This article was first published on OC Media. An edited version is republished here under a content partnership agreement.
On April 28, the Azerbaijani so-called “eco-activists” blocking the Lachin Corridor — the only route connecting Armenia to Karabakh across the territory of Azerbaijan — suspended their blockade following the installation of an Azerbaijani border checkpoint on the corridor on April 23.
The protest had been ongoing since December 2022, blocking all traffic in and out of Nagorno-Karabakh except for vehicles from the Red Cross and the Russian peacekeeping mission. According to the ceasefire agreement that brought an end to the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in 2020, the Russian peacekeepers were to control the Lachin Corridor.
Despite claiming to be protesting environmental damage from mining in Nagorno-Karabakh, the protesters had seemingly no connection to any environmental movements and were widely seen as an instrument of the Azerbaijani government, who rarely allow protests to go ahead unhindered and control all access to Shusha, the city that was regained following the 44-day war Armenia and Azerbaijan fought in 2020.
The Nagorno-Karabakh area has been under the control of its ethnic Armenian population as a self-declared state since a war fought in the early 1990s, which ended with a ceasefire and Armenian military victory in 1994. In the aftermath of the first war, a new, internationally unrecognized, de facto Nagorno-Karabakh Republic was established. Seven adjacent regions were occupied by the Armenian forces. As a result of that war, “more than a million people had been forced from their homes: Azerbaijanis fled Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and the adjacent territories, while Armenians left homes in Azerbaijan,” according to the International Crisis Group, an independent organization that works to prevent wars and shape policies. Following the second Karabakh war in 2020, Azerbaijan regained control over much of the previously occupied seven regions. Azerbaijan also captured one-third of Karabakh itself during the war. On November 10, 2020, Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a ceasefire agreement brokered by Russia.
The activists reportedly said they reserved the right to restart the blockade if their demands were not met for the Russian peacekeepers to “stop the illegal exploitation of mineral deposits” and to “ensure the monitoring of environmental and other consequences remain in force.”
The move follows the installation of an Azerbaijani border checkpoint at the entrance of the Lachin corridor near the Armenian border on April 23. According to the reporting by the Economist Intelligence Unit, “the move has increased the blockade of Nagorno Karabakh. A checkpoint on the border would give Azerbaijan the ability to stop any cars traveling between Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh.” Reports that residents were being screened by the Azerbaijani border troops emerged on May 1. According to reports, footage appeared to show Armenian vehicles passing through the checkpoint, with Azerbaijani border control officers inspecting their vehicles and documents.
“The people are from villages near the checkpoint under double blockade and were traveling with the support of peacekeepers, with guarantees of not being bothered,” wrote Artak Beglaryan, an adviser to the State Minister, on Twitter.
The villages were cut off from the rest of Nagorno-Karabakh after the blockade began near Shusha. They are now separated from Armenia by the new customs checkpoint. Samvel Tavadyan, a teacher in one of the villages affected, told OC Media the residents of the village were now surrounded on four sides, “it feels like a cage,” adding, “People hoped that Russians would ensure free movement” but now they are “confined to a small area between the blockade and the new checkpoint.”
Anti-Russia sentiments spike in Armenia
Meanwhile, the checkpoint, which was erected on the Hakari Bridge, next to a base of the Russian peacekeepers, triggered criticism in Armenia that the peacekeepers are “unreliable.” With the new checkpoint, resentments have only gotten stronger. Armenia's foreign ministry calling on the “Russian Federation to finally fulfill its obligation under Provision 6 of the trilateral statement by eliminating the illegal blockade of the Lachin corridor and ensuring the withdrawal of Azerbaijani forces from the entire security zone of the corridor.” Yerevan criticized Baku’s actions, stating that “no one but Russia” should exercise control over the Lachin Corridor.
Baku, in the meantime, denied blocking the corridor. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov stated on April 27 that Azerbaijan installed the checkpoint after warning Armenia of the “illegal use” of the road to transport weapons to the region.
“The Lachin road is open and will remain open,” Bayramov stated during a meeting with his French counterpart in Baku.
The Foreign Ministry had previously promised to create the “necessary conditions” for the “transparent and orderly passage of Armenian residents living in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan.”
Western officials also expressed concern over Azerbaijan’s actions. US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Secretary of State Antony J.Blinken, who spoke with President Ilham Aliyev on the phone on April 30, expressed “the United States’ deep concern that Baku has established a checkpoint on the corridor.”
The US mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe echoed Blinken's concern in a statement. “[The] United States is concerned that Azerbaijan’s establishment of a checkpoint on the Lachin corridor on April 23 undermines efforts to establish confidence in the peace process,” read the statement by the mission.
The EU High Representative Josep Borrell said in a Tweet the checkpoint ran “counter to EU calls for reducing tensions and solving issues by dialogue.”
The checkpoint has led to renewed fears in Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia over the future of the region’s ethnic Armenian population.