Azerbaijan denies deal reached to reopen Karabakh-Armenia road

Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a fierce but brief war over the disputed region in 2020 and experts fear the conflict could re-erupt

An ethnic Armenian soldier near the village of Taghavard in Nagorno-Karabakh, in January 2021.  Reuters
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Hikmet Hajiev, a foreign policy adviser to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, on Saturday denied that Baku had reached a deal with the breakaway province of Nagorno-Karabakh to simultaneously reopen roads to Azerbaijan and Armenia.

In a message posted on the platform X, formerly known as Twitter, Mr Hajiev said that Baku had offered to simultaneously reopen the roads but that what he called the "illegal regime" in Karabakh had refused.

Mr Hajiev said that Azerbaijan would maintain "border and customs" control on the Lachin corridor, which links Karabakh to Armenia.

He said that the road to Azerbaijan would open for aid shipments for the first time since 1988, a key demand of Baku's.

Karabakh, which broke away from Baku after a war that spanned the collapse of the Soviet Union, is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but its 120,000 population is overwhelmingly ethnically Armenian.

Azerbaijani retook large amounts of ground in a 2020 war, leaving Karabakh almost entirely surrounded. In December 2022, Azerbaijani civilians began blockading the last road linking Karabakh to Armenia, causing acute shortages of food, fuel and medicine.

Armenian state news agency Armenpress reported on Saturday that Karabakh officials had bowed to Baku's demands to reopen the long-closed road to Azerbaijan in return for lifting the blockade on the Lachin corridor.

Armenpress cited Karabakh officials as saying they had agreed to the deal in view of "severe humanitarian problems" in the region.

At the time, Hajiev confirmed to Reuters that the Karabakh authorities had agreed to allow aid shipments from Azerbaijan to enter the territory in return for reopening the road to Armenia.

The Armenian government said Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan held phone conversations on Saturday with the leaders of France, Germany, Iran and Georgia, and with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Azerbaijan said its foreign minister discussed the situation with a senior U.S. State Department official, Yuri Kim.

Baku has a close relationship with Turkey, while Yerevan has historically held close ties with Russia, which sent peacekeepers to the area and promised to keep the Lachin corridor open as part of a peace deal that ended the 2020 war. Pashinyan has lately complained that Moscow failed to live up to its assurances, leading him to seek wider international support.

According to Armenia's government, Mr Pashinyan told the foreign leaders that tensions were rising on the border, and that Azerbaijan was concentrating troops there and around Nagorno-Karabakh. Baku has denied this, while accusing Armenia of similar steps.

Mr Pashinyan said he was ready to hold an urgent meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to defuse tensions, according to the Armenian government. Hajiyev, Aliyev's foreign policy adviser, told Reuters Baku had received no such offer.

Updated: September 10, 2023, 8:36 PM