Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan meets residents of a border village in Tavush region, March 18, 2024.

Pashinyan Meets Border Villagers On Land Transfer to Azerbaijan

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By Karine Simonian

YEREVAN (Azatutyun) — Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan met on Monday, March 18, with concerned residents of two villages in Armenia’s northern Tavush province adjacent to border areas which he seems intent on handing over to Azerbaijan.

Pashinyan signaled last week his readiness to accept Baku’s demands for Armenian withdrawal from four villages which were controlled by Azerbaijan in Soviet times and occupied by the Armenian army in 1991-1992. He did not make their handover conditional on the liberation of any Armenian territory occupied by Azerbaijani forces in the early 1990s and 2021-2022.

The statement prompted strong condemnation from opposition leaders and serious concern from residents of several Tavush villages that would be affected by the withdrawal. The villagers say they would lose access to their land, have trouble communicating with the rest of the country and be far more vulnerable from Azerbaijani armed attacks.

Pashinyan visited two of those border villages, Voskepar and Kirants, and spent more than three hours discussing the issue with locals behind closed doors. Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service afterwards, he said he repeated his assertions that the areas in question are technically not part of Armenia’s internationally recognized territory.

“I told people that I came to not only answer questions but also collect questions and put them on the government’s table so that it thinks about answering them and I come back with those answers,” Pashinyan said without elaborating.

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According to some of the villagers, Pashinyan failed to dispel all of their concerns despite assuring them that his administration has not yet made a final decision on the matter and will consult with them again.

“We said we have land holdings over there,” one Kirants farmer told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “He said ‘it’s part of our territory.’ But if [Azerbaijani] troops are deployed there, how will we go about cultivating our land? How can he make sure that we will be able to cultivate the land?”

“The Karabakh pattern is going to be repeated here,” he added grimly. “We won’t have access to our land. We won’t dare to let our kids go to school.”

Pashinyan’s government until recently linked potential Armenian territorial concessions to Azerbaijan with the liberation of some 240 square kilometers of Armenian territory which it says remains occupied by Azerbaijani forces. The premier appears to have stopped insisting on that linkage, sparking opposition claims that he is planning to cede more territory to Azerbaijan without getting anything in return.

Garnik Danielyan, an opposition lawmaker who was not present at Monday’s meetings, claimed that Pashinyan told the Voskepar and Kirants residents that Baku will unleash another war if Yerevan refuses to unilaterally and unconditionally hand over the four former villages. In his words, the premier admitted that even this concession would not necessarily prevent more Azerbaijani territorial demands in the future.

 

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