surrounded by territories held by Baku. Armenia also accuses Russian peacekeepers, deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh since the end of 2020, of failing in their obligation to ensure traffic on the Lachin corridor.