Protests Force Pashinyan to Cancel Visit to Goris, Kapan and Meghri in Syunik

VIEW GALLERY: Protesters block roads in Syunik and clash with police forcing Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to cancel his trip to Goris and other cities
  • Tensions High in Syunik after Surrender of Territories to Azerbaijan
  • Pashinyan Motorcade Turns Around, Returns to Yerevan
  • Goris Mayor Arrested Ahead of Pashinyan Visit, Now in Security Services Custody
  • Sisian Priest Shoos Pashinyan Out of Local Church

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan canceled his planned visit to the cities of Goris, Kapan and Meghri in the Syunik province as local residents, led by the mayors of the Goris and Kapan, blocked the road and prevented him from entering those cities, which over the weekend saw the handover of key military posts to Azerbaijan, as part of the November 9 agreement that ended the war but called for the surrender of Armenian territories to Baku.

Residents and local administrative officials last week were left to fend for themselves as Azerbaijani forces began advancing to border positions that fall in Armenia proper. They had no knowledge that the November 9 agreement stipulated that they would have to surrender a key part of the interstate highway that was the main access road to Kapan.

From early morning hours on Monday, residents, as well as members of the various armed detachments in Syunik blocked the parts of the highway leading into the province to prevent Pashinyan from entering the area. They were met with some 2,000 Armenian National Police units who were dispatched to the area to disperse the protesters, but instead began harassing them inciting confrontations and creating a tense situation in the area.

Syunik residents continue to block the interstate highway entering the province

Ahead of Pashinyan’s visit, Goris mayor Arush Arushanyan published photos and a video on social media showing Azerbaijani forces raising their country’s flag mere meters from the city, raising the alarm of potential incursion by enemy forces. The villages of Shournoukh, Vorotan and Khndzoresk are directly impacted by recalibration of borders.

In his social media post, Arushyan directed his comments to Pashinyan, who has been asserting along with other government officials, included Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutyunyan, that “not one millimeter” of land has been surrendered to Azerbaijan. In reality, however, territories under Armenia’s control, including ones near the historic Karahounj—Armenia’s Stonehenge—are under the threat of being handed over to Azerbaijan.

Before the November 9 agreement, the Armenia’s boundaries in Syunik bordered Artsakh. Despite Azerbaijan’s countless attempts to penetrate those borders, Armenian Armed Forces defended their positions. Alas, due to the unwritten provisions of the Nov. 9 agreement, local residents are bearing the brunt and facing direct threats from Azerbaijani forces.

As of Friday, according to Armenia’s Defense Ministry, Russian border guards have been deployed to those border areas in Syunik.

Hours after Goris Mayor Arushanyan published his post on social media, in the early morning hours of Monday he was arrested.

Later in the morning, as scuffles took place between Syunik residents and police, Irina Yolyan, the Deputy Mayor of Goris warned that police were not allowing Arushyan’s attorneys to visit their client and that he was essentially being “held hostage.”

“A while ago I spoke with Davit Karapetyan and Armen Melkonyan, the lawyers defending Arush Arushanyan’s case. So far, the lawyers have not been able to obtain any information from either the police or the investigative body; the human rights defender [of Armenia] was also informed about this,” said Yolyan. “In fact, due to the obvious illegal actions of the police, Arush Arushanyan has been deprived of his freedom for more than six hours, and so far his lawyers have not been able to legally work in a normal manner.”

Later on Monday afternoon (local time) police announced that Arushyan was brought to the Armenia’s Special Investigative Service for questions, without elaborating on the details of the criminal codes, under which he was arrested.

Soon, a large crowd of opposition members of the National Salvation movement and others gathered in front of the SIS building in support of Arushyan and continuing their calls for Pashinyan’s resignation.

At around 6 p.m. local time on Monday, Arushyan’s attorney Armen Melkonyan told reporters that Arushyan was questions but refused to provide testimony, adding that the investigative services is attempting to combine several allegations against Arushyan in order to charge him with a larger criminal case.

Melkonyan said that Arushyan’s defense team has already appealed to the courts on the legality of his arrest and is awaiting a ruling, saying that his team is confident that the court will rule in the mayor’s favor.

“I understand what they are trying to do,” said attorney Melkonyan. “They are combining [other cases] into one charge and it will not be out of the question that in the coming hours new charges are filed [against Arushyan] in order to hold him in custody.”

Melkonyan explained that the order to arrest Arushyan was made by the local law enforcement in Goris.
“He was illegally taken from his home at around 4:30 in the morning and was charged at 6:30,” explained Melkonyan. “Until about 2:30 p.m. we had no information on Arushyan. We were trying to check with various judicial departments of Armenia about Arushyan’s whereabouts, but alas our efforts were unsuccessful. We do not know in what status and under which criminal charges he is being held.”

Before canceling turning around and returning to Yerevan, and saying those who are blocking the roads are afraid of the people’s reaction, Pashinyan toured the Sarnakunk village, then Sisian town, where his reception was less than welcoming.

Upon entering Sisian’s St. Gregory the Illuminator Church, Pashinyan was shooed away by its parish priest Reverend Parkev Zeynalyan who refused to shake the prime minister’s hand, but managed to exchange words him.

Zeynalyan told News.am that the gist of his comments to Pashinyan was that he “shall await the judgement of God.”

Zeynalyan added that his reaction was a personal one, brought on by the recent demarcation of borders in Syunik Province

After the incident at the church, media reported that Pashinyan had said that the priest should be arrested. Locals reported that several people went to the church to “settle the score” with Zeynalyan, who told News.am that at the time of that incident, he was officiating a funeral and was not on church grounds.

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