Azerbaijani police officers stationed at a newly-established checkpoint on the Goris-Kapan Highway in the Syunik Province began stopping trucks from Iran headed into Armenia for inspection of cargo and have been levied taxes.
Armenia’s National Security Service announced that the inspections began at noon on Sunday.
A month after signing the November 9 agreement, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan ordered Armenian army units and local militias to pull out of those areas, saying that they are located on the Azerbaijani side of Armenia’s Soviet-era border with Azerbaijan, which had never been demarcated due to the Karabakh conflict.
Deputy Mayor of Goris, Garo Kocharyan, told Lragir.am that the Azerbaijani were demanding large sums of money from the Iranian truck drivers as a tax or a toll for use of the road.
Kocharyan also said that the Iranian truck drivers were being intimidated by the Azerbaijanis manning the check point, who threatened by saying that if they fail to pay the toll they will not be allowed to return on the road.
The deputy mayor said the drivers told him that the tariffs run from $30 to $500—$30 for the registration of documents, $130 for the road (large trucks $260) and $500 for fuel transportation, Lragir reported.
Truck drivers told Kocharyan that if the current situation were to continue, they would refuse to drive the route, which is the main road connecting Iran to Armenia.
One driver, who arrived in Yerevan last week, echoed that claim, citing fellow truckers stuck in Syunik. “They say the Azerbaijanis demand $120 from every truck for using the road,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
Another Iranian, who also did not want to give his name, said Azerbaijani officers stopped him on the Goris-Kapan road to extort diesel fuel days before setting up their checkpoint. “The most interesting thing is that the Azerbaijanis posed as Armenians,” he said.
The Azerbaijani authorities effectively confirmed later on Monday that they have started taxing Iranian trucks using the mountainous road. The State Customs Committee in Baku said it is enforcing an Azerbaijani law that requires it to levy road and transit fees from all foreign vehicles entering the country, reported RFE/RL.
In what may have been a related development, Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said on Sunday that it has sent a letter to the Russian military demanding that it stop vehicles from “other countries” illegally passing through “Azerbaijani territory where Russian peacekeeping forces are temporarily deployed.”
The Armenian government did not publicly react to the latest development as of Monday evening. Nor did the NSS issue any updates on its purported contacts with the Azerbaijani side.
Saeed Khatipzadeh, a representative of Iran’s foreign ministry, said that relations with its neighbors remained a priority for Iran, as reflected by President Ibrahim Raisi’s foreign policy approaches, the state IRNA news agency reported.
“We are trying to use Iran’s potential for regional development, peace and stability with the participation of all our neighbors,” Khatipzade said, according to IRNA. “In particular, relations with Armenia, as well as with our other neighbors, are on the agenda.”
The checkpoint and the inspection come two weeks after Azerbaijani forces blocked a portion of the highway, impeding transport for local residents, as well as commercial vehicles heading to Armenia from Iran.
This has angered opposition members in parliament who demanded that NSS leaders explain to lawmakers in detail the current status and situation on Goris-Kapan highway.
“In recent days, we have witnessed another illegal operation by the Azerbaijani armed forces and, unfortunately, the passive and inexplicable attitude of our authorities. At the same time, the statement of the National Security Service not only does not reflect the interests of our security, it is toothless and says nothing,” said Artsvik Minasyan a member of the opposition Armenia Alliance, who is also a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.