A road sign at the entrance to Voskepar village in Tavush region

Armenian Border Villagers Oppose Land Handover to Azerbaijan

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By Karine Simonian

YEREVAN (Azatutyun) — Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan appears to be facing mounting backlash from residents of villages in Armenia’s northern Tavush province adjacent to contested border areas which he wants to hand over to Azerbaijan.

Pashinyan signaled plans to unilaterally make such concessions before visiting on Monday, March 18, two of those villages, Voskepar and Kirants. He insisted there that the areas, which used to be occupied by four Azerbaijani villages seized by Armenian forces in 1991-1992, are not part of Armenia’s internationally recognized territory. He admitted that Azerbaijan would not reciprocate his concessions by liberating larger swathes of Tavush territory occupied by it at the time.

A resident of the border village of Voskepar talks to RFE/RL, March 22, 2024.

Many local residents rejected Pashinyan’s plans despite his claims that Azerbaijan will invade Armenia unless he cedes the deserted former villages strategically located along one of the two main Armenian highways leading to Georgia. They argued that they would lose access to their agricultural land, have trouble communicating with the rest of the country and be far more vulnerable to Azerbaijani armed attacks.

Popular resentment seems particularly strong in Voskepar, which would be affected by the handover more than any other Tavush community. Following Pashinyan’s trip, several dozen local residents gathered to warn against any Armenian troop withdrawal from the area.

On Thursday, March 21, some villagers took to social media to start collecting signatures in support of their demands for Pashinyan to drop his plans. One of their petitions is addressed to international human rights bodies.

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The Voskepar school principal, Harutiun Alaverdyan, pointed out on Friday that the school will be just 100 meters from the nearest Azerbaijani army position if Yerevan does cede the adjacent lands to Baku.

“In this situation, how can we not worry about our school, the rights and security of our children?” Alaverdyan told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “Our students would find themselves in the enemy’s sights. If they shot at us at that time [in the 1990s] who can guarantee that they won’t shoot now?”

Another local man said Voskepar would be effectively cut off from Ijevan, the provincial capital and Pashinyan’s hometown, and the rest of the country. He shrugged off the premier’s pledge to consider building a tunnel bypass for the community.

“It would take years, not one or two months, to build a tunnel connecting us to Ijevan and Yerevan,” argued the man.

Pashinyan’s plans also raised serious fears in Voskevan, another border village located nine kilometers north of Voskepar.

“No matter how much we give up, they [the Azerbaijanis] will want more,” the head of the village administration, Sergei Grigorian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “If we give them their so-called villages today, they will demand four others tomorrow and then claim our villages.”

Voskevan is home to five families from Nagorno-Karabakh who fled the region following last September’s Azerbaijani military offensive. They are now worried about another potential exodus from their homes.

Vitali Harutyunyan, a refugee from the Karabakh town of Askeran, has built a small greenhouse by his house in Voskevan. He said that because of the uncertain security situation in the area he has declined offers to help him expand the greenhouse.

 

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