In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service Eduard Aghajanian, who chairs the parliament’s foreign-relations committee, commented on recent statements by Azerbaijan’s Deputy Prime Minister Shahin Mustafayev, who rejected Armenia’s offer of opening three checkpoints along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border for the transit of passengers and goods from Azerbaijan to its western exclave of Nakhichevan.
Unblocking regional transport links is part of the 2020 ceasefire agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan that was brokered by Moscow to stop a 44-day war between the two South Caucasus nations over Nagorno-Karabakh in which nearly 7,000 were killed on both sides.
The document specifically refers to a link between western districts of Azerbaijan and the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, an Azerbaijani exclave separated from mainly Azerbaijan by Armenia’s southern Syunik province.
Armenia says it is ready to open its territory for transit, but insists that it must maintain sovereignty over all routes passing through its territory.
In rejecting the Armenian offer of opening three border checkpoints Baku cited unsuitable terrain and climate conditions of the offered roads. It insisted instead on a route through the southern part of Syunik stretching along the border with Iran where a railway also operated in Soviet times.
There is a growing concern in Armenia that an extraterritorial corridor for Azerbaijan via Syunik may jeopardize the country’s land connection with Iran, which is one of only two gateways, along with Georgia, for the landlocked country towards the sea.
Iran has also warned other regional powers at the highest level that altering historical borders in the region was a red line for Tehran.
Speaking about the negotiations over regional unblocking that have been conducted with Azerbaijan over the past two years, Aghajanian stressed that when it practically becomes possible to reach an agreement with Baku on the most important provisions “very clear and principled differences emerge regarding the mode” in which the transport routes should operate.
Aghajanian said that “it is from this that it becomes clear that by the corridor the president of Azerbaijan means a mode of operation directly comparable to that of the Lachin corridor.”
Aghajanian reiterated Yerevan’s position that there is only one corridor envisaging extraterritoriality that is mentioned in the ceasefire agreement and that is the Lachin corridor, a five-kilometer wide strip of land controlled by Russian peacekeepers that ensures the only land connection between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia.
In his remarks at a weekly cabinet session on Thursday, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said that it was Azerbaijan that broke an agreement on the restoration of a railway link that was reached on December 14, 2021 in Brussels.
“A few days later, Aliyev himself refused to sign the document confirming the agreement. I officially state that I am ready to sign the document confirming this agreement even today,” the Armenian prime minister said.
Pashinian also maintained that by accusing Armenia of not fulfilling its obligations Aliyev is trying to create “fictitious grounds for closing the Lachin corridor, encircling the Karabakh Armenians and committing genocide.”
In a statement released on Friday Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs described Pashinian’s statements about Baku’s plans to close the Lachin corridor as “an attempt to deliberately escalate tensions in the region” and accused the Armenian side of “using that road for illegal military activities.”