Armenia urges ICJ to end Lachin roadblock, Azerbaijan rejects claim

Representatives of Armenia and Azerbaijan met at the UN's highest court - The International Court of Justice - in The Hague on Monday (30 January) to discuss Armenian claims of an ongoing blockade of the Lachin corridor, connecting Armenia to the Armenian-populated region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The Armenian delegation was led by Yeghishe Kirakosyan, a Representative of the Republic of Armenia on International Legal Matters, while the Azerbaijani delegation was led by Elnur Mammadov, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs.

The Armenian delegation made three requests of "provisional measures" from the Court, namely:

1. "Azerbaijan shall cease its orchestration and support of the alleged ‘protests’ blocking uninterrupted free movement along the Lachin Corridor in both directions"

2. "Azerbaijan shall ensure uninterrupted free movement of all persons, vehicles, and cargo along the Lachin Corridor in both directions"

3. "Azerbaijan shall immediately fully restore and refrain from disrupting or impeding the provision of natural gas and other public utilities to Nagorno-Karabakh"

The Armenian argument

In his opening remarks at 10am, Yeghishe Kirakosyan spoke about the worsening humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, accusing Azerbaijan of inventing pretexts to justify the blockade. He said:

"One person has already died from lack of medical care and numerous others are at risk of a similar fate. Grocery store shelves are empty and food is being rationed. There are shortages in essential medicines and medical supplies. Trade and businesses have completely stopped. Gas has been repeatedly shut off entirely and the demand on the electrical grid has led to recurring and prolonged blackouts. The schools and kindergartens remain completely shut down. Children have been separated from their families for 50 days now. Despite the mounting cost of this humanitarian disaster of its own making, Azerbaijan has sought to justify and perpetuate its blockade on the basis of an environmental fiction that no one believes."

Mr.Kirakosyan also quoted a recent speech of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, accusing Azerbaijan of seeking to ethnically clense Nagorno-Karabakh, saying: 

"In President Aliyev’s words just days ago: 'if someone does not want to become our citizen, then the road is not closed, but opened. They can go, or they can leave by themselves, no one will stop them, or they can leave under the awning of peacekeepers’ trucks, or they can go by bus.' In other words, ethnic Armenians may not enter Nagorno-Karabakh, but they may leave. Judges of the Court, such blatant acts of ethnic cleansing have no place in the modern era. And this Court is the last hope for the ethnic Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh."

The Azerbaijani argument

After an adjournment, the sitting resumed at 4pm whereupon Elnur Mammadov of Azerbaijan delivered his counterargument, saying:

"Over the last several weeks and again this morning, Armenia proclaimed that the peaceful protests held by Azerbaijanis on the Lachin road are a “blockade”, even a “siege”, orchestrated by Azerbaijan and deliberately aimed at harming the ethnic Armenians who use the road. On this basis, Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of the gravest of misconduct, making allegations of attempted “ethnic cleansing”. Azerbaijan rejects Armenia’s baseless accusations in the strongest terms. Tragically, Armenia has seized upon the Lachin road protests to try to create political leverage in the ongoing peace negotiations between the two States, and instead of trying to resolve issues, it encourages hatred and fear of Azerbaijan and Azerbaijanis. Azerbaijan will use its submissions today to correct the distortions about what is actually happening on the ground."

He also repeated the Azerbaijani insistence that events on the ground in Lachin do not constitute a "blockade", saying:

"The protesters themselves have declared publicly and repeatedly that they had and continue to have no intention of blocking traffic. Indeed, every day, dozens of cars and trucks pass by the protest site on Lachin road. To date, more than 1,000 cars and trucks have passed. As I speak today, another 19 ICRC vehicles have just travelled from Garabagh to Armenia."

Further hearings scheduled for Tuesday

The Court’s decision on the provisional measures will be delivered at a public sitting, the date of which will be announced in due course. While yesterday's hearing concerned a case filed by Armenia against Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan has also filed a case against Armenia requesting the court to order Armenia to stop laying landmines and to “take all necessary steps” to enable Azerbaijan’s de-mining efforts. Hearings in that request are scheduled for Tuesday. Armenia denies the claim.

A verbatim record of the morning's and the afternoon's proceedings can be accessed here and here, respectively. The corresponding press release can be accessed here.

source: with International Court of Justice
photo: The International Court of Justice in The Hague, Reuters