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|Weaponizing Blockade with the Intent to Ethnically Cleanse
Since December 12, 2022, around 500 Azerbaijanis in civilian clothes claiming to be eco-activists, have blocked the Lachin Corridor, the “Road of Life” linking Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) with Armenia and the world. It has resulted in the full isolation, deprivation of the freedom of movement and other basic human rights of 120,000 Armenians, including 30,000 children, and the separation of families – 1,100 Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians, including 270 children, stranded in Armenia, are unable to reunify with their families. Nagorno-Karabakh is running out of critical medical supplies, food and fuel, while schools are closed because of the lack of heating. Moreover, Azerbaijan also turned off the gas supplied from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh for three days in the same manner it did in March 2022, thus “weaponizing winter”.
There is overwhelming evidence that the protest is not a genuine grassroot movement but rather consists mainly of members of Azerbaijani special services, military officers, beneficiaries of Aliyev’s foundation and other supporters of the state authorities. They are evidently state-sponsored, well-supplied and well-protected by Azerbaijani special forces deployed in Shushi. They use and broadcast intimidation tactics, such as loud music, speeches praising the armed forces of Azerbaijan, and displaying symbols of the “gray wolves” – a far right ultranationalist paramilitary organization in Turkey prohibited in some European countries. It is worth recalling that Azerbaijan has one of the lowest democracy rankings in Eurasia and has a track record of repressing all domestic protests.
The original demand by the protesters was the monitoring of the quarrying of mines located in Nagorno-Karabakh proper, followed by increasingly political demands, such as the resignation of the political leadership of the authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh, and the establishment of Azerbaijani control over the Lachin corridor and Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijani public figures are circulating their usual demand on social media that Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh should accept Azerbaijani citizenship, and then Azerbaijan will provide them with all vital public services. Azerbaijani officials began showing their support for the protesters, demanding Russian peacekeepers to respect the civil society of Azerbaijan, even if no action was taken against them. When major international actors, such as the EU, U.S., France, Canada and EU member countries made statements demanding Azerbaijan to unblock the corridor and to prevent a humanitarian crisis, the Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan reacted strongly and critically, calling the criticism biased, and started claiming that it is not Azerbaijani protesters who are blocking the road but the Russian peacekeepers. Moreover, they started presenting allegations that Armenia is transporting landmines and military equipment through the Lachin corridor, an unfounded claim since the corridor is under the control of the Russian military, and there are no longer Armenian military units or servicemen in Nagorno-Karabakh. Those allegations were made back in November, and in response to them Armenia’s Ambassador-at-Large Edmon Marukyan stated that Azerbaijani Armed Forces had gotten access to landmines in September 2022 during their invasion of the sovereign territory of Armenia and transferred them to the previous route of the Lachin corridor over which they established control in August to blame Armenians for having planted them there. Several days after the blockade of the corridor, some Azerbaijani ambassadors began claiming that Armenia has been blocking Nakhijevan for three decades, thus justifying the humanitarian crisis created by them to recirculate their old false narratives with new elements.
By utilizing pseudo eco-protesters instead of military movements by Azerbaijani forces, as was the previous strategy, and causing a humanitarian crisis accompanied with false narratives and disinformation, Azerbaijan is employing hybrid warfare tactics against the Armenians. This operation is pursuing short-, mid- and long-term objectives.
Short-term Objectives of Azerbaijan
The Exploitation of Mines Without the Consent of Local Armenians
Escalating the Controversy in Relation to the Russian Peacekeepers
Attempt to Impose a Similar Status for Lachin Corridor and the Envisaged Road Between Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan
Humanitarian Crisis as a Tool of Warfare
The Azerbaijani Denial of Security Guarantees and Human Rights to Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians
The Intent to Conduct Ethnic Cleansing
Short- and Long-term Solutions
Use of International Political, Legal and Quasi-Legal Mechanisms
Raising the Issue of a Reliable Land Link Between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia
International Peacekeeping as a Tool for Humanitarian Intervention