The five-kilometer-wide corridor became Karabakh’s sole overland link to Armenia following the 2020 war. Armenian forces pulled out of the rest of the wider Lachin district under the terms of the Russian-brokered ceasefire that stopped the six-week hostilities.
The truce accord calls for the construction of a new Armenia-Karabakh highway that will bypass the town of Lachin and two Armenian-populated villages located within the current corridor protected by Russian peacekeeping troops.
Karabakh’s leadership revealed on Tuesday that Azerbaijan has demanded through the peacekeepers the quick closure of the existing corridor and suggested that the Armenian side use a bypass road which has yet to be constructed. Armenia’s government dismissed the demands as “not legitimate” before two Karabakh Armenian soldiers were killed and 19 others wounded on Wednesday in heavy fighting with Azerbaijani forces.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian argued on Thursday that the truce accord requires Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia to work out before 2024 a joint “plan” for the construction of a new Armenia-Karabakh road. No such plan has been drawn up yet, he said.
The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said, however, that the three sides did agree on the “route” of the new corridor early this year and accused Yerevan of dragging out work on its Armenian sections.
Later on Thursday, the few remaining residents of the town of Lachin said local officials told them to evacuate the town for good. A senior official from Stepanakert, Hayk Khanumian, communicated the same order to some 200 people living in the nearby village of Aghavno at a meeting on Friday.
“He said that the Azerbaijanis will come and the Russians will leave [the current corridor] on August 25,” Mariam Hakobian, an Aghavno resident, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
“The people [of Aghavno] look like they are hypnotized,” she said. “We don’t know what to do.”
Hakobian said that the Karabakh government promised that each Aghavno family will receive 10 million drams ($24,000) for buying a new home in Karabakh or Armenia. He dismissed the promised aid, saying that it is well below the current housing prices.
“We have nowhere to go,” said Anna Margarian, who lives in the town of Lachin with her family.
Officials in Yerevan and Stepanakert did not publicly comment on the planned evacuation.
It is also unclear how traffic between Armenia and Karabakh will be carried out if the existing Lachin corridor is handed over to Baku by the end of this month.
More than a dozen kilometers south of the corridor, Azerbaijani and Turkish firms are reportedly completing the construction of a 32-kilomer-long highway that should link up to new road sections in Armenia and Karabakh. Work on those sections has yet to start in earnest.