Protesting residents of Kirants block a road, May 16, 2024

Protests Resume in Armenian Border Village

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By Karine Simonian, Astghik Bedevian, Shoghik Galstian

KIRANTS, Armenia (Azatutyun.am) — Residents of Kirants again blocked a local highway on Thursday, May 16, after the Armenian government resumed preparations for ceding part of the border village in Armenia’s northern Tavush province to Azerbaijan.

It is one of four disputed border areas which Yerevan has controversially agreed to give up as part of what it calls a demarcation of local sections of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. Unlike several other Tavush villages affected by the territorial concession, Kirants would lose not only agricultural land but also some of its houses and a key bridge connecting it to the rest of the country. This is why it has been the epicenter of protests in Tavush against the planned land handover.

The demarcation process in and around Kirants was suspended on May 7 as the protest leader, Archbishop Bagrat Galstanyan, and his supporters marched to Yerevan to demand Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s resignation. Pashinyan’s government announced its resumption on Wednesday night following another border protocol signed by deputy prime ministers of the two South Caucasus states. It said Baku will gain control of the four areas, including “the most sensitive Kirants section,” even though “some details there still require further clarification.”

A hundred or so angry residents of Kirants gathered on Thursday to express outrage at the announcement. They said the government has not addressed their concerns or accepted any of their proposals regarding the handover.

“The Azerbaijani border will cut through the village,” one of them told reporters. “Many village house and land holdings will fall under Azerbaijani control.”

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan meets residents of border villages in Tavush region, March 18, 2024

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The protesters dismissed a government pledge to compensate those villagers who will lose their properties as a result of the controversial border demarcation. “I don’t want their compensation,” said one woman.

The protesters also rejected a government offer to meet with their representatives in Ijevan, the administrative center of Tavush, before blocking the nearby highway leading to the Georgian border. They demanded that government officials visit Kirants and talk to them in the presence of journalists.

In Yerevan, Pashinyan described as a “great success” the border deal with Azerbaijan based on the Armenian territorial concessions.

“For the first time since its independence, our country has an officially delimited border,” he claimed during a cabinet meeting. “This fact will significantly increase security and stability not only in the mentioned villages but also along the entire Armenia-Azerbaijan border.”

Pashinyan said that only “several families” in Kirants will be affected by the handover. “We will consistently solve those problems,” he said.

The premier said nothing about the future of the village school that will find itself just a few dozen meters from the new border with Azerbaijan. Many locals say that for security reasons they will not let their children attend it after the handover.

Meanwhile, Armenian opposition leaders, who have voiced strong support for the protest movement led by Archbishop Galstanyan, insisted that the handover is illegal, especially if it is not approved by the country’s parliament and Constitutional Court.

Archbishop Bagrat Galstanyan addresses demonstrators in Yerevan, May 14, 2024

Galstanyan also condemned the latest Armenian-Azerbaijani protocol. In a video message, he vowed to continue his campaign for Pashinyan’s removal from power and urged Armenians to participate in it.

“There is no alternative left for us. It’s now or never,” declared the head of the Tavush Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

The border areas in question used to be occupied by small Azerbaijani villages captured by Armenian forces in 1991-1992. Pashinyan and his allies say this means that Armenia is not giving Azerbaijan any of its de jure territory.

Tigran Abrahamyan, an opposition lawmaker, counted on Thursday that the areas are technically part of Armenia under a 2010 law on the country’s “administrative division.”

“The transfer of any centimeter of the territory of the Republic of Armenia can take place only through a referendum,” said Abrahamyan.

In the early 1990s, Azerbaijan occupied large swathes of land belonging to several Tavush villages. None of that land will be given back to Armenia under the terms of the April 19 border deal touted by Pashinyan.

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