Azerbaijan Closes Road to Karabakh, Accuses Red Cross of Smuggling

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Azerbaijan has temporarily closed its checkpoint at the only road connecting Armenia with the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, alleging that the Armenian branch of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was using its medical vehicles for smuggling various items.

The closure of the Lachin checkpoint on the state border with Armenia has raised concerns over the humanitarian situation in the restive region, which has been at the center of a decades-long conflict between the two South Caucasus neighbors.

The Armenian-populated region declared its independence from Azerbaijan after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, sparking a war that killed about 30,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands. A fragile ceasefire was reached in 1994, but sporadic clashes continued along the line of contact.

In September 2020, a new round of fighting erupted, lasting for six weeks and claiming more than 6,000 lives. The hostilities ended with a Russian-brokered truce on November 9, 2020, which stipulated that Armenia cede large parts of territory it had controlled for decades to Azerbaijan. The agreement also deployed nearly 2,000 Russian peacekeepers to monitor the ceasefire and ensure the safe passage of civilians and humanitarian aid through the Lachin corridor, Nagorno-Karabakh’s only land link with Armenia.

However, tensions have remained high since then, as both sides have accused each other of violating the ceasefire and obstructing the peace process. In April 2021, Azerbaijan set up a border point at the entrance to the Lachin corridor, sparking allegations from Armenia of a Karabakh “blockade”.

 The ICRC has not yet commented on Azerbaijan’s latest move or its smuggling allegations. The organization’s mandate is to provide impartial humanitarian assistance to people affected by armed conflict and other situations of violence, regardless of their political affiliation or nationality.

 The closure of the Lachin checkpoint has drawn criticism from Armenia and some international actors, who have urged Azerbaijan to respect its obligations under international humanitarian law and ensure free and safe access to Nagorno-Karabakh for humanitarian workers and civilians.

In February 2021, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the UN’s highest judicial body, ordered Azerbaijan to take all measures necessary to guarantee such access on the road linking Armenia with Nagorno-Karabakh. The provisional ruling came in response to a case filed by Armenia against Azerbaijan over alleged human rights violations during and after the 2020 war. The case is still pending before the ICJ.

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