Azerbaijani activists have announced they will on Friday end their long-running sit-in on the sole road out of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, as construction of a checkpoint on the border with neighboring Armenia nears completion.
According to organizers, the demonstrations on the Lachin Corridor will be “temporarily suspended” from 6 p.m. on Friday. Since December 12, civilian traffic and cargo deliveries to the isolated, Armenian-controlled territory have been stopped and only convoys of Russian peacekeepers and Red Cross aid workers have been able to travel along the highway for a total of four months, two weeks and two days.
“The majority of our demands have been addressed, and by pausing our protest, we demonstrate our good faith, hoping for reciprocation and gestures of goodwill from the other side,” Adnan Huseyn, one of the organizers, told POLITICO. “If the situation reverts to ‘business as usual’, we can always resume our protest.”
The demonstrations were ostensibly called over claims that mining carried out by ethnic Armenians in the breakaway region was poisoning the environment. However, analysts have been quick to point out that they have enjoyed unprecedented support from the state, whereas other public protests are routinely cracked down on by Azerbaijani authorities. According to Tom de Waal, a senior fellow at Carnegie Europe, those taking part had “evidently been sent there by the government in Baku.”
On Sunday, Azerbaijan announced that it would install a checkpoint on the internationally recognized border, controlling access to and from Nagorno-Karabakh, citing claims that troops and weapons were being brought in by Armenia. Western nations including the U.S. and EU, as well as Russia, have repeatedly expressed concern that the blockade by protesters and the installation of the border post violates the terms of a Moscow-brokered cease-fire that put an end to a bloody war between the two sides in 2020.
According to Yerevan, the checkpoint also breaches a call from the International Court of Justice for Azerbaijan to “take all measures at its disposal” to ensure the “unimpeded” flow of traffic.
On Friday, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna visited Armenia to reiterate the country’s support for the peace process and cautioned of the risk of “ethnic cleansing” in Nagorno-Karabakh if access is not immediately restored.
In a statement, Baku’s foreign ministry hit back at what it said were “baseless” claims. “Assessing the establishment of this checkpoint, which will regulate the regime of entry and exit from the border to the road, as a closure of the road, is also completely wrong,” officials claimed.
However, Azerbaijan’s land borders remain entirely closed in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and ethnic Armenians have long been refused entry to the country. Azerbaijani officials are yet to set out any exemptions to those rules and the foreign ministry has declined requests for further comment.
Inside Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized borders, Nagorno-Karabakh has been administered as a de facto independent state by its ethnic Armenian population since a war that followed the fall of the Soviet Union. In 2020, Azerbaijani troops launched an offensive to retake swathes of territory, with Russian peacekeepers deployed to oversee the Lachin Corridor and maintain the status quo.
However, in recent months, Baku’s forces have again pushed forward into the peacekeeping zone to take control of all routes in and out of the area, with Moscow’s forces apparently unwilling or unable to enforce the agreement.
Source : POLITICO