The United Nations judicial body on Wednesday ordered Azerbaijan to end the blockade of the Lachin corridor, the only road linking the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, in progress since mid-December. What could be the consequences of this ordinance on the blockade, and more generally on the conflict? Decryption.
The International Court of Justice, the main judicial body of the United Nations, on Wednesday (February 22nd) ordered Azerbaijan to end the blockade of the Lachin corridor, the only road linking Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, in this disputed region of South Caucasus.
Since mid-December, Azerbaijanis, posing as environmental activists mobilized against illegal mines, have been blocking this vital corridor for the 120,000 inhabitants of the enclave, mostly Armenians, who are deprived of food and medicine supplies.
While Armenians accuse Baku of creating a humanitarian crisis, for its part, Azerbaijan denies having ordered the blocking of this vital road for the separatist enclave.
Azerbaijan “must take all the measures at its disposal to ensure the unhindered movement of people, vehicles and goods along the Lachin corridor in both directions”, said Court presiding judge Joan Donoghue International Justice (ICJ). There is “urgency” to end the blockade which could cause “irreparable harm”, she added during a hearing.
The two former Soviet republics had clashed in the early 1990s, during the collapse of the USSR, for control of Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous territory populated mainly by Armenians.
This first conflict, which caused 30,000 deaths, ended in an Armenian victory. But Azerbaijan, an ally of Turkey, took its revenge by launching a second war in the fall of 2020. This offensive allowed Baku to take control of many territories, including Choucha (Chouchi, in Armenian), city strategic location 15 kilometers from the separatist capital Stepanakert.
In November, the signing of a ceasefire under the aegis of Russia had put an end to six weeks of fighting which left nearly 6,500 dead. Two days of new clashes on the border between these two countries, in September 2022, left at least 170 dead and caused hundreds of Armenian civilians living in the border area to flee.
Since then, fragile peace negotiations have still not borne fruit. Baku and Yerevan have separately appealed to the ICJ to intervene in the conflict. The judgments of the ICJ are final, but there is no coercive remedy to enforce them.
To understand the stakes of the ICJ order and its consequences on the blockade, France 24 interviewed Taline Papazian, lecturer at Sciences-Po Aix and director of the NGO Armenia Peace Initiative.
France 24: How do you analyze the order of the International Court of Justice? East-she purely symbolic Or is this a victory for the Armenians?
Talin Papazian: This decision is very important, it is far from the order of the symbol. It is crucial in the sense that it acknowledges that the Lachin Corridor is under blockade, contrary to Baku’s claims, and warns of the consequences of keeping it there. Even if the International Court of Justice does not have the means to impose anything on Azerbaijan, one can consider its order as a small diplomatic victory for Armenia. Because we know well that this kind of decisions emanating from legal authorities, by their international exposure, have direct implications and influences on the perception of the various international actors. I say “small victory” because it must be considered on the scale of the mass of challenges facing Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, but it is undeniably an important step. Yerevan has been conducting, since 2021, international law diplomacy that can allow it to highlight the growing background of anti-Armenian racial policy applied at all levels in Azerbaijan. However, it is a whole section of public diplomacy in which it could have embarked since at least 2004, that is to say since the beheading of this Armenian officer, Gurgen Margaryan, by an Azerbaijani soldier, during a training program organized by NATO in Hungary.
On the spot, the situation is untenable for the population, which sees the humanitarian crisis worsening day after day. What about on the ground?
The population is still holding up, but the effects of the blockade are being felt hard due to increasing shortages. In particular, it lacks medicines, foodstuffs, fruits, vegetables and powdered milk for the children. Also hygiene products. For a few weeks, the Russian interposition troops have started to provide, from time to time, a little humanitarian aid. But in proportions that are not able to meet the needs of all the inhabitants or to remove the specter of a humanitarian crisis. Another effect of the blockade: patients treated in hospitals are in mortal danger because they cannot be transferred to Yerevan. For their part, children no longer have access to schools which did not reopen after the end of the Christmas holidays in January, for lack of being able to heat the classrooms properly, due to gas rationing. Basically, the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh are caught in a pincer movement between the Russian forces, who are at gunpoint, and the Azerbaijani armed forces who are now demanding the establishment of checkpoints, which would amount to conditioning each entry and exit on the goodwill of Baku. Even if on the spot, in the eyes of the inhabitants, the presence of the Russian soldiers in the zone embodies, so far, a bulwark against the Azerbaijani army.
It is difficult to imagine a rapid exit from the crisis, despite the ICJ order. What should we expect from Turkey, where the Armenian Foreign Minister recently went after the double earthquake of February 6?
It is too early to know if the decision of the ICJ will directly weigh in favor of a rapid lifting of the blockade. From a general point of view of the situation, we remain on the verge of a possible war, even if the EU observation mission, deployed at the beginning of the week on the border between the two countries, keeps it away short term. If the Armenians resisted for 44 days against infinitely superior forces in the 2020 war, the imbalance of forces in favor of Azerbaijan is too great. This means that we are far from a dynamic of serene, constructive and peaceful negotiations between two parties who would see peace in the same way and who would like to build a stable future in the region. Can Turkey play a role? If she wanted to, she could. Ankara finds itself since the double earthquake in a situation which will inevitably reshuffle the cards in the coming months at the political and economic levels. But also in its relations with Western partners and international donors, while the country is mired in a serious economic crisis, and it will have to respond to the socio-economic consequences of the earthquakes. So perhaps in this great upheaval that is going to take place, there will be opportunities to accelerate or direct in a positive direction the attempts to restore diplomatic relations between Turkey and Armenia – and, by extension, to influence the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. But certainly not in the short term.
What about Russia, the traditional mediator of the conflict, which continues to want to mediate?
This blockade nullifies a very important article of the ceasefire agreement of November 9, 2020, signed under the aegis of Moscow. Some might even argue that the arrangement on the Lachin Corridor not working, the legitimacy of the presence of its forces is questioned. However, already in great difficulty in Ukraine, Russia cannot afford to continue to lose its footing in the South Caucasus. When the Kremlin can no longer play policeman, a country like Azerbaijan, which has the full means of sovereign diplomacy thanks to its hydrocarbons, takes the opportunity to break ties with Moscow a little more. And Armenia, which does not have the same means but which tries somehow to preserve its interests, increasingly calls into question its relations with the Russians. The risk for Armenians is to be caught between the geopolitical conflicts of the West and Russia. In any case, the latter, interested like Turkey in the establishment in southern Armenia of the Meghri corridor, demanded by Azerbaijan to connect its territory to Nakhitchevan – an Azerbaijani enclave -, can no longer to pose as a mediator and an ally of Yerevan.
Source: France 24