Azeri, Artsakh Officials Meet Again

Azeri, Artsakh Officials Meet Again

Picture: So-called Azeri “protestors” outside Stepanakert

Azerbaijani officials met with Artsakh’s (Nagorno-Karabakh’s) representatives on Wednesday for the second time in less than a week to discuss Azerbaijan’s continuing blockade of the Lachin corridor.

The meeting took place at the headquarters of Russian peacekeeping forces stationed in Karabakh.

Karabakh’s official news agency Artsakhpress reported that its participants discussed the restoration of “unimpeded” traffic thorough the corridor and Armenia’s electricity and natural gas supplies to Karabakh disrupted by Baku. It said they also looked at the possibility of Azerbaijani environmental inspections of two copper mines located in the Armenian-populated region.

“Agreements were reached on further cooperation aimed at reducing tension and establishing peaceful life in the region,” it added without elaborating.

Azerbaijani government-backed protesters blocked the sole road connecting Karabakh to Armenia on December 12 following the Karabakh Armenians’ refusal to allow such inspections. The authorities in Stepanakert and Yerevan rejected those demands as a pretext for cutting off Karabakh from the outside world.

An Azerbaijani readout of Friday’s meeting cited by the APA news agency said the Azerbaijani negotiators included the head of a “monitoring group” investigating “illegal” mining operations in Karabakh. It said the meeting focused on the Karabakh Armenians’ “integration into Azerbaijan.” There was no word on the possible lifting of the blockade that has led to shortages of food, medicine and other essential items in Karabakh.

The Karabakh president, Arayik Harutiunian, reiterated, meanwhile, that Stepanakert will continue to resist the restoration of Azerbaijani control over Karabakh.

“But this doesn’t mean that we will avoid contacts [with Baku] for addressing humanitarian and infrastructure-related issues,” said Harutiunian.

The meeting mediated by the commander of the Russian peacekeepers came the day after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov wrapped up a visit to Baku. Lavrov indicated Russia’s opposition to Azerbaijani attempts to set up a checkpoint at the Lachin corridor. He said the Russian peacekeepers could use “technical means” to address Azerbaijani concerns.

Baku has accused Armenia of smuggling landmines to Karabakh through the corridor in breach of the 2020 ceasefire brokered by Moscow. The Armenian side has strongly denied the allegations.

A senior Karabakh lawmaker, Seyran Hayrapetian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that Stepanakert is ready to discuss the idea of installing X-ray scanners at the corridor. But he said they must be operated and controlled only by the Russian peacekeepers.

The first meeting of Azerbaijani and Karabakh officials took place on February 24 the day after Harutiunian announced the dismissal of his chief minister, Ruben Vardanyan, which was demanded by Baku throughout the blockade.