As a result of the November 9 agreement signed between Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia, Armenia ceded multiple regions of Nagorno Karabakh to Azerbaijan. Armenia’s Syunik province, bordered by Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan from the west and Azerbaijan from the east, has also suffered territorial losses.
As a result of the poor negotiation tactics of the current authorities and the unfavorable Point 9 of the agreement, Syunik Province, often referred to as the backbone of Armenia, is under threat.
According to the last point of the trilateral agreement, both parties have agreed to unblock economic and transport links in the region and construct a new infrastructure that will connect Azerbaijan’s exclave Nakhchivan and Kelbajar district taken over by Azerbaijan during the war.
And while there is no specific information about how the two parts of Azerbaijan will be linked, it is clear that ‘the new infrastructure’ will pass through the province of Syunik.
As proof of these allegations, on April 20 President Ilham Aliyev said during a nationally televised interview that Azerbaijan will take over Zangezur (Syunik) and implement Zangezur Corridor, ‘whether Armenia wants it or not.”
Pashinyan’s Second Failed Visit to Syunik
As a result of the controversial demarcation processes in Syunik, the province has handed over key military posts that will give Azerbaijan major advantages in case of a military conflict.
Additionally, the Armenian village of Shurnukh is now divided into two parts, with only a narrow road separating Armenian civilians from Azerbaijani military forces. Twelve houses of the village are now on the Azerbaijani side.
These are some of the reasons why the people of Syunik are so negatively disposed toward the ruling party and the prime minister Nikol Pashinyan.
Pashinyan first attempted to visit the cities of Syunik Province back in December 2020. On December 21, the prime minister announced that he would be visiting the cities of Sisian, Goris, Kapan, and Meghri.
However, Sisian was Pashinyan’s first and last stop. Locals blocked the roads leading to the cities of Syunik. This made Pashinyan interrupt his visit as to ‘not succumb to provocation.’
Hoping that the fury has died down, Pashinyan initiated another official visit to Syunik Province. The visit started late in the evening of April 20. “We visited several houses in Shurnukh and explored the village. People didn’t expect us.”, posted Alen Simonyan, the Vice President of the National Assembly of Armenia.
And while Simonyan published photos of the villagers meeting with the prime minister, they were deceptive as it turned out that the villagers were not all that happy to meet the prime minister, his team members, and the numerous bodyguards he came with.
The woman that ‘welcomed’ Pashinyan in her house later told the journalists that she didn’t want to let them in when one of Pashinyan’s bodyguards told her that the prime minister wanted to come in. “Two minutes later they knocked at the door.
I opened the door and saw Pashinyan and his team, surrounded by masked bodyguards. There is a child in the house.
It was not appropriate of a prime minister to enter the house in that manner.” The woman was also surprised and angry to see her photos published all over social media the next day.
The villagers say Pashinyan visited several houses and gave them bags. Everyone was surprised to see the prime minister in the village at such a late hour and found it inappropriate that he entered people’s houses without asking for permission in advance.
Additionally, locals were frustrated that Pashinyan decided to visit the village closely bordering Azerbaijan at night instead of coming there during the day to see what the situation is truly like and what threat they are living under.
Pashinyan Faces Angry Protests
After his evening visit to Shurnukh, Pashinyan visited the small town of Agarak and the city of Meghri in the morning on April 21. In both places, the prime minister faced angry protestors that called him a ‘traitor’ and ‘capitulator’.
Locals demanded that Pashinyan left their land as there is no room in Syunik for someone who has opened the gates to Azerbaijan and now the Azerbaijani president is threatening to throw them out of their houses and take over Zangezur.
Pashinyan then visited Kapan which is the administrative center of Syunik Province. On his way to Kapan, the prime minister bypassed the town of Kajaran where people gathered as a sign of disobedience.
During his meeting in Kapan Pashinyan stated that the protests organized in the cities of Syunik violated the law and that the police should take ‘tough’ measures and punish the organizers of the rallies.
The Human Rights Defender Arman Tatoyan later called these remarks ‘unacceptable’ as no government official has the right to order a criminal investigation and tell law-enforcement officials which people they should chase and arrest.
Mane Gevorgyan, the prime minister’s press secretary, posted on her Facebook page that the protests in Agarak and Meghri were organized by ‘known circles’ referring to the extra-parliamentary opposition.
As proof that Pashinyan has supporters in Syunik, Gevorgyan shared a short video of the prime minister shaking hands with a few people in the city of Kapan.
Taking Revenge on Protestors
Pashinyan acted predictably as soon as he returned to Yerevan from Syunik.
In December 2020, after Pashinyna’s first post-war visit to Syunik had failed, the mayor of the city of Goris Arush Arushanyan was illegally arrested. He was accused of organizing rallies.
However, the ban on holding rallies while martial law was in effect was already lifted early in December. Thus, the mayor of Goris was soon released from custody, his arrest being only a way to repress the wave of disapproval of the people of Syunik. Pashinyan acted similarly this time too.
As expected, the police started to arrest the participants of the protests organized on Wednesday. By arresting dozens of protestors, many believe the authorities want to repress the civil disobedience movement forming in the southeastern part of the country.
The mayor of Meghri Mkhitar Zakaryan was one of the first people the police went after as soon as Pashinyan left Syunik. Several other local government officials were arrested, including the deputy mayor of Goris city Menua Hovsepyan.
At least twenty other citizens are detained for taking part in the protests, among them Ararat Aghabekyan. The latter lives in the village of Shurnukh. Aghabekyan is the brother of the head of Shurnukh village and lost his home in Shurnukh as a result of the questionable demarcation processes.
According to a video uploaded by his lawyer Gayane Papoyan, the man was taken to the police not feeling well, breathing heavily, and asking for his pills.
On April 23, the court announced the arrest of the deputy mayor of Goris Menua Hovsepyan unlawful and released him. The mayor of Meghri, however, was charged with hooliganism as reported by his lawyer Gayane Papoyan.
Mayor Mkhitar Zakaryan and his lawyer were not provided any clarification regarding the charge. Mayor’s supporters gathered at the court where large police forces were concentrated. A few hours later, Mkhitar Zakaryan was released from the courtroom as his arrest was declared illegal.
The mayor is still accused of hooliganism and the court will further examine the matter of changing the measure of restraint.