Azerbaijan has reportedly allowed several dozen residents of Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh to go to Armenia after having tightly blockaded the region for over two months.
The development has led to speculation about possible agreements between Karabakhi and Azerbaijani officials.
On August 21, Azerbaijani public television reported the movement of "up to 60 Armenian residents of Nagorno-Karabakh with Russian passports" to Armenia via the Azerbaijani customs checkpoint at the Lachin road - which is the only road connecting the region to Armenia and the outside world.
"These people supported separatism in Azerbaijan," Public TV's reporter said from the checkpoint. "Yet, the Azerbaijani side provides them an opportunity to go to any destination of their choice without barriers, totally safely."
The Lachin road has been blocked since December 2022, when Azerbaijani government-linked self-identified eco-activists staged a sit-in on the Lachin road, accusing the de facto Nagorno-Karabakh government of committing "ecocide" in the region. The demonstrations ended in April after Azerbaijan set up a customs checkpoint on the other end of the Lachin road, near the Armenian border. While most Karabakhis refused to use the checkpoint, as they saw it as an acknowledgment of Azerbaijani sovereignty over the region, there was some movement.
Later, on June 15, Azerbaijan shut down all kinds of movement on the road, greatly exacerbating shortages of foodstuffs and supplies in Nagorno-Karabakh. On August 15, the first report of a death from malnutrition emerged from the region.
On August 17, the UN Security Council convened to discuss the situation at the Lachin road and Karabakh at the request of Armenia. While France, the UK, and the U.S. all urged Azerbaijan to abide by a February ruling from the International Court of Justice ordering the country to provide free movement at the Lachin road, the council failed to issue any statement or resolution.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has continuously denied that Nagorno-Karabakh was under blockade, as did the country's ambassador to the UN Yashar Aliyev. At the Security Council meeting, Yashar Aliyev cited the recent Azerbaijani proposal to provide humanitarian aid to Karabakh via the Azerbaijani city of Aghdam - which was backed by the EU Council President and Russia but rejected by Karabakhis, as they saw it as a legitimization of Azerbaijani rule over the region.
"If Armenia were genuinely concerned about the ordinary residents of the region, it would never have objected to the usage of the Aghdam-Khankendi road for the delivery of goods to the Karabakh region," Azerbaijan's UN envoy said, citing the significantly shorter distance between Nagorno-Karabakh's de facto capital (Stepanakert in Armenian and Khankendi in Azerbaijani) and Aghdam vs the distance between it and the Armenian border.
In this context, the news of a partial lifting of the blockade came as a surprise.
Azerbaijani pro-government media emphasized that those who left Karabakh were Russian citizens.
In an editorial titled "The 'Russian world' plan didn't succeed in Azerbaijan," news agency Report.az presented the August 21 movement of Armenians as an end to a Russian conspiracy. "The game Russia played in Georgia and Ukraine did not happen in Karabakh. It is known that the Kremlin distributed Russian passports to its loyal tribes in those territories and later created so-called republics in the territory of these countries," the piece read.
"This can be called a component of the hybrid war waged by Russia against Azerbaijan," it continued, repeating Baku's demand that the Karabakh Armenians "accept Azerbaijani citizenship and our laws."
(Russia deployed a peacekeeping contingent to the region after it brokered a ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan to end the Second Karabakh War in 2020. The contingent is scheduled to leave the region in 2025, and its presence can be extended only with the consent of both sides. For a while after the Armenian side's defeat in the second war there was talk of Karabakh Armenians becoming Russian citizens and the region becoming some sort of Russian protectorate.)
Movement at the checkpoint continued on August 22.
On August 21, the Armenian opposition media outlet Pastinfo.am reported that the Karabakh authorities agreed with Azerbaijani government to use the Aghdam road for aid delivery, and that representatives of the two sides would meet in the coming days in the Azerbaijani city of Barda, near Karabakh.
Azerbaijani media interpreted this report as indicating an agreement was in the works for a lifting of the blockade of the Lachin road.
On August 22, David Babayan, advisor to the de facto Karabakh president, spoke to Pastinfo.am.
He did not directly confirm or deny reports of a possible meeting of Karabakhi and Azerbaijani representatives in Barda, saying only that Karabakh was willing to discuss humanitarian issues but not "so-called integration or the dismantling of Artsakh's [Nagorno-Karabakh's] statehood" with Baku.
He also said that any opening of the road connecting Aghdam to Karabakh would have to be linked to the opening of the Lachin road connecting Karabakh with Armenia.