YEREVAN (Azatutyun.am)—In a move condemned by Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijani authorities on Sunday set up a checkpoint on the only road connecting the mostly Armenian-populated region with Armenia.
In doing so, Azerbaijan’s State Border Service cited “continuing military supplies from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh,” a claim repeatedly denied in both Yerevan and Stepanakert. The Armenian side has, for its part, accused Azerbaijan of seeking a pretext for isolating Karabakh Armenians.
Authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh have also accused Baku of violating the terms of the Moscow-brokered 2020 ceasefire agreement under which the road passing through a five-kilometer-wide area known as the Lachin corridor should be under the control of Russian peacekeepers.
In a statement disseminated by the region’s Information Center on Sunday the Armenian authorities of the region stressed that Nagorno-Karabakh considers the closure of the bridge over the Hakari river by Azerbaijan to be “a criminal step aimed at strengthening the blockade of Artsakh [Nagorno-Karabakh – ed.] and ethnic cleansing.”
According to the Information Center, Nagorno-Karabakh’s leader has called an emergency meeting of the region’s Security Council to discuss “the latest developments and relevant actions of the authorities.”
Baku’s decision to set up a border checkpoint at the beginning of the road from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh comes a day after a report by Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense about an incident in which three Azerbaijani servicemen were reportedly injured when their vehicle was blown up on a mine allegedly supplied from Armenia. In another statement the ministry claimed that Russian peacekeepers controlling the area again helped Armenians transport “military cargoes” from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh via the Lachin road. The Armenian side has denied both accusations.
The only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia has effectively been blockaded by Azerbaijan since December when a group of Azerbaijanis calling themselves environmental activists blocked traffic at a junction near the Azerbaijani-controlled Karabakh city of Shushi.
Azerbaijan has denied blockading the mostly Armenian-populated region, citing the fact that vehicles of Russian peacekeepers as well as representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross have not been prevented from carrying humanitarian supplies to the region and transporting people needing medical care to Armenia.
In setting up the border checkpoint at the Lachin road Azerbaijan’s State Border Service also said that it followed a similar unilateral step by Armenia made on April 22.
Authorities in Yerevan have not yet commented on the development.
Meanwhile, in a statement issued today Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs pledged that “necessary conditions will be created for the transparent and orderly passage of Armenian residents living in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan from this checkpoint to Armenia and Azerbaijan in both directions.”
It stressed that the control mechanism will be carried out in cooperation with the Russian peacekeeping force.
Speaking in parliament earlier this week, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stressed that Armenia recognizes Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and is ready to sign a relevant peace treaty with Baku.
“The peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan will become realistic if the two countries recognize clearly, without ambiguities and pitfalls, each other’s territorial integrity and undertake not to ever submit territorial claims to each other,” Pashinyan said on April 18.
“I now want to reaffirm that Armenia fully recognizes the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, and we expect Azerbaijan to do the same by recognizing the entire territory of the Armenian [Soviet Socialist Republic] as the [modern-day] Republic of Armenia,” he added.
Armenian opposition leaders portrayed the statement as further proof of their claims that Pashinyan is helping Baku regain full control over Nagorno-Karabakh. Political leaders in Nagorno-Karabakh also denounced the Armenian prime minister’s remarks, saying that they are “consistent with the position of official Baku.”