Azerbaijan demands Karabakh mine access as condition to end protests blocking road

Baku says the mining sites are being illegally exploited, while Armenians accuse Azerbaijan of staging fake protests.

 People take part in a procession marking the anniversary of the end of the 2020 military conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh breakaway region, involving Azerbaijan's troops against ethnic Armenian forces, in Baku, Azerbaijan, November 8, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/AZIZ KARIMOV)
People take part in a procession marking the anniversary of the end of the 2020 military conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh breakaway region, involving Azerbaijan's troops against ethnic Armenian forces, in Baku, Azerbaijan, November 8, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AZIZ KARIMOV)

Azerbaijan said on Tuesday protests which have blocked the supply route to ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh for more than two weeks would be suspended if monitors were given access to what it calls illegal mining sites in the enclave.

A crowd of Azerbaijanis has been engaged in a standoff with Russian peacekeepers since December 12 along the Lachin corridor, the road that crosses Azerbaijani territory and connects Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh.

The blocking of the road, on which the territory depends for supplies of food, fuel and medicine, has prompted the United States and the European Union to express humanitarian concerns and urge Baku to reopen it.

Two wars in 30 years

Azerbaijan and Armenia have fought two wars in the last 30 years over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but whose 120,000 residents are mostly ethnic Armenians.

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov told a news conference that Baku had for more than a year been demanding access to monitor mining sites in Karabakh that it says are being illegally exploited.

 RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPING troops patrol near the border with Armenia, following a deal to end the military conflict between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, in 2020. (credit: REUTERS/FRANCESCO BREMBATI) RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPING troops patrol near the border with Armenia, following a deal to end the military conflict between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, in 2020. (credit: REUTERS/FRANCESCO BREMBATI)

Asked on what condition the protests could be suspended, he said: "The demand of the Azerbaijani side and the environmental activists is that the state organs of Azerbaijan must have the possibility to visit, conduct monitoring and observe the situation at these mining sites."

Ethnic Armenian leaders in Karabakh have accused Azerbaijan of orchestrating a fake protest in order to blockade the territory. Baku denies that, saying the activists are genuine and their protest is justified.

Efforts by Russia, the United States and the EU to bring about a lasting peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan have made only slow progress since the last war in 2020.

Azerbaijan staged large-scale cross-border attacks inside Armenia in September that Yerevan described as unprovoked aggression. Azerbaijan said its soldiers responded after Armenian sabotage units tried to mine its positions. More than 200 Armenian troops and around 80 Azerbaijanis were killed.