Documents to download

Nagorno-Karabakh is an enclave in Azerbaijani territory that has a 95% ethnic Armenian population. In the late 1980s hostilities mounted as Nagorno-Karabakh’s regional Parliament voted to become part of Armenia. The situation developed into full-scale conflict in 1992, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Armenian forces took control of most of the autonomous region, plus a corridor of Azerbaijan’s territory connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia via the Lachin Pass.

A ceasefire was mediated in 1994 by the OSCE Minsk Group. After that deal, Nagorno-Karabakh remained part of Azerbaijan, but has mostly been governed by a separatist, self-declared republic, run by ethnic Armenians and backed by the Armenian Government. The deal also established the Nagorno-Karabakh Line of Contact, separating Armenian and Azerbaijan forces. The OSCE Minsk Group monitors the ceasefire lines and attempts to encourage a peaceful solution. OSCE member states have imposed an arms embargo aimed at minimising violence in the breakaway region.

However, Nagorno-Karabakh remains a post-Soviet “frozen conflict.” Since 1994 there have been regular clashes along the line of contact, and politicians engage in fierce rhetoric in both countries.

In September 2020 full scale conflict broke out in the region. Armenia said Azerbaijan fired the first shots, while Azerbaijan said it was launching a counteroffensive in response to Armenian aggression.

On 9 November 2020 a Russian-backed ceasefire agreement was signed, which would end all hostilities in the Nagorno-Karabakh region from the following day, 10 November. Negotiations had been brokered by Russia, with no participation from the Minsk Group or from Turkey.

Under the terms of the agreement Azerbaijan regained control of substantial territory in Nagorno-Karabakh and two thousand Russian peacekeeping forces were deployed to patrol along the line of contact and the land corridor of the Lachin Pass that links Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia.

However, despite bringing the conflict to an end, the ceasefire deal remained short of a clear and stable peace agreement.

Recent skirmishes

Over the past two years there have been frequent clashes along the Line of Contact. Tensions escalated again in July 2021, resulting in clashes that killed three Armenian soldiers.  Armenia’s Ministry of Defence issued a statement saying that Azeri forces had attacked a number of Armenian positions near the border. Azerbaijan accused Armenia of “provocations” and said its Army would continue to retaliate. Both sides subsequently accepted Russian proposals for a ceasefire, although further skirmishes took place in November 2021.

Further clashes also took place between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces along the Line of Contact in August and then again in mid-September 2022, which resulted in the death of nearly 300 soldiers. Armenia, and Russia, accused Azerbaijan of violating the ceasefire and occupying Armenian territory, while Azerbaijan demanded the disarmament of what it called “illegal Armenian formations” around Nagorno-Karabakh which it accused of shelling Azerbaijani forces.  Azerbaijan also accused Armenian forces of continuing to lay landmines in contested regions now under Azerbaijani control.

In October 2022, Human Rights Watch reported on the alleged extrajudicial killing of Armenian prisoners of war by Azerbaijani forces during the latest skirmishes in September 2022. Citing evidence posted on social media, the group called for accountability of the soldiers and officers involved. That incident is currently being investigated by the Azerbaijani Prosecutor General’s Office.

Russia, the US, the EU and the UN have all called for both sides to respect the ceasefire and continue talks on the demarcation of borders and the negotiation of a peace settlement.

Blockade of the Lachin Pass

The Lachin Corridor is the only transport link between Armenia and the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Under the terms of the November 2020 ceasefire agreement, Russian peacekeepers patrol the corridor, while Azerbaijan is obliged to guarantee safe passage, in both directions, for civilians, vehicles and cargo.

In early December 2022 the Azerbaijani Ministry of Ecology made a statement suggesting that natural resources were being illegally mined in the Nagorno-Karabakh region and asked Russian peacekeepers to monitor the situation. Azerbaijani civilians blocked the Lachin Corridor in a protest which lasted for several hours until an agreement was reached between the Commander of Russia’s peacekeeping forces in the region and the Azerbaijani government to allow Azerbaijani officials to carry out inspections at the mines in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Azerbaijani officials reportedly visited the mines on 10 December but were denied access by Armenia. In protest, on 12 December a group of Azerbaijani’s claiming to be environmental activists once again bypassed Russian checkpoints and set up tents on the main road effectively blocking the Lachin Corridor.

The Armenian government has accused Azerbaijan of being behind the protests which Russian peacekeepers have been unable to disperse.

In turn, Azerbaijan has accused Armenia of not only exploiting natural resources in the region but of using the road to move military hardware, including landmines, into Nagorno Karabakh and those areas which returned to Azerbaijan under the November 2020 ceasefire agreement. As such it suggests that the ongoing protests are the result of “the legitimate dissatisfaction of the Azerbaijani society against the mentioned illegal activities, and this position should be respected”. Azerbaijan has also insisted that it is Russian peacekeeping forces who are responsible for closing the Corridor and has called for border and customs checkpoints to be established.

Humanitarian concerns

The blockade has raised humanitarian concerns as food and medical supplies cannot get through to the approximately 120,000-strong Armenian population in Nagorno-Karabakh. Over 1,000 people, including hundreds of children are also reported to be stranded in Armenia, unable to return home.

In addition to the blockade of the Lachin Corridor, on 13 December Azerbaijan also cut off gas supplies to the Armenian enclave. The Azerbaijani state-owned gas firm Azeriqaz alleged the disruption was due to the bad weather and said repairs were ongoing. Gas supplies were subsequently reinstated on 16 December.

Despite the resumption of gas supplies, fuel, medicine and basic goods are now reported to be running low and the local authorities in Nagorno-Karabkah have imposed price controls and rationing. The Armenian Foreign Minister, Ararat Mirzoyan has accused Azerbaijan of seeking to “subject the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh to ethnic cleansing” by its actions, a view shared by a number of non-governmental organisations.

Azerbaijani officials have, however, said that Armenian allegations of a humanitarian blockade of the Lachin Corridor was “fake news” and that the free movement of humanitarian cargo along the road has been ensured.

Response of the international community

Europe Minister, Leo Docherty, has said that blocking the Lachin Corridor and disrupting gas supplies in winter risks “severe humanitarian consequences” and has called on Armenia and Azerbaijan to respect their ceasefire commitments and negotiate a lasting peace settlement.

The EU has also called on the Azerbaijani authorities to ensure freedom and security of movement along the Lachin Corridor and said that ongoing concerns should be addressed through dialogue and consultation.

The US State Department has called on Azerbaijan to restore freedom of movement and resolve its issues through peace process negotiations.

On 15 December the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed concern over the blocking of the Lachin Corridor and called it “unacceptable” to create problems for the civilian population in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Documents to download

Related posts