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It’s Time to Call Nonsense on Azerbaijan’s Corridor Demands

Second Nagorno-Karabakh War. Image: Creative Commons.
Image: Creative Commons.

Nasimi Aghayev, Azerbaijan’s ambassador to Germany and its former consul-general in Los Angeles, has established himself as the “Baghdad Bob” of Baku.

He repeatedly denied Azerbaijan’s blockade of the Lachin corridor, doubling down on the fiction that Russian peacekeepers and even Armenians were responsible for cutting off supplies to Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh. It is a logic analogous to suggesting Ukrainians in the Soviet Union starved themselves to make Soviet dictator Josef Stalin look bad.

For Aghayev, however, truth is irrelevant.

Azerbaijani diplomats have three jobs: Affirm dictator Ilham Aliyev’s every action, amplify his propaganda, and channel cash to those who can help.

Azerbaijan miscalculated the willingness of the international community to accept its talking points with regard to Azerbaijan’s Lachin blockade and its harassment of Armenians seeking to transit between Armenia and their homes in Nagorno-Karbakh. Even diplomats from countries closely allied with Azerbaijan privately concede concern with Aliyev’s increasingly erratic behavior. Aliyev, in 2023, increasingly looks and sounds like Saddam Hussein circa 1990.

With the world rejecting Aliyev’s narrative on Lachin, Azerbaijan and its agents, both registered and unregistered, now seek to shift the conversation to the so-called Zangezur corridor. Such a corridor would bifurcate southern Armenia in order to connect Azerbaijan with Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, an Azerbaijan enclave bordering Iran and Turkey but separated by Armenia proper. Azerbaijani officials say the November 2020 ceasefire mandated such a corridor. They allege Armenia violates that ceasefire by not allowing Azerbaijan to build or operate a road across Armenian territory. In reality, that ceasefire did not define the corridor or detail its control and the mechanism by which goods would transit.

While Aghayev and others say the corridor is necessary to allow Turkey to trade freely with Azerbaijan and further afield into Central Asia, he ignores that, just last week, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov, for example, acknowledged that Azerbaijan was building an alternative corridor through Iran. While Azerbaijan asks its propagandists to trumpet competition and schism between the two Shi’ite countries, Baku and Tehran have greatly increased ties and trade in recent years.

Aliyev may seek to transform the Zangezur corridor into a new casus belli as he lays claim to the entirety of Armenia. In reality, the reason for lack of overland trade between Turkey and Azerbaijan is neither Armenian intransigence nor the lack of a new corridor, but rather Azerbaijan and Turkey’s decades-long blockade of Armenia. Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey each face economic challenges, and each could benefit tremendously if they allowed free trade across their borders. Should Aliyev and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan so choose, they could end their blockade of Armenia instantly, open their borders and allow free passenger and commercial truck traffic across their territory on any number of roads. Unfortunately, a racist disdain for Armenians tends appears to motivate Aliyev and Erdogan more than a desire to help their own people.

The ramifications go beyond just economic development. While a pillar of Azerbaijani propaganda is that Armenia is a satellite of Iran, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy as the Azerbaijan-Turkey blockade of Armenia forces Armenia to use Iran as an economic outlet. Hence, those in Washington critical of Armenia-Iran ties, if sincere, should be at the forefront of demands that Azerbaijan and Turkey end their blockade.

Azerbaijan’s cheerleaders in Washington do U.S. national security and geopolitical interests no good when they enable Aliyev and Erdogan as both grow more erratic and detached from reality. The White House position should be a no-brainer and there should be no moral equivalence between those laying siege and those besieged. It is time for Turkey and Azerbaijan to end their blockade of Armenia.

Written By

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).