Nagorno-Karabakh receives first aid in months, but route to Armenia remains closed
The aid was supplied by the Russian Red Cross via the Azerbaijani city of Aghdam. But the Lachin road, connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, remains closed.
A Russian Red Cross truck carrying humanitarian aid entered Nagorno-Karabakh from the Azerbaijani city of Aghdam on September 12.
It was the first delivery of supplies to the territory in nearly three months, since Azerbaijan shut down all traffic on the Lachin corridor, the only road connecting the Armenian-populated region to the Republic of Armenia.
It was also the first use in some three decades of the road connecting Aghdam with Karabakh's de facto capital Stepanakert.
Baku had been pushing since July for Nagorno-Karabakh to be supplied from the Azerbaijani side. That proposal was welcomed by the EU, which brokers Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks, but strongly opposed by Karabakh Armenians, who saw it as a legitimization of Azerbaijani rule.
But on September 9, the authorities in Stepanakert announced that they'd agreed to receive Russian aid through the Aghdam road "in exchange for Azerbaijan restoring the import of humanitarian goods from Armenia via the Lachin road through the Russian peacekeepers and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)." (The Russian Red Cross is not part of the ICRC.)
The following day the delivery was stalled, as the Russian truck, accompanied by an Azerbaijani Red Crescent vehicle, was stopped in the Azerbaijani town of Barda, about 50 kilometers from Aghdam. It finally entered the region two days later. The aid reportedly included food, blankets, and hygiene and childcare products.
But now that it has gone through, Azerbaijan is still not opening the Lachin road.
Dozens of aid-laden trucks sent by Armenia and France continue to wait on the Armenian side of the border, across from the Lachin checkpoint that Azerbaijan set up in April.
Statements by Hikmet Hajiyev, the Azerbaijani president's top foreign policy advisor, indicate that Baku does not consider the one-off aid delivery to constitute the opening of the Aghdam road and thus does not consider its conditions to have been met.
"We continue to engage with @ICRC to ensure the soonest and simultaneous opening of Agdam-Khankandi and Lachin-Khankandi roads for ICRC convoyed trucks as agreed in the telephone conversation between @presidentaz and @SecBlinken on September 1st.
"12 calendar days have passed since then, but illegal regime subordinated to Armenia refuses to allow this passage and opening of roads. We urge our international partners to redouble their efforts and exert pressure on Armenia and its proxy/subordinated illegal regime to end this destructive policy," he posted in English on X on September 13. (Khankandi is the Azerbaijani name for Stepanakert.)
And on September 10, while the Russian aid truck was held up in Barda, Hajiyev wrote that the aid truck's delivery was "a separate deal and shouldn't be confused with the suggestion on simultaneous opening of Agdam-Khankandi and Lachin-Khankandi roads for ICRC delivery."
Artak Beglaryan, a former senior Karabakh official, in response, accused Azerbaijan of "repeatedly attempting to raise its negotiation threshold and delay the process, while maintaining pressure on the Artsakh [Nagorno-Karabakh] side and continuing the genocide.”
(The Karabakh authorities characterize Azerbaijan's now 9-month-old blockade and resulting food and supply shortages as an act of genocide. This assessment was shared by Luis Moreno Ocampo, a founding prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, who reported that the blockage of the Lachin corridor amounts to genocide by starvation.)
New de facto president in Nagorno-Karabakh
The decision to accept the aid delivery via Azerbaijan was made just hours after Nagorno-Karabakh got a new de facto president.
Samvel Shahramanyan, the interim president and a former Security Council secretary, was chosen by the parliament on 9 September to replace Arayik Harutyunan, who resigned eight days earlier.
Like previous elections in Nagorno-Karabakh (which have generally been decided by popular vote rather than MPs), this one was denounced as illegitimate by Turkey, Ukraine, Georgia, Pakistan, Britain, Moldova, Romania, Uzbekistan, and the EU.
The EU did note, however, "that it is important for the Karabakh Armenians to consolidate around de facto leadership that is able and willing to engage in result-oriented discussions with Baku."
Heydar Isayev is a journalist from Baku.
Lilit Shahverdyan is a journalist based in Stepanakert.