Azerbaijan’s order to evacuate around 150 families from three Armenian villages in the Lachin Corridor, which connects Armenia to Artsakh, has alarmed Armenians worldwide.
As a result of Azerbaijan’s ultimatum, Armenians in the villages of Bertzor, Aghavno and Sus are obliged to move elsewhere in Artsakh or Armenia. After losing a devastating war in 2020, Armenia and Artsakh, both suffering from poor leadership, are demanding that the villagers comply with Azerbaijan’s demand to leave their homes and churches by the deadline of August 25.
The source of the problem is the joint “statement” of November 10, 2020 signed at the end of the war by the Prime Minister of Armenia, President of Azerbaijan, and President of Russia. Even though the first line of that “statement” declared “a complete ceasefire,” this is the most unusual kind of ceasefire in the history of all wars. Instead of stopping where the opposing armies had reached, the Armenian side agreed to turn over to Azerbaijan large areas of land not conquered by Azerbaijan. Furthermore, the Prime Minister of Armenia, without any authority, signed a document relinquishing lands, including most of Artsakh and its surrounding territories, over which he had no legal authority. Therefore, the Nov. 10, 2020 trilateral agreement should be considered null and void.
Paragraph 6 of that agreement stated that “The Lachin corridor (5 km. wide), which will provide for communication between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia and at the same time will not affect the city of Shushi, shall remain under the control of peacekeeping troops of the Russian Federation. The Parties have agreed that a plan for the construction of a new route along the Lachin corridor shall be determined within the next three years, providing communication between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, with the subsequent redeployment of Russian peacekeeping troops to protect the route. The Republic of Azerbaijan shall guarantee traffic safety for citizens, vehicles and goods in both directions along the Lachin Corridor.”
This paragraph, like many others, has created problems due to its unclear wording. Almost two years after signing this agreement, during which the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan had several face to face meetings, the Armenian government did not bother to clarify the language of Paragraph 6. Armenian officials, after approving Azerbaijan’s plans, kept repeating that the alternate route to bypass the Lachin Corridor was to be built only after three years and that Azerbaijan hastily built its segment of the alternate route. In fact, the 2020 agreement stated that the alternate road will be built within, not after, three years. Armenia is planning to complete its section of the alternate road to Lachin after 250 days from this month.
Armenian officials falsely reassured the families of the three Armenian villages within the Lachin Corridor that they have plenty of time to resolve their problems, assuring them that they may remain in their homes. When Azerbaijan insisted on the immediate removal of these villagers, the Armenian families were given less than three weeks to move without having anywhere to go.
To make matters worse, Artsakh’s Minister of Territorial Management and Infrastructure, Hayk Khanumyan, warned the residents of the three Armenian villages that should they burn their houses before leaving, they will not receive the promised 10 million dram ($24,000) compensation, which is insufficient to purchase a new house. The Minister was referring to the practice of many Artsakh Armenians who burned their homes before leaving their houses after the 2020 war. Burning one’s home is a heartbreaking decision, but it is equally upsetting to leave your own house to your sworn enemy. I watched this week the disturbing video of a father burning his family home before leaving. What did the Minister expect these villagers to do? To clean their houses, leave a cooked meal on the dining table with a bottle of champagne, and a welcome sign on the door for their Azeri enemies?
In addition to turning over to Azerbaijan large parts of territories in and around Artsakh which Azerbaijan had not occupied at the time of the ceasefire, Azerbaijan conquered additional lands in both Artsakh and inside Armenia’s borders since the end of the 2020 war. Furthermore, Azerbaijan, contrary to the 2020 agreement, is still holding Armenian prisoners of war, whereas Armenia foolishly turned over all the Azeri prisoners of war shortly after the ceasefire. Armenian authorities not only do not make any efforts for the return of the Armenian prisoners and the liberation of Armenia’s occupied territories, they do not even talk or complain about them. Before complying with any of Pres. Ilham Aliyev’s orders, Armenia should first demand that Azerbaijan keep its own obligations under the 2020 agreement. It is understandable that after losing the war Armenia is in a weakened and subservient position. However, mismanaging the situation due to Armenian leaders’ incompetence and capitulating to the enemy’s every whim and desire is unacceptable. Such spineless behavior encourages Azerbaijan to demand and obtain more concessions.
With the shutting down of the Lachin corridor which connects Armenia to Artsakh, the remaining Armenians of Artsakh will be isolated, surrounded by Azerbaijan. They will lose their access to Armenia, will be cut off from electricity, heat and internet, and will be sooner or later taken over by Azerbaijan. Sadly, Artsakh and Armenia, after losing the 2020 war, are on a downward spiral. Competent new leaders may not be capable of reversing Armenia’s calamitous situation, but at least they won’t let it get any worse.