U.S. Repeats Call For Reopening Lachin Corridor To Armenia, Blockaded By Azerbaijan

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The U.S. Embassy in Yerevan has added its voice to calls for the immediate reopening of Nagorno-Karabakh’s land link with Armenia, which has been blocked by Azerbaijan for the past month.

The so-called Lachin Corridor allows supplies from Armenia to reach the 120,000 ethnic Armenians in the mountainous enclave, and has been policed by Russian peacekeepers since late 2020.

In a written statement to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, the U.S. Embassy reiterated previous warnings by the U.S. State Department that the Azerbaijani blockade “sets back the peace process and undermines international confidence.”

The U.S. diplomatic mission also said the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is trying to address “the needs of displaced persons in Armenia.” It did not elaborate.

Government-backed Azerbaijani protesters identifying themselves as environmentalists have blocked a section of the sole road connecting Karabakh to Armenia since December 12 and are demanding that Baku be allowed to inspect “illegal” ore mines in Karabakh. Some activists have also called for the Russian peacekeepers to be replaced with an international force.

The Azerbaijani side insists that the road is open for humanitarian cargo, emergency services, and peacekeepers.

The authorities in Yerevan and Stepanakert have rejected the protesters' demands as a gross violation of the Russian-brokered agreement from November 2020 that suspended more than a month of intense fighting in the decades-old Armenian-Azerbaijani war over the Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding districts.

That cease-fire ushered in a deployment of about 2,000 Russian peacekeepers to the area and joint monitoring of the situation with longtime Azerbaijani ally Turkey.

Citing the continuing blockade, Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan refused to meet with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov on December 23 for talks that were due to be hosted by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The Kremlin on December 29 expressed "concern" about rising tensions but said talks with the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides would continue.

The Russian Defense Ministry has said it is leading the talks on the resumption of full traffic along the Lachin Corridor.

Michael Carpenter, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna, tweeted over the weekend that the closure was "creating a grave humanitarian situation."

He thanked the International Committee of the Red Cross for providing "critical aid" but urged Azerbaijan and Russia "to restore access immediately."

Members of the National-Democratic Pole (NDP), an extra-parliamentary bloc made up of several fringe groups that claim to be a pro-Western political force in Armenia, allege that Russian peacekeeping forces in Nagorno-Karabakh are colluding with Azerbaijan and Turkey to keep the only road linking the region with Armenia blocked.

NDP activists have called for the Russian peacekeeping forces to be replaced with an international force and urged Armenia to quit the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russia-led defense bloc comprised of six former Soviet nations, including Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said the country would not host drills this year for the CSTO given current security concerns and questions about support from the Russia-led alliance.

"The Minister of Defense of the Republic of Armenia has already informed the CSTO joint headquarters in writing that we do not consider it appropriate to conduct such military exercises in the Republic of Armenia in this situation," Pashinian told reporters on January 10.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said in a televised address on January 10 that Armenia would be the loser if the sides failed to strike a peace accord this year.

"We can live like this for a long time.... They (Armenia) don't want delineation, which means the border will pass where we deem it necessary," he said.

Aliyev also reiterated Baku's position that attacks Azerbaijan staged on Armenia last September were justified and necessary. Yerevan has described the cross-border attacks as unprovoked aggression, while Azerbaijan has said its soldiers responded after Armenian sabotage units tried to mine its positions.

Some 30,000 people were killed in a war in the early 1990s that left ethnic Armenians in control of the breakaway region and seven adjacent districts of Azerbaijan proper.

Azerbaijan regained all of the adjacent districts and seized some territory of Nagorno-Karabakh during the 2020 war in which close to 7,000 people were killed on both sides.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.