What is Nakhchivan? And after Nagorno-Karabakh, is this the next crisis for Azerbaijan and Armenia

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — After Azerbaijan's military offensive regained full control of the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, another dispute is looming on the horizon with Armenia: the territory of Nakhchivan.

Like Nagorno-Karabakh, where the Armenian population felt cut off from the country of Armenia, Nakhchivan is territorially separated from the rest of Azerbaijan.

It accounts for about 6% of Azerbaijan's territory, with a swath of Armenia about 40 kilometers (25 miles) wide between the exclave and Azerbaijan. It also borders Azerbaijan's close ally Turkey and Iran. It's population is about 460,000 people, overwhelmingly Azeris but also some ethnic Russians.

The two territories share several parallels but also differences.

During Soviet times, Nakhchivan was connected with Azerbaijan by road and rail but those links fell out of use as Azerbaijan and Armenia went to war in the 1990s over Nagorno-Karabakh, though air links remained.

Then in 2020, an armistice that ended another, six-week war between Armenia and Azerbaijan during which Azerbaijan regained parts of Nagorno-Karabakh from separatist ethnic Armenians, called for transport links to Nakhchivan to be restored.

The deal said the security of those links would be guaranteed by Armenia. However, the restoration languished as tensions over Nagorno-Karabakh remained high.

In December, Azerbaijan imposed a blockade of the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, alleging that the Armenian government was using the road for mineral extraction and illicit weapons shipments to the region’s separatist forces. Armenia charged that the closure denied basic food and fuel supplies to Nagorno-Karabakh’s approximately 120,000 people.

Then last week's blitz offensive by Azerbaijan's forces ended with the ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh agreeing to disband.

Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan were meeting Monday in Nakhchivan and were expected to push for a land connection between Nakhchivan and the rest of Azerbaijan.

They “will very likely make ultimatums" to the Armenian government to reopen the links, most importantly the Zangezur corridor, regional expert Thomas de Waal of the Carnegie Europe thinktank wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

But Armenia has objected to the “corridor” concept promoted by Azerbaijan, saying that the Zangezur corridor, names so after the local area, without Armenian checkpoints would undermine the country's sovereignty.

The position of the regional heavyweights, Turkey and Russia, may also play a role. Turkey is in favor of a land corridor that would provide it a connection with the rest of the Turkic world. Russia, which has had peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh since 2020 and negotiated peace deals there, has in principle said such a corridor would be feasible.

The corridor route proposed by Azerbaijan would run along both Armenia’s and Nakhchivan’s border with Iran, which has raised concerns in Tehran that Azerbaijan could use it to block Iran’s access to Armenia.

“Forcefully imposing on Armenia an extraterritorial corridor, a corridor that will pass through the territory of Armenia but will be out of our control ... is unacceptable for us and should be unacceptable for the international community,” Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan said at the United Nations General Assembly last week.