The move comes after almost two months of near-total blockade and warnings of ‘genocide.’
Azerbaijan has agreed to reopen the only highway linking Armenia to the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh provided local leaders accept aid from Azerbaijan as well, a senior Azerbaijani official told POLITICO on Saturday.
The news comes after authorities in the ethnic Armenian-controlled exclave — inside Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized borders — announced earlier in the day that it would accept humanitarian shipments from the Russian Red Cross via an alternative road from Aghdam, inside Azerbaijani government-held territory.
According to Hikmet Hajiyev, foreign policy adviser to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, “Azerbaijan expressed its consent as a goodwill gesture to ensure simultaneous opening” of the so-called Lachin Corridor for ICRC cargo. The road connects the mountainous territory to Armenia. The acceptance, he said, would pave the way for a separate deal to allow passage from Armenia. “In the Lachin checkpoint, Azerbaijan’s customs and border regime must be observed,” he said.
For close to two months, aid organizations including the Red Cross have said they have been unable to transport supplies of food and fuel into Nagorno-Karabakh, despite a 2020 ceasefire agreement between the two sides guaranteeing free use of the road under the supervision of Russian peacekeepers. With essential provisions running low, local Armenians say a humanitarian crisis is already unfolding and the former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno Ocampo, last month issued a report warning that a “genocide” was under way.
Both the U.S. and the EU have urged Azerbaijan to reopen the Lachin Corridor. The South Caucasus country denies it is orchestrating a blockade, and has insisted the Karabakh Armenians must accept humanitarian supplies from inside Azerbaijan.
Arayik Harutyunyan, the former de facto president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, told POLITICO in July that he would refuse to accept the supplies despite a deteriorating humanitarian situation because “Azerbaijan created this crisis and cannot be the solution to it.”
Harutyunyan, who resigned last month amid the ongoing crisis, was due to be replaced on Saturday in a presidential election. However, according to Hajiyev, the “sham elections” are a “serious setback and counterproductive” for the situation.
Instead, he reiterated a call from the Azerbaijani government for the Karabakh Armenians to lay down their arms and accept being governed as part of Azerbaijan. “It is the only way to a lasting peace where Armenian and Azerbaijani residents of Karabakh can live and coexist,” he said.
Hajiyev later clarified in a statement on social media that the Lachin Corridor would not be opened immediately, but under the terms of a deal allowing indefinite access for Azerbaijani aid from Aghdam.
As of Sunday, despite a statement from Karabakh Armenian authorities that the deal had been done to open the Lachin Corridor, access for aid organizations and Russian peacekeepers has reportedly not yet been restored.
(c) 2023, Politico