Tensions rise after Azerbaijan blocks land route from Armenia

Azerbaijan says it has set up a checkpoint on the only land route to the contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Russian peacekeepers are seen deployed at the Lachin corridor, the Armenian-populated breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region's only land link with Armenia, as Azerbaijani environmental activists protest what they claim is illegal mining, on December 26, 2022. Azerbaijani activists who have blocked the sole road connecting Karabakh with Armenia rejected on December 26 Yerevan's accusations of provoking a humanitarian crisis in the enclave. But locals in Karabakh interviewed by AFP decried the dire consequences of the blockade, which they say is aimed at chasing ethnic Armenians from the region. (Photo by TOFIK BABAYEV / AFP)
Russian peacekeepers are seen deployed at the Lachin Corridor, the Nagorno-Karabakh region's only land link with Armenia, in December 2022 [File: Tofik Babayev/AFP]

Azerbaijan has said it has established a checkpoint on the only land route to the contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh, a step that was followed by claims of border shootings by both Azeri and Armenian forces.

Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but its 120,000 inhabitants are predominantly ethnic Armenians and the region broke away from Baku in a war in the early 1990s.

Azerbaijan said on Sunday that it had established a checkpoint on the road leading to Karabakh, saying the move was essential due to what it cast as Armenia’s use of the road to transport weapons.

Azerbaijan “took appropriate measures to establish control at the starting point of the road”, the foreign ministry said.

“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 national security, state sovereignty and the rule of law.”

Armenia said the checkpoint at the Hakari bridge in the Lachin Corridor was a gross violation of the 2020 ceasefire agreement that ended a 2020 war.

It called on Russia to implement the agreement, which states that the Lachin Corridor, the only road across Azerbaijan that links Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh, must be under Russian peacekeepers’ control.

“We call on the Russian Federation to ultimately implement the trilateral statement,” Armenia’s foreign ministry said of the agreement that was brokered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Map of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh

The United States government said it was “deeply concerned” by Azerbaijan establishing the checkpoint on the only land route to the contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh, saying it undermines efforts towards peace in the region.

The US State Department also said there should be free and open movement of people and commerce on the Lachin Corridor, and urged both sides to resume peace talks.

Pictures of the bridge posted on social media by Azeri officials showed one side of it blocked by vehicles and soldiers.

Armenia’s defence ministry said a soldier named Artyom Poghosyan was killed at approximately 07:50 GMT when Azeri forces opened fire on an Armenian position in Sotk, an Armenian village east of Lake Sevan. Azerbaijan denied it killed the soldier.

Azerbaijan then claimed that Armenian soldiers fired on Azeri units at approximately 11:10 GMT in the Lachin district, a claim Armenia denied.

In 2020, Azerbaijan retook territory in and around the enclave after a second war that ended in a Russian-brokered ceasefire upheld by Russian peacekeepers.

Azeri civilians identifying themselves as environmental activists have been facing off since December 12 with Russian peacekeepers on the Lachin Corridor.

Armenia says the protesters are government-backed agitators who are effectively blockading Karabakh. Azerbaijan denies blockading the road, saying that some convoys and aid are allowed through.

In recent months, Armenia has repeatedly called on Moscow to do more to support the peace and ensure unfettered access between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh through the Lachin Corridor.

Source: Reuters