YEREVAN (Azatutyun.am)—Economy Minister Vahan Kerobyan downplayed on Thursday the significance of a roadblock which Azerbaijan has set up on the main highway connecting Armenia with Iran to check and tax Iranian vehicles.
A 21-section of the highway passes through Armenian-Azerbaijani border areas along Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province also bordering Iran. The Armenian government controversially ceded it to Azerbaijan following last year’s war in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azerbaijani officers manning a checkpoint set up there on Sunday continued to demand hefty payments from Iranian truck drivers stopped by them. Many of those drivers remained reluctant to pay what Baku calls road taxes.
More than a hundred Iranian trucks transporting cargos to and from Armenia were reportedly stranded at the road section on Thursday.
Analysts in Yerevan regard the Azerbaijani roadblock as a serious blow to Armenia’s trade and wider transport links with Iran. They also point out that roughly one-third of Armenia’s foreign trade is carried out through the Islamic Republic.
Kerobyan dismissed these concerns and accused the Armenian media of needlessly “dramatizing” the situation.
“I know the composition of trade with Iran very well and don’t think that there is a big problem,” he told reporters. “Of course an obstacle has emerged. But I am confident that this obstacle will be overcome in the very near future.”
Speaking after attending a weekly session of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s government, the minister pointed to the ongoing reconstruction of an alternative Syunik road bypassing the Armenian-Azerbaijani border zone.
Deputy Prime Minister Suren Papikyan told other journalists on Thursday that the roadwork will not be complete before next spring. It remained unclear what other solutions, if any, the government might try to find until then.
Pashinyan suggested on Wednesday that Baku’s actions are aimed at pressuring Yerevan to open a transport corridor that would connect Azerbaijan to its Nakhichevan exclave through Syunik. But he stopped short of condemning the road checks or demanding an end to them.
Meanwhile, it emerged that Iran’s ambassador to Azerbaijan met with a senior aide to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on Wednesday for the second time in three days. Azerbaijani news agencies reported that the meeting focused on the road crisis.
The Iranian ambassador in Yerevan, Abbas Badakhshan Zohouri, met with Armenian parliament speaker Alen Simonyan on Thursday. A statement by the parliament’s press office said the two men discussed, among other things, “efforts to resolve the situation” on the Armenia-Iran highway. It did not elaborate.