UN releases Azerbaijan FM's letter regarding IEC decision as an official document

The United Nations has circulated the tetter of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Jeyhun Bayramov, addressed to the Secretary-General in connection with the July 6 decision of the International Court of Justice regarding the rejection of the request put forward by Armenia in the case against Azerbaijan, News.az reports.

The letter reads:

"On 23 April 2023, Azerbaijan established the Border Checkpoint to address the increasingly critical security situation. The Checkpoint operates under Azerbaijan’s Law on the State Border and is used to perform routine checks of identity documents and cargo in a similar manner to other border checkpoints. Since its opening, more than 2,000 Armenian residents have used the Border Checkpoint to travel between Garabagh and Armenia in both directions – a significant increase from the preceding months. However, on 15 June 2023, traffic across the Border Checkpoint came to an abrupt halt when Armenian Armed Forces attacked a group of Azerbaijani border guards and accompanying Russian Federation peacekeeping forces. One Azerbaijani border guard was seriously injured in the attack.14 Amid the acute security threat and pending investigation of the attack, traffic across the Border Checkpoint was temporarily suspended. Videos from the aftermath of the attack show a large amount of traffic – which otherwise would have been able to cross the Border Checkpoint that day – backed up along the roads leading to the Checkpoint. Despite accepting responsibility for the armed attack on the Checkpoint, 16 in the immediate aftermath Armenia resurrected its false rhetoric of Azerbaijan deliberately blocking the Lachin Corridor. 

Two weeks after the establishment of the Border Checkpoint, instead of working with Azerbaijan to facilitate unimpeded traffic along the Lachin Road, Armenia applied to the Court requesting that it order Azerbaijan effectively to remove the Checkpoint, yet again portraying Azerbaijan’s legitimate actions – without any basis – as a threat to the ethnically Armenian residents of Garabagh

The Court rightly rejected that request. In the course of the parties’ correspondence with the Court, Armenia alleged without basis that Azerbaijan purposely and unilaterally was impeding traffic on the Lachin Road in violation of the 22 February 2023 order and its obligations under the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Armenia argued, for example, that Azerbaijan only allows Russian Federation peacekeepers and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to pass through the Border Checkpoint. Azerbaijan responded by setting out the unequivocal facts, which made clear that while Azerbaijan continues to take all steps at its disposal to restore the full resumption of traffic through the Border Checkpoint as quickly as possible and under safe and secure conditions, its current inability to fully reopen the Border Checkpoint is entirely attributable to Armenia’s actions. First, since December 2022, Armenia has been discouraging local Garabagh residents from using the Lachin Road, but earlier this year it formalized that policy, requiring residents to get prior permission from the unlawful regime Armenia installed in Garabagh in the early 1990s (“Armenia’s installed regime”) before they travel. On 5 April 2023, the so-called “state minister” of the installed regime, Gurgen Nersisian, issued a public statement that “it will be possible to travel from [Garabagh] to Armenia naturally through Russian peacekeepers, but only with a prior application to and permission from the Centre for Ensuring Cooperation with Russian Peacekeeping Troops”.

That “Centre” is part of Armenia’s installed regime in Garabagh. On 30 April 2023, following the establishment by Azerbaijan of the Border Checkpoint, the installed regime “reaffirm[ed] that the two-way movement between [Garabagh] and Armenia is organized and accompanied exclusively by the Russian peacekeeping troops and the International Committee of the Red Cross” and “people requiring movement in both directions should apply to the relevant state bodies, in order to solve the issue with the mentioned mechanisms”. On 7 June 2023, the so-called “ombudsman” of the installed regime, Gegham Stepanyan, explained in an interview with Armenian media why Armenia continues to require residents in Garabagh to organize their travel in this manner: “Armenians should not be allowed to move … without a third party, as this will give the Azerbaijani side a reason to claim that free movement along the Lachin corridor has been restored”. 

In other words, Armenia is allowing Garabagh residents to travel only with the Russian Federation peacekeepers or ICRC, because to do otherwise would demonstrate once and for all the safe, proper and effective functioning of the Checkpoint in facilitating movement along the Lachin Road. Second, even as it continued to publicly condemn Azerbaijan and advocate in political forums resolutions doing the same, Armenia has obstructed finding a solution. For example, since the attack on 15 June 2023, Azerbaijan has been working closely with ICRC and the Russian Federation peacekeeping command so that civilian traffic through the Border Checkpoint could resume as quickly as possible under safe and secure conditions. Since then, dozens of Armenian patients and their companions have travelled through the Border Checkpoint.  However, Armenia has refused and continues to refuse to provide a guarantee of non-repetition of the 15 June attack, which meant that only ICRC medical transfers could resume on 25 June 2023. In the face of Armenia’s intransigence, Azerbaijan has also been attempting to make arrangements with ICRC to use the alternative northern route to Khankandi via Aghdam, to transport humanitarian goods to Garabagh from Azerbaijan and ensure that supplies remain available to Armenian residents. Following the 15 July 2023 meeting between President Aliyev and Prime Minister Pashinyan in Brussels, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, has encouraged the use of the Aghdam-Khankandi route as an important part of ensuring that the needs of the Garabagh residents are met. The European Union Special Representative for the South Caucasus, Toivo Klaar, has also endorsed the proposal. Armenia, however, has refused to accept any assistance from Azerbaijan for the residents of Garabagh, and it appears that concrete barriers have been set up on the Aghdam-Khankandi road to prevent its use for this purpose. Azerbaijan has also repeatedly called for cooperation between Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s border agencies to ensure smooth operation of the Border Checkpoint, including raising, in early 2023, the possibility of coordinated border control. Armenia continues to ignore such calls for cooperative action. As Azerbaijan advised the Court, it has been taking every step available to it to reopen the Border Checkpoint and restore in full the traffic on the Lachin Road, while at every turn Armenia has resisted finding a solution. Garabagh residents thus remain tragically caught in the middle, as Armenia apparently seeks to score political points in its public relations campaign against Azerbaijan. The situation requires Armenia’s constructive engagement, not more political games or unfounded requests to the Court. On 11 July 2023, following the Court’s decision, Azerbaijan was again forced to temporarily suspend traffic through the Border Checkpoint when its State Border Service intercepted four drivers hired by ICRC attempting to transport unauthorized goods in vehicles displaying the ICRC emblem. ICRC confirmed that it has taken immediate action to terminate its service contracts with the drivers, who were not ICRC staff members and acted without the knowledge of ICRC.  Azerbaijan worked closely with ICRC to restore access for medical transfers and humanitarian supplies as quickly as possible, and ICRC travel through the Border Checkpoint resumed on 14 July 2023. Azerbaijan remains firmly committed to normalizing its bilateral relations with Armenia, with the aim of building a peaceful, secure, stable and prosperous Caucasus. In recent months, Azerbaijan and Armenia held a number of high-level meetings to progress negotiations of a peace treaty, including talks in Washington, D.C., and Brussels in the past two weeks. Issues related to border security, safety and transparency are part of the ongoing peace negotiations. In conclusion, please be advised that Azerbaijan has called upon Armenia to cease opposing or impeding the delivery of humanitarian assistance through the Aghdam-Khankandi route in the humanitarian interest of the ethnic Armenian residents of Garabagh, and to immediately provide a guarantee of non-repetition of its unprovoked 15 June 2023 attack on the Border Checkpoint. Azerbaijan welcomes the Court’s decision to reject Armenia’s request for modification and calls upon the international community to urge Armenia to engage constructively with Azerbaijan to achieve lasting peace".

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