Recap: Azerbaijani Harassment on the Goris-Kapan Highway

Recap: Azerbaijani Harassment on the Goris-Kapan Highway

Azerbaijani provocations on the Goris-Kapan highway have once again resumed, and the events of the past week shed light on these new severe provocations.

Text: Zareh-Sevag Sarkissian

 

Azerbaijani provocations on the Goris-Kapan highway have once again resumed, and the events of the past week shed light on these new severe provocations.

Beginning midday of September 12th, the police of the Republic of Azerbaijan began checking the documents of drivers and cargo of trucks with Iranian license plates in the area of the Azerbaijani controlled Eyvazli settlement, near Vorotan on the Goris-Kapan highway.

Starting September 14th, things took a sharper turn when Azerbaijani police and border guards stationed on the Goris-Kapan interstate road were inspecting not only Iranian cargo trucks, but buses as well. The Azerbaijani officials extorted money from the truck drivers, $130 up to $250 in cash, as a tax for transporting goods and products into Armenia. This caused great distress on the Iranian drivers of whom several preferred not to come at all than face such treatment.

The justification of the Azeris was that on September 13th, the Customs Committee of Azerbaijan issued a statement stating “according to Article 210 of the Tax Code, foreign vehicles entering or leaving the country are considered taxable."

The following day, September 15th, the Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, described the situation during a Q&A session at the National Assembly. In it, he explained that based on the December 2020 agreement, to thwart another war, the Republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan reached an agreement on the Goris-Kapan border to allow the free flow of traffic unhindered on the Armenian side. According to the PM, this was made based on the Soviet-era maps, where two sections of the highway fall under the Azerbaijani side; which Armenia accepted under the Law on Administrative Territorial Division in 2010. A fact he wanted to express by intentionally using the Azerbaijani names of Eyvazli and Chaizami; so that, in his mind, the Armenian public becomes aware that these lands are not Armenian.

The same day, Azerbaijani police stopped two Iranian drivers near the village of Vorotan, accusing them of transporting goods to Stepanakert. Iranian citizens present at the scene managed to notify the Armenian side that they had been detained, after which the call was immediately interrupted. Baku claimed that drivers from Iran "illegally entered the territory of Azerbaijan along the Goris-Kapan road", referring of course to the specific two.

The day after, September 16th, Deputy Prime Minister, Suren Papikyan, stated that the drivers would be released by Azerbaijan after 3 days. The Russian border guards were working on the matter, while Iran was engaging the matter through its diplomatic channels. The Deputy PM also affirmed that Armenia will remain a transit country for Iran and the flow of goods will not cease.

On September 17th, PM Pashinyan and the newly-elected Iranian President, Ebrahim Raisi, met in Tajikistan to discuss the further development of the bilateral relations, the uninterrupted operation of cargo transportation between the two countries, and the ongoing developments in the region.

On the same day, the Minister of Economy, Vahan Kerobyan, told reporters that the government will allocate around $1 billion for the construction of the Kajaran-Sisian section of the North-South Road Corridor. The Karjaran-Sisian highway is a stretch of road that is deep in Armenian land, far from the border, and any possible external intrusions.

Lawlessness, however, continues to gain momentum on the section of Goris-Kapan interstate road that came under the control of Azerbaijan. Only recently, the Azerbaijani police decided that they have the right to exercise a vehicle "dress code" on the road and choose what standards the Armenian cars passing this segment should meet. What soon occurred were cases of halting Armenian vehicles with either Armenian or Artsakh flag stickers on their side, to scrape them off. One bus was filled with children who were threatened by an Azeri policeman to only think that "Karabakh is Azerbaijan", and an Artsakh flag sticker was scraped off of the vehicle.

Whereas, on Saturday, September 18th, two Armenian citizens around the age of 20-21 years drove from Kotayk region of Armenia to Syunik to visit their friends in service. They were stopped by Azeris on the Goris-Kapan road section. The last contact they had with family members was at the very moment they disappeared. One of the men was conversing with a relative on the phone when he said, “They [Azerbaijanis] stopped us. Let's see what they say,” and the connection cut off. Armenia’s National Security Service reported that the men lost their way and ended up in Azeri territory; despite other sources saying that the men could not have gotten lost given that there is only one road towards their destination. They were eventually returned to Armenia, on Sunday, September 19, due to the joint actions of the National Security Service of Armenia and the Federal Security Service of Russia at approximately 11:45 pm.

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