The dictatorial regime of Azerbaijan continues to keep the 120,000 people of the Artsakh Republic under siege, closing the Berdzor Corridor, the only road connecting Stepanakert with Armenia and the outer world. All this is perpetrated under a fake environmental agenda by fake activists, because such actions by the state or any company cannot exempt them from liability for terrorism.
The Mine Is an Excuse, Depopulation of Artsakh of Armenians at All Costs Is an Intermediate Goal, Precedent for Usurpation of Power Is the Overarching Goal
Today, Azerbaijan continues the policy of depopulation of Artsakh of Armenians. Back in 2020, as a result of the bloody military operations unleashed by the Azeris, tens of thousands of Armenians had already been displaced from their homes.
This time, Aliyev’s regime is doing it in a different way: by blockade, totally cutting off Artsakh from the outer world, thus provoking a humanitarian disaster. In particular, declaring the beginning of monitoring in the mines of Drmbon and Kashen and thus triggering Artsakh’s resistance, by means of a group of Azeris who call themselves independent environmentalists, Aliyev closed the only road connecting Artsakh to Armenia, for ambulances or any other traffic. It’s noteworthy that the individual’s right to free movement is considered a fundamental human right.
Although the press these days is talking about the mine, and the reason is the fictitious environmental risk, by this act Aliyev is effectively pursuing a more important and situation-changing goal: to legalize and legitimize the power of Azerbaijan in the territory of the Republic of Artsakh. In particular, the precedent of auditing any Artsakh company under the regulations of Azerbaijan (and of course, making demands as well) is sufficient for the above purpose. The problem becomes twice as easy when this single economic activity today provides the main part of the state budget of the Republic of Artsakh and the guarantee of the autonomous life of Artsakh Armenians.
With the lack of fiscal resources, facing the risk of being cut off from the outer world, and the risk of being deprived of fundamental human rights at any moment, the depopulated Artsakh will be a perfect solution in the context of discussing the right to self-determination in the near future (even through a referendum): if Armenians have no economic resources, there is no possibility for them to survive; if there are not enough Armenians, there is no question of cultural autonomy; if there are no Armenians, there is no question of self-determination.
Pseudo-Environmental Performance by An Anti-Environmental Country
Clearly understanding Aliyev’s real designs, let’s return to the environmental pretext.
-It should be noted that the fictitious and ungrounded nature of the ecological topic is proved, first, by the fact that the Artsakh mine has never caused any ecological trouble, but also by the willingness of the Artsakh authorities to invite an international expert group to assess environmental risks even today. At the same time, Armenia is incomparably ahead in terms of environmental regulations and ratings, and the legislation and practice of the Republic of Artsakh almost reflect those of the Republic of Armenia.
-The fabricated pretext is clearly seen in the contradictory reasonings cited in the discourse of the Azeri side: illegal exploitation or environmental risk. On the one hand, there is talk of the alleged illegal use of minerals: in plain language, the problem is who the user is (Artsakh or an Aliyev-British company)? On the other hand, the road is blocked by fake environmentalists because of the environmental risk. The fact that the mine will be operated one way or another by any user (contrary to the advocates of the environmental wing) is not subject to doubt, but for an authoritarian regime the act of causing a humanitarian disaster is more convenient to do with the ecological theme that is always pleasing to the eyes of the outer world.
-Moreover, the country that speaks about responsible operation of mines on behalf of allegedly independent environmentalists was the first one in the history of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, the international organization of the mining industry, whose status in 2017 was suspended and this was done precisely on the basis of civil society pressures, restrictive laws and lack of corrective actions. Those same problems remained unchanged later on, as evidenced by the assessments given by other bodies, for example, in the USAID Civil Society Organizations Stability Index, both legal and financial viability were assessed by miserable 6.3 points (2021). It is ironic, to say the least, that in a country where there are many political prisoners and any free activity of civil society is suppressed, “independent environmentalists” in the mining sector can play a central role in the country’s border and geopolitical issues.
-If we abstract from the indicators of freedom of the civil society, then the indicators of Azerbaijan in terms of taking care of environmental issues also testify to a false environmental agenda. According to the Environmental Performance Index, Azerbaijan occupies a distant 104th position (Armenia, 56th).
The Geographic Determinism of Winter Cold and Human Rights Through European Eyes
The humanitarian disaster in Artsakh is deteriorating today due to Azerbaijan’s suspension of gas supply to Artsakh in the cold weather conditions. At the same time, let us specially clarify for the international audience that the gas supply was not provided by Azerbaijan, because the Republic of Artsakh never had any socio-economic relationship with that country, but simply the Armenia-Artsakh gas pipeline now passes through the territory under the control of Baku.
It is unacceptable, but not surprising, that the genocidal blockade and humanitarian disaster are taking place in the 21st century, perpetrated by a country whose presidential regime has been known for decades as a corrupt empire, namely in the oil and gas sector, in order to silence civil society and stifle any political dissent. It is not surprising, because today the European Union, a pioneer of fundamental human rights, as an alternative to Russian “undemocratic and unreliable” gas, signed a bilateral agreement with the Aliyev regime months ago without any preconditions or demands for reforms, declaring it a “reliable” supplier. What can we expect from a dictator towards the population of a small neighboring but democratic state, whose hands have opened oil pipelines even against his own people?
With this terrorist blockade, Azerbaijan openly declared that the latter will never guarantee any security for the Armenians of Artsakh.
The Silent Contribution of British Capital to the Humanitarian Disaster: “Land of Opportunities”
The blockade took place after just a few months following July 5, 2022, when the Aliyev regime amended the production sharing agreements with the UK-listed Anglo Asian Mining company and also “granted” the Kashen mine to the company. Let’s recall that back in the 1990s, Azerbaijan applied this political move to the same company, “giving” the other mines of Artsakh to the latter.
The purpose of such moves by a dictatorial regime is more than clear, but it is puzzling how the UK allows a company listed in England to be a party to such transactions in a territory sensitive to human rights violations and still at war, and how this company is intensively supported in Azerbaijan by the British Embassy. This is happening against the backdrop of no peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the status of the Republic of Artsakh is not clear, and Azerbaijan continues military operations against Armenia and Artsakh. According to the correspondence revealed by Freedom of Information, Ambassador James Sharp in 2020, during and after the war, was in intensive correspondence and meetings with the company, and the letters were often titled “Anglo Asian and the land of opportunity”.
It is no coincidence that today the road blockers do not identify themselves with this company, otherwise, the British ambassador, with the direct support of a high-level official like the British government, will be indirectly involved with the blockaders.
It should be noted that although the company is often presented by media as listed on the London Stock Exchange, in reality it is registered on the sub-market of the London stock market, Alternative Investment Market (AIM), which is characterized by more flexible or weaker regulations than the London Stock Exchange, often criticized as the “wild west”, where companies with questionable ethics are registered to attract money. The dubious authority of the persons involved in the company and their connections with the Aliyev family can also be the theme of a separate article.
Azerbaijan, the Occupant of the Mineral Resources of the Republic of Artsakh
As a result of the military operations unleashed by the Republic of Azerbaijan against the Republic of Artsakh on September 27, 2020, more than 40 mines came under the control of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Moreover, according to my survey, about 8 of them are located in Hadrut region, and one in Martakert region, which were once the regions of the Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Region. The loss of all these mines should be presented as property damage on behalf of the Armenian side. Moreover, this logic is already stated in the claim submitted to the ECHR on behalf of the Republic of Armenia. It is necessary to more actively continue consistent steps of the RA government in this direction.
Lilia Shushanyan is former deputy minister of the RA Ministry of Territorial Administration and Development. She is Expert in the field of public administration and mining industry