By Farid Gajramanov
Shusha, Azerbaijan, Jan 16 (EFE).- “Neither the cold nor the snow will stop us,” says Torgul Allakhverdiev, one of dozens of Azerbaijani protesters who for the past month have been blocking the mountainous, snow-covered Lachin corridor allegedly in protest against Armenian mining in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
“If necessary, we will be here for five or six months,” the Azerbaijani youth activist tells Efe.
Since December 12, he has been blocking the only access road between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, a region that is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but which is populated by Armenians and governed by an unrecognized breakaway state.
The demonstrators have been blocking the road over what they say is the Russian peacekeeping troops’ inability to allow Azerbaijani experts to access mines located in the area which, Baku claims, are being exploited illegally by Armenia.
Under the terms of the November 2020 ceasefire deal between Baku, Yerevan and Moscow that ended the most recent war in Nagorno-Karabakh – which was won by a more powerful Azerbaijan – the Russian military controls the corridor, often described as a “lifeline” for the region’s inhabitants.
“Our protest is peaceful. Our demand, simple. The illegal exploitation of our country’s resources, the Kyzylbulak and Demirli deposits, must be stopped,” Sima Melikova, an activist with the Regional Development movement, tells Efe.
“It is not only about the plundering of Azerbaijan’s natural assets, but about damage to the environment, as the exploitation is carried out without taking into account ecological safety standards,” she argues.
The protesters have set up a small camp on a stretch of the corridor near the town of Shusha, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Jankendi, Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital, which Armenians call Stepanakert.
Two small white canvas tents provide shelter for the protesters to eat, drink tea and rest, as well as recharge their phones and other devices.
They wave Azerbaijani flags and carry banners with slogans such as “stop ecocide,” “Azerbaijani people own their wealth,” and “protect nature” in Russian and English.
“Our protest has become a movement with a broad social, I would even say popular, scope,” Tebriz Suleymanli, a member of the social-ecological center Ekosfera, tells Efe.
In the first few days of the vigil, tensions were high as the protesters and the Russian military were practically face to face, but later the peacekeepers moved back.
The protesters allow only vehicles from the Russian peacekeepers’ contingent, the Red Cross and ambulances transporting seriously ill people to Armenia to pass their road block.
“So far there is no positive response to our demands. But this does not discourage us – on the contrary, it increases our determination to achieve our goals,” says Allakhverdiev.
He is open to allowing Armenian civilians residing in Nagorno-Karabakh through, whom he insists he has “nothing against.”
“When they become Azerbaijani citizens again we will live in peace. They will be able to live much better,” he says.
However, he makes it clear that he is opposed to the alleged “supply of military equipment from Armenia, any military cargo, and the transfer of Azerbaijani natural resources” extracted from the deposits.
Amin Mamedov, an activist linked to Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Ecology, told Efe that the exploitation of gold, copper and molybdenum-rich mines in Nagorno-Karabakh is also causing ecological damage to the region, which has been internationally recognized as Azerbaijani.
“Certain chemicals are used in the extraction of gold and other metals. The waste generated during the process should be recycled elsewhere, but this is not done and the waste contaminates the soil, the water table, which is observed in satellite photos,” he says.EFE