The Azerbaijan Armed Forces on March 25 took local control measures to suppress illegal movement of military personnel and arms via the dirt roads bypassing the Lachin highway in the Karabakh economic region.
The Azerbaijani army took control of the unpaved mountain roads in the temporary monitoring zone of the Russian peacekeepers to curtail illegal transfers from Armenia to the Karabakh region.
“Taking into account the current situation, necessary local control measures were taken by the Azerbaijan Army Units to suppress the use of dirt roads north of the Lachin road for illegal activities, as well as the aggravation of the situation by the transportation of weapons and ammunition by Armenia and the commitment of potential provocations,” Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said in a statement on March 25.
The ministry underlined the increased transport of manpower, ammunition, mines, as well as other military equipment from Armenia for illegal Armenian armed detachments in the territory of Azerbaijan.
It also noted the unlawful construction and improvement work done by Armenians on the Khankendi-Khalfali-Turshsu road and Khankendi-Kosalar-Mirzalar-Turshsu road, passing north of the Lachin highway.
“Despite numerous appeals of the Azerbaijani side and discussions in this regard, no necessary measures have been taken to suppress the transportation of ammunition and other military means to date,” the ministry said, hinting at the inaction of the Russian peacekeeping mission to stop the illegal militarization attempts within its temporary monitoring zone.
Azerbaijan's action followed shortly after Armenian armed gangs were reportedly using a new mountain road, in addition to the Khankendi-Khalfali-Turshsu unpaved road, for military transport.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry released on March 24 a video of the groundbreaking for the new Khankendi-Kosalar-Mirzalar-Turshsu road passing to the north of the Khankendi-Khalfali-Turshsu route.
The reports about the use of the Khankendi-Khalfali-Turshsu dirt road by Armenian armed gangs in the Karabakh region surfaced on March 5, when a minivan was spotted smuggling gang members and ammunition from Armenia to the Karabakh region bypassing the Lachin highway – the only overland connection between Armenia and the Karabakh region.
An armed incident followed as Armenian saboteurs resorted to firing in response to the vehicle inspection request by the Azerbaijani servicemen. Two servicemen of the Azerbaijan Army Alibeyli Shakhriyar and Huseynov Eshgin were killed by Armenian armed group.
Three Armenian militants were killed in the clash. They were said to be disguised as police officers tasked to oversee the illegal arms shipment to the Karabakh region. Reports said "lieutenant colonel" Armen Babayan, "major" David Danielyan, and "lieutenant" Ararat Gasparyan were killed in the shootout.
Following the incident, on March 7, 11, 13, 21 and 24, the Defense Ministry and media outlets of Azerbaijan reported that the Armenian gangs, accompanied by the Russian peacekeeping vehicles, continued to use the Khankendi-Khalfali-Turshsu dirt road for military manpower, weapons and gasoline supplies to the positions of the illegal armed formations in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan warned to stop criminal activities on the road and appealed to the Russian peacekeeping command to take immediate preventive measures. However, the Russian peacekeepers continued to escort illegal arms transfers to the Karabakh region.
The Russian peacekeeping contingent was deployed in parts of Azerbaijan’s Karabakh region, partially populated by ethnic Armenians, following the 44-day war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2020. The contingent of 1,960 Russian peacekeepers aims to safeguard peace in the region.
According to the 2020 Trilateral Statement, they had to ensure the withdrawal of the Armenian armed groups from the zone of their temporary responsibility. However, no relevant measures were taken over the past two years.
In the meantime, the Armenian side has been attempting to justify the illegal use of the dirt roads as a result of the alleged “blockage” on the Lachin highway caused by the Azerbaijani protesters. However, President Ilham Aliyev, in a phone call with the European Council President Charles Michel on March 25, once again stated that the claims made by Armenia regarding the alleged closure of this road are false.
“From December 12, 2022, until today, about 5,000 vehicles belonging to the Russian peacekeepers and the International Committee of the Red Cross, people in need of medical assistance and those accompanying them have passed through this road,” President Aliyev told Michel.