Lachin Corridor Protests Threaten To Reignite Conflict In Nagorno-Karabakh

A group of Azerbaijanis, presenting themselves as environmental activists, have been demonstrating along the Lachin corridor for more than a month. This is the only route connecting Nagorno-Karabakh, an Azerbaijani region with a majority Armenian population, to Armenia and the rest of the world. The corridor ensures the safe travel of Armenians and a consistent flow of supplies into the area. However, the environmentalists blocked the road on December 12th, claiming that Armenia is conducting illegal mining with the help of Russia. Azerbaijani soldiers have also allegedly joined the demonstrators, breaking the ceasefire agreement, which allows only Russian peacekeepers to control the road. Yerevan has referred to the protest as a blockade supported by the Azerbaijani government.

The region, which previously received around 400 tonnes of food and medicine daily, is now surviving in dire conditions. Very few people are allowed to travel to and from Karabakh. Pharmacies do not have the necessary medication, and all scheduled surgeries are postponed. Food is also running out, and supermarkets are empty. Hence, the government introduced a rationing system. Additionally, as the temperature drops below freezing, there is severe fuel scarcity, and families are forced to use scraps to heat their houses. Since January 10th, a breakdown in Azerbaijani-controlled territory has caused an interruption in the high-voltage electrical grid from Armenia, making it impossible for the Armenian electricity company to fix the problem. The internet connection has also been interrupted, and some believe it is an act of sabotage. Therefore, the population of Nagorno-Karabakh is experiencing a humanitarian crisis.

The State Minister of Nagorno-Karabakh, Ruben Vardanyan, has expressed his worries by stating that “the message that Azerbaijan is sending with these eco-activists is either you leave or you accept our rule of law, or you will starve and die because nobody cares about you all.” Nevertheless, the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, argues that there is no actual blockade and that up to 400 Russian trucks have crossed the road: “Surely, they carry food and necessary items for people living there. We don’t protest it. Our purpose is not blockade. So it’s just another anti-Azerbaijan show. I can’t find another name for this. Armenians and their sponsors think they’ll achieve something by using it against us. But they won’t achieve anything. We have legitimate demands.”

For decades, Nagorno-Karabakh has been a source of conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Despite having a significant Armenian population, the landlocked region in the Caucasus is recognized internationally as belonging to Azerbaijan. The war first broke out when the Soviet era came to an end, and in the early 1990s, Armenian troops seized control of vast swaths of land. Azerbaijan took control of a substantial portion of those lands with the support of Turkey during a six-week war in 2020 that left thousands dead. However, the Karabakh enclave’s status is still a matter of contention. Since securing the trilateral 2020 ceasefire agreement, Moscow, Yerevan’s ally, has kept a peacekeeping force stationed there.

The peacekeepers were not successful in stopping the blockade. According to Armenia, Azerbaijan is not allowing unrestricted travel through the Lachin corridor as stipulated by the ceasefire agreement, and it urges the peacekeepers to take additional action to clear the demonstrators. Moscow, however, claims it has done everything to help. The matter has strained the alliance between Russia and Armenia, and Yerevan has repeatedly criticized Russia’s presence at the corridor. Moreover, the Kremlin has been unable to end the blockade because its ongoing conflict in Ukraine constrains it. Over the past year, talks about finding a lasting solution in Nagorno-Karabakh have dragged on, splitting into two distinct tracks, one supported by Western nations and the other by Russia.

According to CNN, officials in Nagorno-Karabakh claim they are sure that Azerbaijan wants to besiege, starve, and subjugate the population as the blockade continues with no end in sight. The humanitarian crisis worsens as people do not have the necessary food and medicine to survive during the harsh winter. Furthermore, the blockade threatens to reignite the conflict between the two countries. Armenia and Azerbaijan have been attempting to negotiate a settlement for the Karabakh conflict for months. However, since the blockade started, the peace talks have been postponed. To preserve the peace in the region and prevent the population of Karabakh from suffering due to the lack of supplies, the blockade should be removed immediately.