The trilateral statement signed by the leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia on November 10, 2020 concluded the Second Karabakh War between the first two and ceased the fire that had costed thousands of lives on both sides over the past 44 days after its start on September 27. The statement not only regulated the resolution of the conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region and surrounding districts of Azerbaijan but also paved way for the establishment of long-awaited peace and stability between the two countries.
One of the elements of the statement that was meant to serve the peace and reconciliation process was concerning the provision of stable communication between the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and Armenia via the so-called “Lachin Corridor” of which security is provided by the Russian peacekeepers.
This corridor was supposed to be used for entirely non-military purposes in line with another clause of the trilateral document that committed Armenia to withdraw its armed forces from the territories of Azerbaijan. According to the document, concurrently with the deployment of Russia’s peacekeeping contingent, Armenian troops were required to withdraw from the region. What happens weeks after the signing of this document and establishment of ceasefire is extremely alarming and undermines all the regional and international initiatives for peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
There are reports from multiple sources about Armenia’s attempts to deploy its armed personnel to the Karabakh region, internationally recognized part of Azerbaijan, through the “Lachin Corridor” in total disregard to both the trilateral statement and international law. This was the concern raised by Jeyhun Bayramov, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister, in his letter addressed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations dated March 1, 2021.
“According to the credible information available to the Azerbaijani side, which is also validated by the reports of independent mass media sources, members of armed forces of Armenia, wearing civilian dress, are transferred to the territory of Azerbaijan through the “Lachin Corridor” in civilian trucks, including disguised among the construction cargo, in an attempt to escape the control procedures of the Russian peacekeeping contingent”, reads the letter.
The deployment of Armenian armed forces to the Azerbaijani territories is also confirmed by the fact that the parents and relatives of Armenian soldiers who reject the transfer to the territories of another state have publicly come together protesting this illegal practice of the Armenian government. “Armenian servicemen and their relatives have voiced serious allegations of human rights abuses, in particular torture and inhumane treatment, against the personnel deployed into territories of Azerbaijan”, stated in Bayramov’s letter to the Secretary-General.
The deployment of Armenian armed personnel to the territories of Azerbaijan is a move that drastically challenges the precarious balance established by the trilateral statement and serves as a call for future armed confrontations. This threat is reinforced by the internal domestic quarrels within the Armenian government and the army’s attempts to topple the incumbent government. The sabotage operations and provocations by the Armenian armed forces are therefore alarming repercussions that would spiral out of control if not properly countered.
“It should be recalled that it was the transfer of Armenian conscripts into the territory of Azerbaijan in late November last year that eventually led to serious military tension. Thus, the sabotage group of 62 Armenian servicemen committed a series of attacks on the Azerbaijani military and civilians, causing casualties and injuries, before being detained as a result of an anti-terror operation”, the letter informed the Secretary General in his letter that was circulated as General Assembly of the United Nations (UN GA) and United Nations Security Council (UN SC) document.
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister calls upon Armenia to stop sending its military personnel into the territory of Azerbaijan in order to avoid the re-occurrence of such incidents in the future. The letter also touches upon the human rights dimension of the deployment of military servicemen against their will.
“By forcing its servicemen to engage in military activity in the territory of another State, not necessitated by legitimate national defense, and putting their safety in danger, Armenia is violating its commitments stemming from numerous documents adopted by regional organizations of which it is a member, such as the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe”, said the letter.
Undoubtedly, this also puts a further burden of responsibility on the peacekeeping contingent of Russia in the region that is also deployed along the “Lachin Corridor” and controls the movements between the two sides through the corridor. The Azerbaijani government has called upon the Russian peacekeepers to demonstrate more vigilance against the misuse of the Lachin corridor. Azerbaijan believes that Russia, as the guarantor of ceasefire established by the trilateral statement, and the international community must take all measures to persuade Armenia to cease destabilizing actions and statements and comply with the provisions of the trilateral statement.
About the author: Dr. Vasif Huseynov is a senior fellow at the Center of Analysis of International Relations (AIR Center) in Baku, Azerbaijan.