June 15 Provocation at Lachin checkpoint and implications for Armenia-Azerbaijan peace process
Dr. Vasif Huseynov
On June 15, the Armed Forces of the Republic of Armenia opened fire from their positions with firearms of various calibers at the servicemen of the State Border Service of Azerbaijan at the border checkpoint in the Lachin district. A serviceman of the Azerbaijani State Border Service was injured in the course of the attack.
Immediately after the incident, the Azerbaijani side closed the Lachin checkpoint as the law enforcement agencies of the country started investigations. The attack and the reactions of the sides as well as the international community to this incident convey a list of implications for the peace process between the two South Caucasian republics.
The installation of the checkpoint at the border by the Azerbaijani government is in line with the international practice as well as international law and norms. There is not such a country that provides access to an ethnic minority within its borders to the outside world without appropriate customs and border checks. Nor does the trilateral statement of November 10, 2020 hold any provisions prohibiting the installation of a checkpoint at this road. According to the statement, the Republic of Azerbaijan is expected to “guarantee the safety of citizens, vehicles and goods traveling along the Lachin corridor in both directions”.
Azerbaijan, again in line with the international practice and standards, provides safe access to the Armenian people along the Lachin road who cross the checkpoint and show their passports. Since the installation of the checkpoint on April 23, hundreds of Armenians have travelled in and out of the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan thanks to the conditions created for their transparent, safe, and well-regulated passage.
The restrictions imposed on the movement at the Lachin road after the June 15 incident are declared by the Azerbaijani side to be of temporary. In order to restore the complete movement along the road, the Azerbaijani government expects the Armenian side to give assurance that that such provocations will not be repeated in the future. Baku has already restored the passage for medical evacuations with the mediation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
There have been some countries and international organizations who have criticized Azerbaijan’s decision to set up a border crossing post at the Lachin road. For example, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, in a discussion at the European Parliament on June 13, criticized Baku’s policies and stated that the checkpoint “completely contradicts efforts to build confidence between the parties”.
Interestingly enough, Mr. Borrel, who was Spain’s Foreign Minister before being appointed to his current position, was a staunch supporter of Spain’s territorial integrity in the context of Catalonia’s independence movement. In one of the most memorable scenes, Mr. Borrell exclaimed “stop the recording” and walked out on an television interview after being questioned about Catalonia. Asked a list of questions on the Spain-Catalonia conflict, he reached breaking point when asked about the possibility of constitutional reform in Spain as a way to resolve the issue.
In this context, Mr. Borrel is not an exception. None of the countries and politicians in the West who call upon Azerbaijan to remove the Lachin checkpoint and provide unchecked passage to its territories do or would do the same if the matter in question is the territorial integrity of their own countries.
As expected by some observers after the installation of the checkpoint on April 23, this decision of the Azerbaijani government intensified the peace talks and was followed by significant progress between the sides.
The Lachin checkpoint has been an impetus for the latest progress in the peace negotiations
First and foremost, the checkpoint at the Lachin road spelled an end to the most conflictual problem between Baku and Yerevan. Ever since the end of the Second Karabakh War, the Azerbaijani side had been reporting about the transfer of military supplies, landmines, and troops by the Armenian side, occasionally with the help of Russian peacekeepers, to the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan via the Lachin road. Baku was alarmed last year when it observed Iranian fighters entering the Karabakh region, among others, to train the local separatist forces. These actions by the Armenian side took place in blatant violation of the trilateral statement which stipulated the withdrawal of the Armenian forces from the region.
The checkpoint provided necessary instruments to Azerbaijan in order to ensure lawful movement along the road. This measure is also a guarantee that the road will not be abused by the Armenian Armed Forces to conduct more organized military operations against Azerbaijan as they did in the aftermath of the occupation of the Lachin road back in May 1992, in the course of the First Karabakh War.
Following the installation of the checkpoint, we observed the most intensive month in the peace negotiations between the two Caucasian countries. On May 14, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev met in Brussels for the fifth meeting on peace negotiations as mediated by European Council President Charles Michel. This summit came on the heels of the United States–mediated meeting of both countries’ foreign ministers in early May, was followed by another such ministerial meeting in Moscow on May 19, and two more summits of the leaders (May 25 in Moscow and June 1 in Chisinau, Moldova). These dynamics in the peace talks were accompanied with clear progress on some issues of conflict and provided a good basis for a peace treaty between the two South Caucasian republics.
Most importantly, on at least two occasions in May, Prime Minister Pashinyan recognized the Karabakh region as part of Azerbaijan. This statement is another fact that supports the legitimacy of the Lachin checkpoint and opens up more opportunities for a more progressive path in the subsequent negotiations. The sides have achieved progress also in the negotiations on the re-opening of transportations channels in the region. There is now a good potential that Baku and Yerevan could sign a peace treaty in the near future if they can overcome the remaining challenges on this path and preserve the positive atmosphere that comes under threat by frequent, albeit small-scale, military clashes along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan.
Dr. Vasif Huseynov, head of department at the AIR Center, focuses on the EU – Azerbaijan relations and the international security in the South Caucasus. He has previously worked for the Center for Strategic Studies (SAM), Khazar University and ADA University. He holds BA in International Relations from the Academy of Public Administration in Baku, MA in Global Political Economy from University of Kassel (Germany), and PhD in Political Science from University of Goettingen (Germany). His MA and PhD studies were supported by the full scholarships of German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). His book “Geopolitical Rivalries in the ‘Common Neighborhood’: Russia’s Conflict with the West, Soft Power, and Neoclassical Realism” was published in 2019.
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