Hikmet Hajiyev, President Ilham Aliyev’s foreign policy advisor, told Reuters that Azerbaijan is willing to let Red Cross help from Armenia into the ethnic Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh region in exchange for Red Crescent aid from Azerbaijan.
Nagorno-Karabakh, officially recognized as part of Azerbaijan but governed by ethnic Armenians, is at the center of a tense standoff, with Azerbaijan barring traffic along the single route connecting it to Armenia in order to impede what it claims is arms smuggling.
Armenia claims that a blockade of the “Lachin corridor,” also called as “the road of life” by ethnic Armenians in Karabakh, has resulted in severe shortages of food, medicine, and other necessities.
Baku says it has let the Red Cross evacuate people to Armenia for medical treatment and that its own information shows there is no shortage of basic food staples, but it has not allowed food and other supplies in for some time.
Hajiyev said in an interview on Thursday that Azerbaijan was now ready to let the Red Cross bring in humanitarian aid on condition that the Red Crescent also be allowed to bring in aid, on a different road from Azerbaijan.
He said the two roads – the Lachin corridor and the Aghdam road – could be opened to aid simultaneously as part of a pilot scheme that could defuse tensions and spur long-running peace talks between Baku and Yerevan.
The idea had been discussed in a phone call between President Aliyev and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sept. 1, he said.
“There was a suggestion for the simultaneous opening of the roads and Azerbaijan agreed and immediately agreed,” said Hajiyev, saying that part of the Aghdam road had been obstructed with concrete blocks by Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian authorities.
“Now one week has passed since the telephone call with Secretary Blinken and there is no movement.”
Yuri Kim, acting assistant secretary of state for the United States, spoke on Thursday of “progress toward immediately & simultaneously opening Lachin and other routes to get humanitarian supplies into Nagorno-Karabakh”.
“Opening routes and direct talks are key to resolving outstanding issues,” Kim said on X.
Ruben Vardanyan, a billionaire banker who was a top official in Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian administration until February, said Azerbaijan was wrong to try to attach preconditions to allowing aid to pass through the Lachin corridor.
Vardanyan, who has accused Baku of trying to “ethnically cleanse” the enclave by choking off supplies to it – something it denies – said a Russian-brokered 2020 ceasefire deal signed by Azerbaijan after a short war was meant to ensure that the Lachin corridor remained open to Armenia.
“Their President signed a trilateral ceasefire statement on November 9th (2020) and took responsibility for providing a corridor for uninterrupted connection,” Vardanyan said on X on Wednesday.
“However, they now refuse to implement that commitment and are attempting to impose new preconditions for opening the Lachin Corridor.”