Azerbaijan blocks Armenian aid convoy to Nagorno-Karabakh, Borrell pushes for Lachin Corridor to reopen

On Wednesday (26 July), Azerbaijan blocked a convoy of trucks carrying food aid from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh at the entrance to the Lachin Corridor. Movement along the Corridor has, in one way or another, been restricted since December 2022 despite mounting international calls on Baku to reopen the road.

Having announced on Tuesday that the Armenian government would send 360 tons of flour, cooking oil, sugar and other basic foodstuffs to Nagorno-Karabakh to alleviate severe food shortages there, the nineteen aid trucks remained stranded at the Azerbaijani border checkpoint as officials refused to let them pass.

Armenian government officials had expressed hope that Russian peacekeepers would escort the convoy to Nagorno-Karabakh via the Lachin Corridor, however this did not happen.

The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry released a statement on Wednesday calling the aid convoy a "provocation", and an "attack on the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Azerbaijan".

Meanwhile a senior aide to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Hikmet Hajiyev, said that Yerevan should renounce "territorial claims" to his country and stop impeding the restoration of Azerbaijani control over Nagorno-Karabakh. This is despite Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan having stated on numerous occasions said that he would recognise Nagorno-Karabakh as Azerbaijani territory in the event of any peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Hajiyev said that Nagorno-Karabakh should instead be supplied with basic needs from the Azerbaijani city of Aghdam, a proposal that de facto authorities in Stepanakert have rejected. "Agdam-Khankandi road is open for all kinds of deliveries!", tweeted Hajiyev.

Pashinyan defends aid convoy

In a late-night tweet on Wednesday, Nikol Pashinyan defended the convoy. He said that they "cannot turn a blind eye to the situation that Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh are currently facing,” alluding to a reported humanitarian crisis in the region caused blockages along the Lachin Corridor. "The 360 tons of vitally important foodstuff sent to Nagorno-Karabakh is exclusively for humanitarian purposes."

The shortages of food, medicine, fuel and other essential items in Nagorno-Karabakh have worsened significantly since Baku completely blocked relief supplies that were carried out by the Russian peacekeepers and the International Committee of the Red Cross after a shooting incident on 15 June at Azerbaijan's Lachin checkpoint.

Borrell pushes for Lachin Corridor to be reopened

Also on Wednesday night, the European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell added his voice to growing international calls for Azerbaijan to reopen the Lachin Corridor.

"The European Union is deeply concerned about the serious humanitarian situation affecting the local population in the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast," he said. "The movement through the Lachin corridor remains obstructed for more than seven months, despite Orders by the International Court of Justice to reopen it."

"Medical supplies and essential goods are in short supply or have already run out, with dire consequences for the local population. It is incumbent on the Azerbaijani authorities to guarantee safety and freedom of movement along the Lachin corridor imminently and not to permit the crisis to escalate further," added Borrell.

Azerbaijan reacts to Borrell's statement

Responding to the statement, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry commented that while Baku "highly appreciates the support of the European Union to establish peace and stability in the region, as well as to the peace negotiations with Armenia", Borrell's remarks were "regrettable".

The statement released by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Aykhan Hajizada again repeated an Azerbaijani proposal that Nagorno-Karabakh be supplied from Aghdam, a proposal rejected by de facto authorities in Stepanakert.

The EU meanwhile has welcomed the Azerbaijani proposal on such a supply line to the region, but insisted that it should complement and not replace the Lachin Corridor. In remarks on 15 July after meeting the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders, European Council President Charles Michel said that he "emphasised the need to open the Lachin road [and] also noted Azerbaijan’s willingness to provide humanitarian supplies via Aghdam".

"I see both options as important and encourage humanitarian deliveries from both sides to ensure the needs of the population are met," he said.

Similarly, Borrell said that that while the EU "took note" of the Azerbaijani proposal, it "should not be seen as an alternative to the reopening of the Lachin corridor."

source: with agencies
photo: RFE/RL