Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Saturday, once again, touted the need to open transportation links to Azerbaijan, one of the many troubling provisions of the November 9 agreement that he signed to end the war.
Since the start of the implementation of the agreement, which also called for the handover of large swaths of territory in Artsakh to Azerbaijan, individual citizens have felt the brunt of the vagueness of the document with no official explanation or instructions. Instead, Pashinyan has attempted to justify the agreement ignoring the plight of citizens who, for example, went to work at the Sotk mine in Armenia and were met with 250 Azerbaijani troops claiming ownership to 50 percent of the mine, which has been operating in Armenia for more decades. In other instances, residents in Artsakh were given 48 hours to evacuate their homes, because, it turned out, their villages were to be handed over to Azerbaijan.
The ninth and final point of the agreement calls for all economic and transport links in the region to be unblocked, adding that “the Republic of Armenia shall guarantee the safety of transport links between western regions of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic with a view to organizing the unimpeded movement of citizens, vehicles and cargo in both directions.”
“Subject to agreement by the Parties, the construction of new infrastructure linking the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic with regions of Azerbaijan shall be carried out,” adds the agreement.
This provision of the “end of war” accord, has alarmed residents of the Syunik Province, which after almost three decades find themselves sharing a border with Azerbaijanis who have newly occupied the Lachin and other territories formerly under control of Armenians. This uncertainty also resulted in the resignation of the Syunik governor and has called into question the sovereign of Meghri, which borders Iran.
On Wednesday, residents of the Tegh village in Syunik found themselves in the awkaward—and potentially dangerous—position of negotiating with newly installed Azerbaijani border guards and armed units on the other side of the border, with no official instruction from the government, despite the fact that Pashinyan dispatched his newly-minted advisor, Armenia controversial former education minister, Arayik Harutyunyan to Syunik.
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, has set his eyes on Meghri, proposing to build a highway connecting what is now under control of Azerbaijan with Nakhichevan, setting off more panic among residents.
Yet, on Saturday, Pashinyan repeated what he has been saying in defense of the agreement, that for Armenia’s future economic prosperity, opening of the transportation routes with Azerbaijan would be vital.
Of course, the prime minister framed this issues by arguing that open rail links with Iran and Moscow would greatly benefit Armenia’s economy. The railroad to Iran goes through Nakhichevan, while the one to Moscow must go through Baku.
“If we are to think about the future, we must think about the possibility of new factors emerging in economic life. Will there be significant changes in our economy from the resumption of the Armenia-Russia and Armenia-Iran railway communication? I think, yes. If we look at the question in this context, the picture looks different. But now, as I said, much more urgent issues need to be addressed,” he said.
Pashinyan also sought to minimize residents’ concerns—or allay their fears—by saying that Armenia’s armed forces were in control of the border with Azerbaijan.
“Many Armenian citizens are seriously concerned about the processes taking now place on some sections of the Armenian state border with Azerbaijan,” said Pashinyan. “This, of course, is understandable, but we must state that our armed forces are deployed along the entire state border of Armenia. What is happening in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) is a separate issue.”
He then went on to discuss “various practical problems,” brushing aside residents’ concerns by saying those issues “are not insurmountable, and we are working to solve them.”
When it came to Meghri, Pashinyan simply said that the only mention of the word “corridor” in the November 9 agreement related to Lachin, which was handed over to Azerbaijan on Tuesday, leaving a 3-kilometer “corridor” that is now controlled by Russian peacekeepers.
“I mean, there is no concept of a “corridor” regarding Meghri,” Pashinyan said.
There was no concept of ceding villages in Mardakert to Azerbaijan spelled out in the agreement. Nevertheless, residents of seven villages woke up to evacuation orders late last month and find themselves homeless because at the last minute it was determined that their villages were actually part of Aghdam, which was surrendered to Azerbaijan on November 20.