Government’s Casual Approach Angers Human Rights Defender, Opposition
The Goris-Kapan stretch of the main highway linking communities in Armenia’s Syunik Province, which also serves as the main route connecting to Iran, is under Azerbaijani control as Baku set up customs check points and banned Armenian travelers from using the road.
Standoff on the stretch of the highway began in September when Azerbaijani forces blocked traffic on the road and later began stopping commercial trucks from Iran and imposing taxes on their drivers. It was at that time that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced that back in December he had ceded control of the 13-mile stretch of the highway, claiming that it was a step to prevent border fighting. Last week, he told lawmakers that the decision to call back the Armenian troops guarding the section was made by him after consultations with high-level government officials, but not convening a National Security Council session.
During a cabinet meeting Thursday, Pashinyan insisted that Azerbaijani customs checkpoints were not on Armenian territory. However, Armenia border guards stopped Armenian vehicles from traveling through that section and redirect traffic to another—recently constructed and renovated—road adjacent to the highway.
“Yesterday, we received unofficial notification from Azerbaijan that starting November 11 overnight they will carry out customs and passport control for goods and citizens of Armenia,” Pashinyan told his cabinet.
He suggested that Baku’s abrupt decision was made due to Armenia’s opposition to the so-called “Zangezur Corridor,” a scheme proposed by Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev to connect Azerbaijan proper with Nakhichevan through Armenia.
This latest concession by Pashinyan already exacerbates the tense situation in border communities and adds credibility to opposition claims that the prime minister and his Civil Contract Party are surrendering Armenian territories at the expense of Armenia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Opposition protesters clashed with police outside the government building on Thursday, with several being arrested. The opposition Armenia Alliance said Thursday that Pashinyan had made illegal territorial concessions to Azerbaijan.
“Azerbaijan is the one making decisions instead of him [Pashinyan],” the Armenia Alliance said in a statement on Thursday. “The enemy is not only physically present in the sovereign territory of Armenia, but it has also set up customs and border control points in the territory. The authorities are incompetent and will not show resistance to Azerbaijan.”
Armenia’s Human Rights Defender Arman Tatoyan sounded the alarm, saying that this decision and the government’s casual approach to this development further endangers and threatens the lives of Armenia’s citizens.
“Under these conditions, how are they [the Armenian officials] going to guarantee the rights and safety of the Armenia’s citizens traveling on the Goris-Kapan road?,” asked Tatoyan in a Facebook post on Thursday. “Peace is the highest priority for us, but in way can the people’s right be placed at genuine risk of mass rights violations—and without guarantees, at that.”
Tatoyan explained that members of Azerbaijan’s State Border Services severely tortured Armenian soldiers during the war, pointing out those soldiers will now be manning the customs checkpoints.
He cited cases presented in his report on atrocities committed by the Azerbaijani border forces in October 2020 in Kovsakan (Zangilan) on the border with Armenia.
“The recently publicized report by Armenia’s Human Rights Defender shows in great detail with facts that they tortured, illegally killed people, then tied them to cars and dragged them. They photographed and videotaped all this, and then openly celebrated their ‘victory’ with song and dance at the school named after Tatul Krpeyan in Kovsakan,” said Tatoyan.
He also hit back at Armenia’s National Security chief Armen Grigoryan who suggested that perhaps Armenian drivers can pay a toll to have access to the road they have been using for decades.
“It turns out that Armenia is reminding the Azerbaijani border guards and customs bodies that they need to charge fees from residents of Armenia and foreigners traveling via the Goris-Kapan highway,” said Tatoyan in a separate Facebook post.
“Perhaps the official who made such a statement will also clarify the amounts of fees and duties that the Azerbaijani legislation should consider, as well as what rights the citizens will have when they are charged the tolls. Will these payments will be made in Armenian drams or foreign currency, what the procedure for submitting complaints will be and how the official is preparing to protect the rights of citizens. How will the lives of residents of nearby villages be impacted? It turns out that they will be in Azerbaijan’s customs and border control zone,” added Tatoyan.