STEPANAKERT — A group of Azerbaijanis blocked the sole road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia on Monday for the second time in nine days.
They pitched tents at a road section near the Azerbaijani-occupied town of Shushi, demanding a meeting with Major-General Andrei Volkov, the commander of Russian peacekeeping forces stationed in Karabakh.
Azerbaijani government media said they are “environmental activists” who are demanding that government officials from Baku be allowed to inspect two Karabakh gold mines.
The Azerbaijani officials were prevented from doing that on Saturday by employees of a Karabakh mining company and residents of nearby Karabakh villages. Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry responded by sending a protest note to Moscow. It said that the Russian peacekeepers pledged to ensure the inspection during negotiations held with the Azerbaijani side.
The negotiations were held after officials from the Azerbaijani ministries of environment and economy blocked the same road section on December 3, saying that they want to investigate “illegal” mining activity in Karabakh and its “ecological consequences.”
Karabakh government officials insists that it has been properly monitoring the work of the local gold mining company. It says that Baku is simply trying to disrupt Karabakh’s overland communication with Armenia and thus cause the territory’s Armenian population to emigrate en masse.
“By grossly violating the norms under international humanitarian conventions, the Azerbaijani side is once again violating the fundamental rights and freedoms of the Armenians of Artsakh. At this moment, hundreds of citizens are stranded on the road in the Lisagor-Shushi and Stepanakert-Shushi road which is closed since 10:30 in the morning under environmental pretexts,” Artsakh police said.
A Karabakh government body on Monday condemned the latest road blockage. It said the authorities in Stepanakert are “taking all possible measures to resolve the situation while keeping in touch with the Russian peacekeeping command.”
“We are convinced that as a guarantor of the security of our people and the highway, the Russian peacekeeping contingent will use all instruments to thwart such provocations and violations of agreements targeting vital rights and interests of our people,” Arayik Harutyunyan, the Karabakh president, said in a statement.
Harutyunyan urged the Karabakh Armenians to maintain calm in the face of ethnic cleansing attempted by Baku.
Armenia’s government denounced the Azerbaijani actions through Edmon Marukyan, an ambassador-at-large. Marukyan called it a “gross violation” of the Russian-brokered ceasefire that stopped the 2020 Armenian-Azerbaijani war.
“Hope it won’t lead to humanitarian crisis and common sense will prevail,” he wrote on Twitter. “Lachin corridor must function as usual.”
Other, more senior Armenian officials said last week that Baku is intent on closing the corridor.