(December 2022 - May 2023) 

The Armenian-Azerbaijani processes and events between December 2022 and May 2023, in fact, provided a clearer picture of the new round of “no peace, no war” dynamics between the two parties. Regardless of a number of differences compared to the previous algorithm of this dynamics observed in the period between the first (1991-1994) and the second (September-November 2020) Karabakh wars, the past six months highlighted its three key elements: these are the negotiations with the mediation of external actors to settle the Armenian-Azerbaijani relations and to reach a peace treaty, fluctuating military and political escalations between the conflicting parties, the use of other forms of pressure within the “coercive diplomacy” by the opposing side, as well as the war of narratives addressed not only to a hostile audience, but also their own.

In collaboration with Azerbaijani conflictologist Arif Yunusov, who has been living in political exile in the Netherlands since 2016, we conducted a study of the discourse prevalent on Armenian and Azerbaijani open platforms from December 2022 to May 2023. On respective national information and analytical platforms (media, Facebook pages of public figures, analysts from Armenia, NK, Azerbaijan), each of the authors studied the most common narratives on post-war processes, the peculiarities of public discourse regarding critical issues of Armenian-Azerbaijani relations (with a particular emphasis on the themes of peace and war).

This study is divided into 6 parts, each focusing on the narratives related to the following topics:
• the blockade of Nagorno Karabakh by Azerbaijan,
• challenges of the peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan,
• the likelihood of longer military escalations/new war,
• issues related to communication between Azerbaijan and the Armenian population of NK,
• the problem of the return of refugees to their original places of residence,
• attitudes towards the mediators involved in the Armenian-Azerbaijani settlement process and other external actors.

During the course of the study, all these topics appeared in the media and social media segments of the parties with varying degrees of intensity, duration and emphasis. The categorization of content on these specific topics might seem formal, given that many aspects are organically interconnected. However, this categorization is necessary to present both the whole complex range of rapidly unfolding processes in the specified period, and their antagonistic interpretations within societies that continue to harbor hostility.



Laura Baghdasaryan, Director of “Region”  Research Center (Armenia),
Arif Yunusov, Head of the Department of Conflict and Migration Studies of the Institute for Peace and Democracy (Azerbaijan)

On December 3, 2022, a group of Azerbaijani citizens blocked the road in the Lachin Corridor to protest the alleged exploitation of NK mines and the “plundering of Azerbaijan’s resources through their exportation from the country via the Lachin Corridor.” Following negotiations with the Russian peacekeeping contingent (RPC), the protest ended a few hours later, and the road was reopened. The “eco-protests” resumed on December 12, marking the beginning, as it turned out, of a lengthy, and from April 23 (the date of the establishment of the Azerbaijani checkpoint at the other end of the Lachin Corridor), in fact, of an indefinite blockade of NK. Its residents, thus, were left without access to the outside world, as the Lachin Corridor was the only route to Armenia and beyond, following the 2020 war.

The blockade became one of the key topics in the Armenian media and social media segment, since following the 2020 war it unilaterally caused additional serious socio-economic, energy, humanitarian, legal problems for 120 thousand Armenian residents of NK, and due to Azerbaijan’s actions, fundamentally changed the post-war status quo regarding the corridor. It was separately addressed in the 2020 tripartite ceasefire statement and was supposed to at least secure the residence of the Armenian population in NK and unrestricted access to Armenia, irrespective of the outcome of the second Karabakh war on the ground. (See Points 3 and 6 of the November 10, 2020 Statement by President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia and President of the Russian Federation. The Points entail deployment of peacekeeping forces also along the Lachin Corridor to ensure a connection between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, and as agreed by the Parties, within the next three years, a plan will be outlined for the construction of a new route to link NK with Armenia, with subsequent relocation of RPC to protect the route). From a political perspective, in Armenia and NK, the Lachin Corridor is also perceived as a symbol of the region’s preserved subjectivity, while the blockade is viewed as an attempt to dismantle it and achieve a post-war “voluntary” and gradual exodus of the Armenian population from their homes.

The international community’s response to the blockade of the corridor became evident from the second day of its initiation. Between December 13, 2022 and April 28, 2023, 37 countries and international organizations issued official statements (at the level of foreign ministries, parliaments, other executive positions and structures)  regarding the blockade. And in a number of cases, they issued two or more statements regarding the corridor (the United States, France, Russia, the Netherlands, Germany, the Vatican, Argentina, the UN, PACE, the EU, CoE, Freedom House). The common thread among all these statements was the consensus on the urgent need to lift the blockade and prevent a humanitarian crisis in NK.The following countries issued statements on the blockade of the Lachin Corridor: Canada, the Netherlands, Cyprus, France, the USA, Russia, China, Greece, Britain, Germany, Lithuania, the Vatican, Estonia, Uruguay, Iran, Spain, Argentina, Austria, Switzerland, Lebanon, Belgium, Luxembourg. The following international organizations issued statements on the blockade of the corridor: EU, Freedom House, UN, PACE, Christian Solidarity International, CoE, UNICEF, Lemkin Institute, European Parliament, Amnesty International, NATO, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Human Rights Watch. The order of countries and organizations in these lists corresponds to the dissemination dates of their statements.

The international community’s outcry reached its peak during the hearings on the issue of the blockade in the UN Security Council (December 21, 2022) and the International Court of Justice in The Hague (January 30, 2023). These events were broadcast live by various Armenian TV channels and several online media. On February 22, it was announced that the International Court of Justice partially upheld Armenia’s claim on the application of a provisional measure against Azerbaijan. The court ruled in favor of Armenia's request to unblock the Lachin Corridor and enable free movement for the residents of Nagorno Karabakh. Simultaneously, the court rejected Azerbaijan's claim, which accused Armenia of transporting mines to Nagorno Karabakh through the Lachin Corridor to plant them on the territory of Azerbaijan. The International Court of Justice found this accusation unsubstantiated.

The verdict issued by the International Court of Justice against Azerbaijan had a noticeable moderating effect on the volume of pieces in the Armenian media and social networks published with regards to Azerbaijan’s official statements on the denial of the blockade, as such, and protests having been organized, carried out and supported at the state level. The simple reason for such a shift is that this verdict was also issued on the basis of the facts presented by Armenia about the affiliation of the protesting citizens of Azerbaijan with the AR official structures, the really dire situation faced by the NK population amidst interrupted communication with Armenia, despite the vehicles of the RPC and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) passing through the corridor, as well as other consequences. And all these facts were present in the pieces circulating prior to the verdict within the Armenian media and social network pages of official circles and everyday citizens of NK.

Unlike the Armenian information and analytical platforms, the topic of the blockade received considerably less attention in the Azerbaijani media and social networks.
The humanitarian aspect of the blockade was not addressed in the media and social network speeches of Azerbaijani officials, opinion leaders and specialists. On the contrary, it was suggested that those who disagreed with the prospect of becoming citizens of the AR as the rest, without special rights and benefits, could simply leave their places of residence and go to Armenia. It was emphasized that the road for the exodus of the Armenian population from Karabakh was open. There were also statements warning that if the demands of eco-activists were not met, the population of NK would be subjected to the use of “other, stronger instruments” by Azerbaijan.

The ground reality in NK unfolded soon after the blockade with the introduction of martial law and a coupon regime to distribute essential products among the population. This reality was not only reflected in statistical data on the socio-economic decline in the region, the energy crisis arising from sporadic gas supply cut-offs by the Azerbaijani side, the serious environmental crisis at the Sarsang Reservoir in March-April, but also in the social network posts of everyday citizens of NK. And the portrayal of the humanitarian crisis in NK by Armenian media platforms, which was also available to the Azerbaijani audience, was generally assessed as far-fetched within the Azerbaijani society.

The situation unfolding in the Lachin Corridor did not directly concern the citizens of Azerbaijan, they were not directly affected by that campaign and did not face personal problems. Traditionally, in the Azerbaijani society, the statements of the Armenian media have long been met with disbelief. Added to that, such a political aspect of the blockade as the strengthening of the hostility of the NK population towards Azerbaijan was not discussed either. There was only one coincidence of assessments and perceptions regarding the blockade on both sides of the conflict. It concerned the conviction that protest actions by Azerbaijani public organizations could not be carried out without state support.

Thus, after the 2020 war, many Azerbaijanis expressed a desire to visit the places of their former residence and, in general, return to Karabakh. However, the travel to the region is possible only with an appropriate permission by the republican Ministry of Internal Affairs. Such permits are exclusively granted to state and cultural figures, journalists participating in specific events or visits. Those everyday citizens who decided at their own risk to visit their former residences were detained and fined, some even faced administrative arrests.

That is why from the very beginning many people realized in Azerbaijan that the protest action was not spontaneous and was orchestrated by the authorities. Added to that, both Armenian and Azerbaijani social media users often pointed out the existence of a number of areas in Azerbaijan facing serious environmental problems, such as, the settlements surrounding the oil deposits on the Absheron Peninsula. However, so far, no information has emerged about the presence of eco-activists in those areas. On social networks, Azerbaijani users raised other acute questions. Specifically, they focused on the source of funding that sustained the participants of the campaign for so long, especially during the winter season when enduring the cold for hours was a notable factor.

On January 18, 2023, Mikroskop, an Azerbaijani independent website, based outside of Azerbaijan, published the findings of its investigation. Having analyzed over 50 videos and reports from the protest action of “eco-activists" on the Lachin road, the journalists of this media concluded that there were no environmental NGOs at all among the participants. Instead, they found NGOs engaged in the protection of women's rights, assisting families of war-disabled individuals, sports, etc. Furthermore, it was revealed that all these NGOs had received substantial grants from the authorities prior to the campaign!

This investigation caused a wide public outcry, as it dealt a serious blow to the government's version. While the authorities actually admitted that the protesters were not environmentalists, they downplayed the significance, stating: Aren’t these people all citizens of Azerbaijan?” and “Aren’t they free to express their legitimate concerns?” 

The Lachin Corridor blockade provided an opportunity for the opposition forces in Armenia and Azerbaijan to criticize their respective authorities. However, while the Armenian opposition forces directed their criticism against the policy and actions of the RA Prime Minister regarding the Karabakh issue, the criticism of a number of Azerbaijani opposition figures against I. Aliyev and his team was voiced only in the context of the international reaction to the blockade and the resulting negative impact on Azerbaijan’s image.

The debate between N. Pashinyan and I. Aliyev at the Munich Security Conference (February 18, 2023) caused discontent, especially among the Armenian opposition. According to a range of political figures, Pashinyan failed to counter Aliyev's accusations against Armenia, including those concerning the issue of the Lachin Corridor blockade. In particular, Levon Zourabyan, deputy chairman of “Armenian National Congress” party,  wrote on Facebook that in response to the provided statistics on vehicles passing through the Lachin Corridor and the statement that if there was a passing vehicle, then there was no blockade, “Pashinyan should have pointed out the real statistics, highlighting that, in fact, the movement of passengers and goods has come to a complete halt, disrupting the normal lifestyle and leading to economic catastrophic consequences.... Pashinyan remained silent when Aliyev stated that he would not negotiate with the Karabakh people as long as they were represented by Ruben Vardanyan. Meanwhile, he should have just emphasized that not Aliyev, but the people of Artsakh should decide who will speak on their behalf during the negotiations” (

On January 19, 2023, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the “Humanitarian consequences of the blockade in Nagorno-Karabakh” and condemned Azerbaijan for the blockade. The Azerbaijani authorities, experts associated with them and other representatives of society called it “a monstrous lie”, a result of the activities of the Armenian lobby and deputies of the European Parliament mired in corruption scandals.” The demands to end the blockade in the statements of the leaders of the EU, the CoE, the USA, France and other countries were also standardly rejected. According to opposition figures, the blockade of the corridor was leading Azerbaijan “to confrontation with the West, depriving the country of international support.” There was also criticism of the thesis about the plundering of Azerbaijan's resources in NK: “... as if no one knows who has been plundering for all these 30 years the resources of our people, including of these very “eco-activists” who do not realize what they are freezing for and, most importantly, do not realize that this slogan was dictated to the protesters by these very thieves!” With regards to the February 22 ruling of the International Court of Justice in The Hague to oblige Azerbaijan to ensure unhindered movement along the Lachin Corridor, Tofig Yagublu, an opposition figure from “Musavat” party, posted on Facebook and, like some others, linked the blockade to the interests of Russia: From the first day we have been saying that this action is nothing more than the fulfillment of the task set by Putin to disrupt the peace process by Brussels and Washington, which is fully consistent with the interests of Azerbaijan.”

The perception of the campaign of “eco-activists” and the blockade of the Lachin Corridor underwent a significant shift on April 23, following the news of Azerbaijan establishing a checkpoint at the beginning of the Lachin road, on the border with Armenia. This was greeted with enthusiasm by the pro-government media in Azerbaijan, which saw it as a serious step with a decisive impact on the peace process, the blockade issue and the future of the Karabakh Armenians. The reaction of the opposition and independent representatives of civil society also changed. Ali Karimli, leader of the Popular Front of Azerbaijan, on the same day expressed his satisfaction on Facebook, stating: “If the Azerbaijani side properly controls our borders, it will be a severe blow to ethnic separatism in Karabakh, leaving the separatists with no choice but to come to terms with reality.

The news about the termination of the protest action again triggered sarcasm and a mixed response from politicians and ordinary Facebook users. Tofig Yagublu, a “Musavat” party activist, wrote: Finally, the shameful action of “eco-activists” on the Shusha road has come to an end. Just as I anticipated, the protesters (in reality, the government) used this to set up a border checkpoint on the Lachin road.”

In Azerbaijan, people were left pondering the political achievements of the country. In this context, there was an overall sense of optimism prevailing that Azerbaijan had nevertheless accomplished its strategic objective, and after the installation of the checkpoint, a new phase in the process of the complete return of Nagorno Karabakh was thought to have begun.

Read the full version in Russian HERE.

This research has been organized within the framework of the Region Research Center's project "New Agendas for Peace and Stability in the South Caucasus after the Karabakh 2020 War". The project is being implemented by the support of the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation. The opinions expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the opinions and positions of the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation or its partners.


© 2001-2024
"Region" Research Center

    +37410 563363
    [email protected]
    1/3 Buzand Str, 8 Floor, Yerevan, Armenia

The new version of the website was created with the support of the European Endowment for Democracy (EED).