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Karabakh Separatist Leaders Say Deal Reached With Azerbaijan On Transport Corridors

A French humanitarian aid convoy is stuck at the entrance to the Lachin corridor last month.

A French humanitarian aid convoy is stuck at the entrance to the Lachin corridor last month.

Armenian-backed separatist leaders in Nagorno-Karabakh have said Azerbaijani authorities agreed to allow aid deliveries to the breakaway region through the Lachin Corridor from Armenian territory in an operation to be controlled by Russian peacekeeping troops and the Red Cross.

In return, Karabakh authorities agreed on September 9 to also allow Russian-provided aid to be delivered directly from Baku-controlled territory via the Agdam road, opening a transport link from Azerbaijan proper for the first time since Karabakh broke away from Baku in a war that ended three decades ago.

Azerbaijani presidential aide Hikmat Haciyev confirmed to Reuters that the deal had been struck, adding that Azerbaijani checkpoints on the Lachin route would remain in place.

Haciyev, however, sought to clarify later on September 9 that “it is a separate deal and shouldn’t be confused with the suggestion on simultaneous opening of Agdam-Khankandi [Stepanakurt] and Lachin-Khankandi roads for [International Committee of the Red Cross] delivery.”

Food aid “by Russian Red Cross will go along the Agdam-Askaran road towards Khankandi in coordination with Azerbaijani Red Crescent,” Haciyev wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Baku has pressed for its Agdam route to be used for aid deliveries instead of the blocked Lachin Corridor from Armenian territory. Karabakh officials, however, have claimed it is an effort by Baku to control aid shipments and reestablish authority of the region away from ethnic Armenian leaders.

In recent comments, Haciyev said use of the road was an opportunity for the ethnic Armenians of Karabakh to “establish communication with other parts of Azerbaijan.”

Western leadders have expressed concerns about the blocking of the Lachin route over recent months, a move that has left ethnic Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh in desperate need of food, energy supplies, and other basic needs.

Baku denies it is blockading the region and offered the alternative Agdam route for aid transport.

Earlier on September 9, EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell said on the social-media platform X that, in a call with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Ceyhun Bayramov, he “reiterated that the Lachin Corridor must be re-opened now. Other roads, such as Agdam, can be opened as part of the solution, but not an alternative.”

The announcement came hours after Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, in calls with foreign leaders, offered to hold “urgent” talks with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to prevent another upsurge in violence in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone and along the two countries’ borders.

The offer came as both sides traded accusations of “disinformation” and “provocations” in recent days and as Azerbaijani officials on September 9 accused Armenian forces of firing on their troops overnight, a claim Yerevan rejected.

Baku said the most recent firefight occurred in the north of Naxcivan, an exclave of Azerbaijan that borders Armenia, Turkey, and Iran. It did not say if there had been any casualties.

Persistent tensions between Yerevan and Baku have spiked in recent weeks, mainly over the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous region controlled by ethnic Armenians who have accused Azerbaijan of blockading the breakaway region.

The Armenian government has also accused Azerbaijan of massing troops along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and the Karabakh “line of contact” in possible preparation for another large-scale military assault.

Pashinian made his offer of new talks with Aliyev in separate phone calls with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, his office said.

Pashinian “expressed readiness to hold urgent discussions with the president of Azerbaijan aimed at reducing the tensions,” a government statement on his call with Macron, which reportedly took place late on September 8.

The statement said Pashinian also reaffirmed his recognition of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity made during October 2022 and May 2023 meetings with Aliyev attended by Macron.

A foreign-policy adviser to Aliyev told Reuters that Azerbaijan had not received a renewed offer of talks from Yerevan.

Meanwhile, three senior Azerbaijani officials on September 8 met with Baku-based foreign diplomats to accuse Armenia of stepping up “military provocations,” “imitating” peace talks, and continuing to foment “separatism” in Karabakh.

The Armenian Foreign Ministry denied the accusations.

With tensions rising, Armenia announced on September 6 that it would host a joint army exercise with the United States next week.

The Armenian Defense Ministry said the purpose of the September 11-20 Eagle Partner 2023 exercise was to prepare its forces to take part in international peacekeeping missions.

A U.S. military spokesperson said 85 U.S. soldiers and 175 Armenians would take part, according to Reuters.

That announcement came following remarks by Pashinian stating that his country’s policy of relying solely on Russia to guarantee its security was a strategic mistake, in light of what he said was Moscow’s efforts to wind down its role in the wider region.

Moscow responded angrily to the comments, summoning the Armenian ambassador for a protest over what it termed “unfriendly steps” taken by Yerevan.

Meanwhile on September 9, separatist lawmakers in Nagorno-Karabakh voted to elect Samvel Shahramanian, 44, as the new president of the region, an action condemned by Baku.

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