Armenia tells World Court Azerbaijan blockade is ‘ethnic cleansing’
By Stephanie van den Berg
THE HAGUE (Reuters) -Armenia told judges at the World Court on Monday that a blockade of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region by neighbouring Azerbaijan was designed to allow “ethnic cleansing”, a claim rejected by Baku.
The Lachin corridor is the only route whereby Armenia can provide food, fuel and medicine supplies to Nagorno-Karabakh, a region internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but home to around 120,000 ethnic Armenians.
The corridor has been blocked since Dec. 12, when protesters claiming to be environmental activists stopped traffic by setting up tents. Azerbaijan denies any blockade, saying the activists are staging a legitimate protest against illegal mining activity.
Monday’s hearing at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), also known as the World Court, was called to hear an Armenian request for the court to order Azerbaijan to lift the blockade.
Armenia’s representative, Yeghishe Kirakosyan, told the court the blockade had led to food rationing and dwindling medicine supplies in Nagorno-Karabakh, while Azerbaijan authorities said the ethnic Armenians were free to leave.
“Such blatant acts of ethnic cleansing have no place in the modern era and this court is the last hope for the ethnic Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh,” Kirakosyan said.
Constantinos Salonidis, a lawyer for Armenia, told the court: “Nothing short of a full lifting of the blockade and unhindered resumption of the provision of public utilities will bring relief to the victims of this cruel and unnecessary blockade.”
Azerbaijan’s deputy foreign minister, Elnur Mammadov, told the court that reports of a blockade were “simply false” and said traffic was continuing to flow next to the protest.
Mammadov also said that Armenia’s claims of ethnic cleansing were “distorting reality deliberately” and were “fanning the flames” of conflict.
Nagorno-Karabakh has been a flashpoint between the South Caucasus neigbours for decades.
The hearing at the ICJ is part of a larger case that Armenia filed in 2020 saying that Azerbaijan has breached a convention against racial discrimination. Baku has filed a counterclaim alleging that it is Armenia, not Azerbaijan, which is breaching the discrimination convention.
On Tuesday the ICJ will hear a competing demand from Azerbaijan for the court to order Armenia to stop planting landmines in territories it once occupied.
(Reporting by Stephanie van den BergEditing by Gareth Jones)