Lachin Corridor Blockade Worsens Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

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A group of environmentalists from Azerbaijan blocked the Lachin Corridor on December 12th.  The Corridor connects Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, a region of Azerbaijan with a large Armenian population. Azerbaijan claimed illegal mining occurred in Nagorno-Karabakh, and minerals were sent to Armenia.  However, it is believed no mining occurred, and Azerbaijan deliberately closed the Corridor.  Most of Nagorno-Karabakh’s imports come from Armenia, and since the blockade, there have been food and gas shortages.  Nagorno-Karabakh has caused conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the blockade will continue to prevent peace between the countries.

According to Eurasianet, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said, “The closure of the Lachin Corridor has severe humanitarian implications and sets back the peace process.”  However, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry has said Nagorno-Karabakh will be allowed to receive humanitarian aid, and does not consider the closing of the Corridor to be a total blockade.  Radio Free Europe reported the Armenian Foreign Ministry said the blockade had “cut-off Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia, and thus the outside world.”

In October 2022, the foreign ministries of Armenia and Azerbaijan met in Switzerland to discuss what would be included in a peace treaty to end the conflict. According to Al Jazeera, Armenia and Azerbaiajn agreed a treaty should support the opening of transport and communications lines in both countries.  However, this has not occurred as Armenia opposes the construction of the Zangezur Corridor, which would go through Armenia and connect Nakhchivan (an exclave of Azerbaijan) to the rest of Azerbaijan.  The Zangezur Corridor would be similar to the Lachin Corridor, as it would help Nakhchivan receive imports from Azerbaijan.  Eurasianet reported the two countries disagree where the corridor should be located. Azerbaijan wants the corridor to be located in southern Armenia, near the border with Iran.  However, Armenia wants the corridor to be further from the Iranian border, because many of Iran’s trade routes to Europe go through Armenia, and Armenia and Iran do not want the border to be controlled by Azerbaijan.

Armenia needs to support the creation of the Zangezur Corridor, as it is likely Azerbaijan closed the Lachin Corridor due to Armenia opposing the Zangezur Corridor.  If Armenia and Azerbaijan can support the creation of the two corridors, the two countries might be able to support other agreements discussed during the peace talks in Switzerland.

Conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan increased after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh supported the region becoming part of Armenia.  A ceasefire supported by Russia ended the First Nagorno-Karabakh War in 1994, and Armenia occupied most of the area around Nagorno-Karabakh.  A second war occurred in 2020, and was also ended by a ceasefire supported by Russia.  After the war, the Armenian military withdrew from the area around Nagorno-Karabakh, and Russian peacekeepers stayed in Azerbaijan to keep the Lachin Corridor open.

Since the First Nagorno-Karabakh War, the Minsk Group, which includes Russia, the U.S., and France, has worked to support a peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan.  Foreign Policy reported the Group has been ineffective in creating a treaty because Azerbaijan opposes France and the U.S. being in the Group, due to both countries having better relations with Armenia. Also, Russia does not have enough peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh, as many have left to fight in the Ukraine War.  For this reason, a peace treaty might be more likely if it is supported by other countries.  One country that could be effective in supporting a treaty is Georgia, which has good relations with Armenia and Azerbaijan.  According to the Caspian Policy Center, Georgia supported the creation of the Peaceful Neighborhood Initiative to end the conflict. The Initiative could allow other countries to be involved in the creation of a peace treaty, though the countries will also need to have good relations with both Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The blockade of the Lachin Corridor has worsened the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.  In order for the conflict to end, both the Lachin and Zangezur Corridors will have to be opened, and the two countries will need to support a number of other agreements. Other countries can help plan a peace treaty, but Azerbaijan and Armenia will have to support all countries planning the treaty.