Why Armenians are leaving the Lachin region
Inhabitants of the city of Lachin and the village of Zabukh (Aghavno), located in the Lachin corridor, must evacuate by August 25. This agreement was reached by Azerbaijan and Armenia via mediation with Russian peacekeepers deployed in part of Karabakh. Armenian experts are asking why these towns should be resettled at all.
According to the terms of the tripartite declaration signed on November 10, 2020 by the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Russia and the Prime Minister of Armenia, the Lachin region passed under the control Azerbaijan. But because the Lachin corridor is the only road connecting Armenia and Khankendi (Stepanakert), the city of Lachin itself and the village of Zabuh (Aghavno), it has remained outside the control of the Azerbaijani army.
The State Agency for Highways of Azerbaijan has put an end to the dispute over who is building an alternative road to the Lachin corridor
Although, under the agreement, three years were allotted for the construction of an alternative road to the Lachin corridor, Azerbaijan has waited only two, and a new road will be put into service by the end of summer 2022. After that, the regional center of Lachin will be under Azerbaijani control.
Armenia has insisted on the literal fulfillment of conditions stated in the sixth paragraph of the agreement, and demanded that three years be allowed to pass first. The Armenian part of the road is, in fact, still in the design stage.
Provisional map of the Lachin corridor and alternative road. Source: www.eurasianet.org
After Azerbaijan conducted a military operation, called “Retribution”, last week, the process accelerated. The Armenian press, citing the Minister of Territorial Administration and Infrastructures of the unrecognized NKR, Hayk Khanumyan, reported that Azerbaijan demanded the release of the city of Lachin and the village of Zabukh (Aghavno) by August 5, 2022. “As a result of negotiations, it was possible to postpone the transfer to August 25,” the report says.
Member of the Azerbaijani Parliament Vugar Bayramov cited data of the last population census, before the start of the First Nagorno-Karabkh War:
“The last population census in the Lachin region of the Azerbaijan SSR was carried out in 1979.
According to that census, 47,261 people lived in the region. The ethnic makeup of the population was as follows: 44,665 people (94.5%) were Azerbaijanis, 2,437 people (5.1%) were Muslim Kurds. According to the 1979 census, 34 people of Armenian nationality lived in the Lachin region.
“Muslim Kurds were expelled from the area along with Azerbaijanis during the occupation of the area by the Armenian armed forces.
“In 1992, 65,507 internal refugees from Lachin were settled in 59 cities and regions of Azerbaijan.”
According to Bayramov, Zabukh consisted entirely of Azerbaijanis. Because of the war more than 600 people, the indigenous inhabitants of this village, were internally displaced.
“In 2003, the Armenian diaspora built a church in Zabukh. Beginning in 2013, Armenians began to illegally settle in this village. The Ari Foundation, owned by Lebanese Armenians, has built more than 150 houses in the village,” added Vugar Bayramov.
Azerbaijan’s demand is based on the terms of the tripartite statement, Azeri political commentator Agshin Kerimov maintains:
“Azerbaijan only demands the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from the city of Lachin and the current Lachin corridor. Baku does not insist on the expulsion of the Armenian population thence.
“If desired, the Armenians who now inhabit Lachin and Zabuh can apply to the Azerbaijani authorities, obtain citizenship of the country, and continue to live in peace where they lived after the occupation of this region. But apparently they aren’t even considering that option.”
Military observer Asaf Guliyev cited anecdotes from his experience of communicating with residents of the Lachin region:
“I myself am from Karabakh, I was born and raised in this region. I know for sure that there have never been Armenians in the Lachin region. At any rate, before occupation in the early ’90s.
“They were relocated there later on preferential terms. I shot a film in Karabakh during the years of occupation and talked with people living in these villages of the Lachin at that time. Many were resettled from Armenia itself; they were given land for farming at zero taxation. Everything was done to ensure that the occupied lands were not empty.”
Kuliyev says the Lachin Armenians did not take up the offer of Azerbaijani citizenship:
“Baku offers Armenians who were residents of the NKAR the possiblity of Azerbaijani citizenship. The Armenians who now inhabit Lachin and the villages are not citizens of Azerbaijan, and so they must leave the occupied lands.”