After Lashing out at Opposition, Pashinyan Announces the Half of Gold Mine is in Azerbaijani Control
When miners working at the gold mine in Sotk, Armenia went to work on Thursday they discovered Azerbaijani forces had entered the mine and were laying claim to it. This incident also rattled and alarmed the resident of the Sotk village who were caught off guard by what they thought was an invasion.
The episode in Sotk is the latest uncertainty to emerge from the Nov. 9 agreement signed by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and the presidents of Azerbaijan and Russia that ended a 45-day war, but mandated the surrender of Armenian territories to Azerbaijan, among them Shushi.
As the accord it implemented more and more Armenians—in Armenia and Artsakh—are being faced with unforeseen evacuations and coming face to face with Azerbaijani forces claiming territory. Just last week, residents of seven villages in Artsakh’s Martakert were given 48 hours to evacuate because it emerged that their villages were part of Aghdam, which was handed over to Azerbaijan on November 20.
According to news.am some 250 Azerbaijani soldiers descended on the Sotk mine a day after the Azerbaijani armed forces rolled into the Karvachar district of Artsakh, which was handed over to Baku on Wednesday.
A stunned Hakop Avetyan, the head of the Geghamasar community of Gegharkunik Province where Sotk is located, said that the Azerbaijani forces simply passed through the gates of the mine and demanded that the mine workers abandon the territory.
Avetyan, who was speaking to 168.am news site, said that the Azerbaijanis left, after negotiations between Armenian, Azerbaijani and Russian army representatives.
Armenian army’s General Staff, General Tiran Khachatryan, said that the Armenian military agreed to pull out of a checkpoint set up near the Sotk mine after “lengthy negotiations” with Azerbaijani and Russian military officials.
More important, however, was Khachatryan’s acknowledgment that half of the gold mine, the largest in Armenia operated by the Russian GeoPro Mining Gold LLC, is technically located on the Azerbaijani side of the internationally recognized border and will no longer be under Armenian control. He said the talks followed what he described as a brief standoff between Armenian and Azerbaijani servicemen deployed in the area.
The incident at Sotk fueled the anger of opposition forces in Armenia, which have been demanding Pashinyan’s resignation since the signing of the Nov. 9 deal. On Thursday they accused the prime minister of ceding land to Azerbaijan.
Sotk mine workers on Friday staged a demonstration protesting the Azerbaijani incursion into their workplace and wondering whether they have jobs to return to, or will they be forced to work side-by-side with Azebraijani miners, now that Armenia has conceded that a portion of the mine falls under Azerbaijan’s control.
In another address to the nation, Pashinyan on Friday immediately blamed opposition forces, accusing them of spreading “chaos” in the country and warning them of consequences.
After lashing out at the opposition, Pashinyan then emphasized that what was happening in Armenia “is the process of implementing the November 9 statement which, please note, implies that Armenian border troops should be stationed on the state border of the Republic of Armenia in Gegharkunik Marz, on the border known as the state border of Soviet Armenia, I specifically mean a portion of Karvachar region.”
Then he went on to confirm what General Khachatryan had announced the night before that a portion of the Sotk gold mine indeed now under Azerbaijani control.
“Moreover, demarcation is not to be determined by an eye gauge, but through GPS coordinates,” Pashinyan explained brushing aside Sotk residents’ concerns, as well as demands for an explanation by opposition forces. “And as it has already been clarified, the Sotk mine was partly located in the territory of Soviet Armenia, partly in the territory of Soviet Azerbaijan. In general, demarcation is rather a complicated process and, whether we like it or not, it must take place not only with the participation of Russian peacekeepers, but also with the representatives of Azerbaijan.”
Meanwhile Sotk residents said told news.am Thursday that while there is no immediate panic, but the sudden incursion of Azerbaijani forces in the region poses security concerns.
Mikayel Hakobyan told news.am that with the presence of Azeris so close by they cannot continue working their farms and raising their farm animals.
“How am I supposed to raise my animals with the Turks hovering over,” said Hakobyan who added that if he can’t work his farm how is he supposed to survive.
“We were told that half of the mine was going to remain in Karvachar, which is now under Azerbaijani control,” said Sevak Khachatryan, an elderly resident of Sotk who has lived in Soviet times and knows where the mine starts and where it ends.
“We wanted to believe until the end that we have such leadership that will address this issue because the mine had a serious impact of the longevity of the region,” added Sevak Khachatryan when speaking to news.am.
The residents of Sotk are determined to stay in their homes, despite the threat of Azerbaijani’s descending into their village.
“Our villagers, our people, are standing firm. There is no panic in the village. Everyone’s doing their job. We have to stay to protect the village. Where are we going to go? We are not going to leave. This is our village,” Sotk resident Armen Martirosyan told news. am.
It appears the government’s and the prime minister’s priority should be to administer the provisions of the agreement properly and now allow the citizens of the country, whose lives have already been impacted by war, to be caught off guard by Azerbaijani soldiers on their doorsteps.
Furthermore, the prime minister should address the people and succinctly delineate the specific territorial concessions he made both in Armenia and Artsakh when he signed the November 9 accord.