We’re going on to Day 6 of the Artsakh Blockade by Azerbaijan, and Groong and 168 Hours are teaming up to bring you more English-language coverage on the developments of this very serious issue, a major humanitarian crisis in Artsakh in progress.
“We somehow have this complex. We think we’re the sleeping beauty and the west is going to come and save us. And every time that it doesn’t happen, we still keep believing in it.” -Arthur Khachikyan
Episode 185 | Recorded: December 17, 2022
On Monday, December 12, a group of people in civilian clothes blocked the Shushi-Qarin Tak segment of the Lachin corridor for all traffic.
Although this is clearly instigated by the Azerbaijani government, the official pretense is that this group of so-called “eco-activists” was demanding to inspect the Kashen gold mine in Artsakh/Nagorno Karabakh, which employs 1800 people and is one of the larger tax-payers in Artsakh.
As a result, more than 120 thousand people are in a total blockade. For 2-3 days gas service was also disrupted, before being restored again. Thousands of Artsakhtsis who were visiting Armenia are now stranded, among them children. Food, medicine, fuel are all under rations.
The international response has been limited to the realm of announcements. The Russian peacekeepers, while under constant harassment by the Azerbaijanis, have so far maintained their cool and are trying to negotiate a withdrawal of the Azerbaijanis, however to no avail. Usage of force to open the corridor so far has not been viewed as an option by the peacekeepers.
Artsakh officials stranded in Yerevan are conducting sit-ins at various embassies, especially at the UN mission. The Armenian government appears to largely have taken an observer’s position. Meanwhile, today the UN Security Council is due to hold a closed hearing on the topic.
Arthur, as we have discussed both on Groong and 168, Azerbaijan’s long-term strategy is to cause enough inconvenience and harassment of the Artsakh population to cause them to leave their homes, and perhaps also to populate Artsakh with Azerbaijanis creating a more demographically favorable situation for Baku.
In addition to the “eco-activists”, video clips shared by Azeri media indicate that Azeri police and even special forces have now been deployed on the corridor. The initial environmental pretense has now been replaced by additional demands, including:
None of these demands stem from the Nov. 9-10 agreement. Yesterday, we even heard calls from members of the Milli Mejlis that Russian peacekeepers must leave.
While the ultimate goal of Azerbaijan is ridding Artsakh of Armenians, in the near and tactical terms there is a rational question of whether the current Azeri action is against Armenians or the Russians. Initially when the Azeri demonstrators began to agitate, they demanded to meet with Volkov. Now they’re talking about early termination of the Russian peacekeeping mission around Nagorno Karabakh.
Some analysts believe that the goal is to put pressure around the peacekeeping mission to cause an accidental flare up, an altercation, a use of force, to create a new front for Russia, in order to divide its attention and resources between Ukraine and the South Caucasus. Despite everything, the Russians have been very cool and collected in their response to the incident.
An Azerbaijani government pollster published the results of a poll indicating that more than 80% of Azerbaijanis would like the Russian peacekeepers to leave. This is interesting because the popularity of Russia is also waning in Yerevan, based on a recent Gallup International poll, where more than 59% of the respondents had a negative opinion of Russia’s role in the conflict.
There’s a belief by Russian officials that the West’s intentions in Karabakh is to open a 2nd front and that the provocations on the Lachin corridor are part of this. Alternatively, if not a 2nd front, some forces in Armenia are seriously considering that Russia may be pressured to leave the region.
Over the past month or so, Pashinyan has been emphasizing that Azerbaijan is preparing to commit Genocide against Artsakh. He, and his government have been quite vocal about this recently. Yet, when it came to the Parliament drafting a statement to condemn the current events in the Lachin corridor, the ruling party rejected the opposition’s demand to emphasize Artsakh’s right to self-determination. The ruling party said that those views were not part of the government’s foreign policy “toolbox”.
Critics argue that the Armenian government is largely acting as an observer. Many times, Yerevan has said that Nagorno-Karabakh is now the responsibility of the Russian peacekeeping mission. Most recently, Armenian authorities have been promoting the idea that authorities in Stepanakert and Baku should negotiate directly.
What else could it do that it is not doing? For instance:
All of this is happening in the context of ongoing negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan on peace, which is apparently being exploited by world powers and viewed more as a competitive process rather than cooperation.
Unofficially, there are at least 4 different approaches and formats
There’s very little reliable information about what is being discussed as part of these different processes other than the reverberations we hear in the press.
Recently, Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesperson has not excluded the possibility that there will be a (Russia-Armenia-Azerbaijan) trilateral meeting in St. Petersburg, during the next informal CIS summit?
Earlier this week foreign minister Ararat Mirzoyan addressed the UN Security Council (UNSC), while security council chair Armen Grigorian has updated various European governments about the situation in the Lachin corridor. And we’re aware that today the UN Security council has scheduled a closed hearing on the issue at the initiative of France.
A number of government representatives from Artsakh were also stranded in Yerevan due to the blockade. Since Wednesday, a number of them, including Artak Beglaryan (Artsakh deputy state minister and former HR ombudsman) as well as Gegham Stepanyan (acting HR ombudsman) are conducting a sit-in in front of the United Nations mission.
There were also protests in front of all 5 permanent UN Security Council nations. Protesters even demonstrated in front of the Chinese embassy.
Just yesterday, after 3 days of sit-ins, the local Armenia-based UN Resident Coordinator, Christine Weigand, held a meeting with Beglaryan and Stepanyan. This seems to be the first time - ever - that the UN rep has agreed to meet representatives of Artsakh. Their protocol so far has been that the Karabakh issue is outside of their mandate.
Meanwhile a number of Western countries, including US, France, UK, EU have called for the corridor to be re-opened, some of them explicitly condemning Azerbaijan.
By the way, yesterday Nikol Pashinyan met with the head of the British spy agency, MI-6, right here in Yerevan. Earlier in the week, Armen Grigoryan, (head of the national security council) visited London where he also met with Moore.
Dr. Arthur Khachikyan, an International Relations expert from Stanford University, specializing in intervention. He currently teaches at the Russian Armenian University in Yerevan.
Hovik Manucharyan is an information security engineer who moved from Seattle to Armenia in 2022. He co-founded the ANN/Groong podcast in 2020 and has been a contributor to Groong News since the late 1990s.