Armenian Government’s Delayed and Vague Response Further Complicates Matters
The threat to lives of Armenians living in Armenia’s border region was exacerbated when Azerbaijani forces crossed into Armenia’s Syunik Province on Wednesday just over six miles north of Goris, local government officials reported, adding that after crossing the border Azerbaijani forces advanced about two miles toward the Verishen village.
The Verishen mayor, Ararat Ordian, told Azatutyun.am’s Armenian Service that the Azerbaijanis advanced to within almost four miles of the village. He said the Armenian military responded by sending reinforcements to the area.
The government was vague in its response, with most officials, including acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, spending the day in meetings with Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili, who is on an official visit to Armenia.
In a statement released early Wednesday morning, Armenia’s Defense Ministry acknowledged an incident at the border saying that the Azerbaijani forces “tried to carry out some works at one of the border sections of Syunik under the pretext of clarifying ‘border demarcation.’”
“After measures taken by Armenian army units the Azerbaijani forces stopped those works,” the Defense Ministry said in another statement issued on Wednesday afternoon. “Right now negotiations are being held for resolving the situation.” The Defense Ministry was succinct in its message that no armed clashed took place during the incident.
Armenia’s acting foreign minister Ara Aivazyan telephoned his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, who was visiting Baku Tuesday and was in Yerevan last week, to alert him of the border tensions. A foreign ministry statement simply said that “both sides agreed on the full implementation of the agreements reached on regional security and stability to prevent the escalation of the situation.”
Similarly, a statement announced that Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu held a telephone conversation with his Armenian counterpart, Vagharshak Harutiunyan, with whom he discussed the situation on the border and “other topics of mutual interest.”
Until late Wednesday afternoon and early evening the Azerbaijani forces still remained in the advanced position in Syunik, according to Narek Ordyan, a Goris City Council member, who told Azatutyun.am that negotiations were continuing between Armenian, Russian and Azerbaijani military officials.
The acting Goris mayor Menua Hovsepyan sounded the alarm about the Azerbaijani incursion in a Facebook post early Wednesday morning, warning that Azerbaijani forces had breached the area, known as Sev Lidj (Black Lake) and were attempting to stay there saying that the area belonged to Azerbaijan by showing maps.
“An artificial reservoir in the Sev Lidj area is the main water source for the region,” explained Hovsepyan in his Facebook post, adding that according to the maps the Azerbaijani forces were referencing shows the reservoir to be in Azerbaijan.
Hovsepyan later told news.am that the talks were still ongoing.
It wasn’t until late Wednesday night that Pashinyan convened a meeting of the National Security Council, during which he condemned what he called the “encroachment on the sovereign territory of the country,” saying what the Azerbaijani forces did was “a subversive incursion attempt.”
“They [the Azerbaijanis] are trying to justify their actions by some maps, which we deem to be fictitious and false, because at our disposal we have a map approved between Soviet Armenia and Soviet Azerbaijan, and confirmed by the Central Government, which clearly shows where the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan passes,” said Pashinyan.
This statement alone should raise further concerns that Armenia and Azerbaijan—with the direct intervention of Russia—are engaged in demarcation of border based on Soviet-era maps, a step decried by Armenia’s Human Rights Defender Arman Tatoyan, who said that such a process violated Armenia’s sovereignty.
Pashinyan said that his government was attempting to resolve the current situation through negotiations and dialogue, adding however, that diplomacy “is one of the options.”
Given Armenia’s current domestic climate, forces opposing Pashinyan seized on the government’s delayed and vague responses and accused the leadership of kowtowing to Azerbaijan.
Pashinyan said the situation was “near critical, if not critical,” calling for calm, but also saying that “we need to be consistent in terms of protecting our state and national interests.”