Backup as a result of Azerbaijani stops of Iranian trucks (Arka photo)

Iranian Trucks Entering Armenia Stopped By Azerbaijan


YEREVAN (Combined Sources) — Azerbaijani forces have set up a checkpoint to stop and reportedly tax Iranian commercial trucks using a strategic road that passes through areas along southeastern Syunik province controversially handed over to Azerbaijan after last year’s war.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan ordered Armenian army units and local militias to pull out of those areas one month after a Russian-brokered ceasefire stopped the six-week war over Nagorno-Karabakh last November. Pashinyan said 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.

The order, strongly condemned by the Armenian opposition and local government officials, left Azerbaijani forces in control of a 21-kilometer stretch of the main highway connecting Syunik’s capital Kapan to another provincial town, Goris.

The highway, parts of which are now patrolled by Russian soldiers and border guards, remains Armenia’s sole transport link with Iran. Pashinyan and other government officials assured critics in December that Armenians as well as foreigners will continue to pass through its Azerbaijani-controlled section without any restrictions.

Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) reported on Sunday, September 12, that Azerbaijani police units deployed there have started stopping Iranian trucks to check their drivers’ documents and cargos. It said Armenian and Russian border guards are now jointly trying to “resolve the situation.”

Vahe Hakobyan, a senior opposition parliamentarian and former Syunik governor, said on Monday that Azerbaijani officers are also collecting payments from Iranian drivers.

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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.

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.”

Earlier this year, Baku condemned Iranian trucks for transporting goods to and from Karabakh without its permission.

The stretch of road in Syunik where Azerbaijani forces are exerting control

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.

Meanwhile, Hakobyan and other lawmakers representing the main opposition Hayastan alliance demanded an emergency session of the Armenian parliament on Azerbaijan’s actions seen by them as a further grave threat to Armenia’s security.

Hayastan’s Artsvik Minasyan said government officials should address parliament deputies and answer their questions “so that we get a clear idea of what’s going on there.”

“I also see an economic problem… which is no less important,” Hakobyan said for his part. ”As you know, over 40 percent of our cargo turnover [with the outside world] is carried out through Iran.”

The parliament’s pro-government speaker, Alen Simonyan, promised to consider organizing such a discussion.

Azerbaijan has already blocked the Goris-Kapan road section controlled by it late last month and kept it closed for two days, citing the alleged stabbing of one of its soldiers. Traffic through the road resumed after talks involving Russian military commanders on the ground.

The Iranian Embassy in Yerevan expressed concern over the blockage which disrupted cargo traffic between Armenia and Iran. It expressed hope that the Armenian government will speed up work on “alternative routes” for Iranian-Armenian trade.

The government is financing the ongoing reconstruction of an alternative Syunik road bypassing the border areas.

In addition, the Azerbaijanis have installed a new signboard on the road connecting communities in Armenia’s Syunik province, which reads “Attention: You are entering the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan” in three languages.

An correspondent reporting from the scene reveals that Azerbaijan’s decision to stop and inspect Iranian trucks heading to Armenia has resulted in traffic congestion on the road.

(Reports from RFE/RL, and were used to compile this story.)

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