Azerbaijan establishes checkpoint at entrance to Lachin Corridor

Yesterday, on Sunday (23 April), Azerbaijan announced that it had established a checkpoint on the Hakari Bridge at the entrance to the Lachin Corridor, on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border.

Baku has for months accused Armenia of exploiting the Lachin Corridor for the transfer of weapons and mines to Nagorno-Karabakh, which they argue contravenes the 10 November 2020 Trilateral Declaration between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia that brought the Second Karabakh War of that year to an end.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has also on numerous occasions publically mooted the idea of establishing a checkpoint at the entrance to the Lachin Corridor connecting Armenia with Nagorno-Karabakh for this reason, which then led to protestations from the Armenian side who argued that such a checkpoint would also contravene the 10 November 2020 Trilateral Declaration.

The checkpoint establishment yesterday came after an incident in which three Azerbaijani soldiers were injured when their vehicle was blown up on a mine allegedly supplied from Armenia. Azerbaijan continues to accuse Armenia of transporting "military cargoes" to Nagorno-Karabakh, supposedly aided by Russian peacekeepers.

In a statement released by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday, Baku said: "The Government of Azerbaijan, taking into account the continued systematic and large-scale misuse of the Lachin-Khankandi road for illicit purposes by the Armenian side contrary to the Trilateral Statement of November 10, 2020, and resulting security threats, took appropriate measures to establish control at the starting point of the road on the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia."

The statement continued: "The establishment of border control mechanism at the starting point of the Lachin road will serve to transparency over the movement along the road, the rule of law, and thus, ensure the security and safety of the movement. Providing border security, as well as ensuring safe traffic on the road, is the prerogative of the Government of Azerbaijan, and an essential prerequisite for the national security, state sovereignty and rule of law."

The statement added: "The said control mechanism shall be implemented in interaction with the Russian peacekeeping force."

The Armenian response

Responding to the Azerbaijani announcement, the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement calling the establishment of the checkpoint "a flagrant violation of one of the fundamental provisions of the [Trilateral Declaration]", and accused Azerbaijan of pursuing a policy of "ethnic cleansing" in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Ever since the start of a so-called "eco-protest" further down the Lachin Corridor by Azerbaijani activists, which Armenia argues constitutes a blockade, there have been continuing reports of Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians having left the region being unable to return home.

"The Republic of Armenia, as a signatory to the [Trilateral Declaration] considers this step of installation of a checkpoint in the Lachin corridor by Azerbaijan unacceptable. This, as well as the previous similar actions of Azerbaijan, combined with continuous Armeniophobic and threatening rhetoric, are aimed at scuttling the negotiations on the document on the normalisation of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan."

What does the Trilateral Declaration say?

Armenia argues that the establishment of the checkpoint on the border, at the entrance to the Lachin Corridor, explicitly contravenes article 6 of the Trilateral Declaration. The relevant part of this article reads:

"The Lachin corridor (5km wide), which shall provide a connection of Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia and shall not affect the city of Shusha, shall remain under the control of the Russian Federation’s peacekeeping contingent.

"By agreement of the Parties, a plan for the construction of a new route along the Lachin corridor shall be determined in the next three years, providing communication between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, with the subsequent redeployment of the Russian peacekeeping contingent to protect this route.

"The Republic of Azerbaijan shall guarantee the safety of citizens, vehicles and goods traveling along the Lachin corridor in both directions."

Ever since the start of the "blockade" of Nagorno-Karabakh by so-called Azerbaijani "eco-protesters" on 12 December 2022, despite Armenian protestations, Russian peacekeepers have not intervened to force a return to the status quo.

On 30 March 2023, as stipulated in article 6 of the Trilateral Declaration, the route of the Lachin Corridor was changed after construction of the new route was complete. You can read more about this here.

One Armenian soldier killed, Azerbaijan negotiating with Russian peacekeepers

Earlier on 23 April, the Armenian side reported that one soldier, Artyom Poghosyan, was killed at 07.50am when Azerbaijan forces opened fire on Armenian positions in the village of Sotk. Azerbaijan denied it killed the soldier. 

Hours later, at midday, Azerbaijan says it formally established the checkpoint.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Armenian Service also reports that the Azerbaijani military and Russian peacekeepers are currently negotiating about the establishment of the checkpoint.

Tegh community leader Davit Ghulunts told Azatutyun: "They want to put it in the same area where the Russian checkpoint is. They don't let any of the Armenian delegation or the people come near the bridge. Beyond that, they are now negotiating.They want to put it in the same area where the Russian checkpoint is. They don't let any of the Armenian delegation or the people come near the bridge. Beyond that, they are now negotiating."

US expresses concern

Meanwhile, the US State Department said on Sunday that they were "deeply concerned that Azerbaijan’s establishment of a checkpoint on the Lachin corridor undermines efforts to establish confidence in the peace process".

"We reiterate that there should be free and open movement of people and commerce on the Lachin corridor and call on the parties to resume peace talks and refrain from provocations and hostile actions along the border."

source: with agencies
photo: RFE/RL