The authorities of Azerbaijan have held a press briefing for the diplomatic corps and military attachés accredited to Azerbaijan to inform them about the ongoing protests of the Azerbaijani activists and volunteers against the illegal exploitation of Azerbaijan’s mineral resources in the Karabakh (Garabagh) region.
Hikmet Hajiyev, Assistant to the President of Azerbaijan, Head of Foreign Policy Affairs Department of the Presidential Administration, and Elnur Mammadov, Deputy Foreign Minister of the country said at the conference that the rallies began following the obstruction of an Azerbaijani ecological monitoring group to conduct an assessment of illegal mining activities in the Azerbaijani lands temporarily monitored by the Russian peacekeepers.
Hajiyev said, according to Azertag, that the illegal exploitation of natural resources in the mentioned territories should be stopped, and the exploitation of natural resources should take place in line with the legislation of Azerbaijan.
Since December 3, 2022, a group of experts from Azerbaijan’s Economy Ministry and Ecology and Natural Resources Ministry, as well as the State Property Service under the Ministry of Economy and AzerGold Company held negotiations with the command of the peacekeeping contingent on the illegal exploitation of mineral deposits, as well as on environmental and other secondary consequences in the Azerbaijani territories under its temporary monitoring. As a result of two consecutive meetings on December 3 and 4, the sides agreed upon the conduction of ecological monitoring by the Azerbaijani experts at the Gizilbulag gold and Demirli copper-molybdenum deposits.
However, on December 10, the visit of the representatives of Azerbaijan to the deposits was derailed in the wake of illegal intervention by ethnic Armenians living in certain parts of Azerbaijan's Karabakh region. Back then, the Russian peacekeepers did not take preventive measures to facilitate the previously agreed visit of the Azerbaijani experts.
Hajiyev said that the ongoing protest by the Azerbaijani civil society and environmental activists on the Shusha-Lachin road over the last two days reflects dissatisfaction of the Azerbaijani society with the ecological terror in the temporary monitoring zone of the Russian peacekeeping mission and obstruction of its assessment.
In the meantime, the presidential aide also noted that the current blockage of the Lachin road is not due to the rallies of the Azerbaijani activists but upon a decision of the Russian peacekeepers.
“The representatives of civil society of Azerbaijan try to prevent the illegal transportation of looted natural resources, and do not interfere with the matters of movement of other vehicles for civilian purposes,” he said.
The Azerbaijani authorities have been calling for more efficient control over the Lachin highway by the Russian peacekeeping contingent. The demands gained momentum after reports surfaced about the illegal transportation of minerals from the Azerbaijani territories temporarily monitored by the peacekeepers to Armenia via the Lachin road. Baku-based Caliber.Az news agency reported on November 30 that eight Kamaz trucks accompanied by a Nissan Patrol SUV with an Armenian license number 731 - AB - 61 ER, made their way from the Khankendi city of Azerbaijan to Armenia between November 10 and November 14. Moreover, on November 16-18, identical vehicles were seen along the Lachin road from Armenia to Khankendi.
According to operational data, raw materials extracted at the gold mines near the village of Gulyatagh of the former Aghdara (current Tartar) region of Azerbaijan, located in the zone of temporary responsibility of the Russian peacekeepers, have been transported on these Kamaz trucks. The materials were moved by the Base Metals company, a subsidiary of Vallex Group Company based in Switzerland, which engaged in the looting of precious metals in Kalbajar, Zangilan, and Aghdara during the occupation and currently in the area where Russian peacekeepers are stationed.
Ecological activists, members of non-governmental organizations, and volunteers gathered on December 12 on the Lachin-Shusha-Khankendi road to demand the Russian peacekeeping command explain the failure of control over illegal mineral extraction and misuse of the Lachin road for these crimes. They have been calling the peacekeepers’ commander General Andrei Volkov to come out and consider their demands. However, Volkov has been refusing to appear on the site. Protesters installed tents and pledged to continue rallies until the illegal exploitation of Azerbaijan’s mineral resources is stopped.
In the meantime, the armed Russian peacekeeping contingent blocked the Lachin road amidst the protests, attempted to stop protesters and journalists on the site by force by damaging a car of an Azerbaijani news service, as well as tried to demolish tents, while calling for additional equipment and personnel.
Armenian media claimed that the transfer of patients from hospitals in the Karabakh region to Armenia became impossible due to the closure of the road and accused the Azerbaijani protesters of it. However, the Azerbaijani activists publicly announced that they are ready to assist the ethnic Armenian citizens of Azerbaijan in the Karabakh region in all humanitarian issues by giving their contact numbers. However, no request was made by the Armenians over the past two days.