As of 11 November, Azerbaijan has established customs checkpoints on the 21-km section of Armenia’s north-south Goris-Kapan road controlled by Azerbaijan. Armenia is setting up their own customs checkpoints on the road in response.
Until this week the Goris-Kapan highway was the only major road connecting Armenia’s southern Syunik province to the rest of the country. On Wednesday, Armenian officials announced the completion of a bypass road that completely avoids Azerbaijan-controlled territory.
The border villages of Shurnukh, Vorotan, and Chakaten, however, remain stranded, as they are not connected with the new bypass. According to the Secretary of Armenia’s National Security Council, Armen Grigoryan, the construction of new roads to address the issue is currently underway.
In a government session on Thursday, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that Armenia had a chance to negotiate with Azerbaijan and convince them not to set up customs checkpoints, but that ‘the price’ of that would be an Azerbaijani ‘corridor’ through Armenian territory.
That is ‘unacceptable’, Pashinyan said.
Earlier, the Armenian government had said that Armenian vehicles would be allowed to use the road freely, according to a supposed agreement between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia. Russian border troops were deployed to the areas in December to ensure the security of the road.
The road has been a flashpoint of tension in the region, with Azerbaijan levying customs duties on Iranian vehicles, and briefly detaining two lorry drivers, after accusing Iranian cargo lorries of transporting goods to Nagorno-Karabakh.
Protest from the opposition
News of the new checkpoints sparked outrage from Armenia’s opposition, who gathered with supporters at the government building in Yerevan on Thursday morning. The crowd tried to enter the building but was pushed back by police, who detained over three dozen protesters.
‘All the facts prove that without any official documents, the Armenian authorities made a deal with Azerbaijan’, Gegham Manukyan, an MP from the opposition Armenia Alliance bloc said during the protest. ‘This seriously endangers the security of all of Syunik’.
‘Azerbaijan is making decisions instead of the Prime Minister’, reads a statement issued by the bloc. ‘The alternative to the situation is not a war [...] the alternative is a dignified peace’.
Armenian Human Rights Defender Arman Tatoyan also criticised the ruling authorities, specifically the statement by Armen Grigoryan, saying that there is a lack of concrete answers to questions concerning the rights of the citizens who live near the Goris-Kapan highway.