Azerbaijan Suspends Traffic On Sole Road To Nagorno-Karabakh Due To 'Contraband'

Azerbaijan says it has suspended traffic through the Lachin Corridor, temporarily closing the only route linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh after accusing the Armenian Red Cross of smuggling goods into the breakaway region.

Azerbaijan's State Border Service said on July 11 that traffic through the checkpoint has been suspended pending an investigation after "various types of contraband" had been discovered in the Red Cross vehicles coming from Armenia. Articles being transported included mobile phones, spare parts for phones, cigarettes, and gasoline, it claimed.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) denied the allegations in a statement, saying none of the vehicles under its control was involved in smuggling.

"No unauthorized material has been found in any vehicle belonging to the ICRC. All cargo is subject to customs checks by the Republic of Azerbaijan," the ICRC statement said.

"However, we regret that without our knowledge four hired drivers tried to transport some commercial goods in their own vehicles which were temporarily displaying the ICRC emblem. These individuals were not ICRC staff members and their service contracts were immediately terminated by the ICRC," the statement said, adding that the ICRC work in the region remains "strictly humanitarian."

Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh since the early 1990s, when some 30,000 people were killed in a war that left ethnic Armenians in control of the predominantly Armenian-populated region that is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.

The simmering conflict led to another war in 2020 in which nearly 7,000 soldiers were killed on both sides and which ended with a Russian-brokered cease-fire and the deployment of some 2,000 Russian troops as peacekeepers.

Sporadic fighting and loss of life have persisted despite the cease-fire and the presence of Russian troops.

Azerbaijani protesters identifying themselves as environmentalists have blocked a section of the road since December 12 and are demanding Baku be allowed to inspect “illegal” ore mines in Karabakh.

Azerbaijani officials have insisted they are not encouraging the protesters -- though they have not moved to force them out -- and say the road has been open for humanitarian cargo, emergency services, and peacekeepers.

Baku in April raised tensions further when it installed a checkpoint at the start of the Lachin Corridor despite a decision by the International Court of Justice -- the UN's top judicial body -- which had ordered Baku in February to ensure the free movement of goods and vehicles on the road.

Armenia has accused Baku of instituting a blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh, despite Azerbaijan insisting it was not hampering the free movement through the Lachin Corridor.

Baku said at the time that the checkpoint had been established in order to prevent the smuggling of weapons and other illegal goods into Nagorno-Karabakh.