Police block a road leading to Kirants village, May 19, 2024.

Protesters Detained Outside Armenian Border Village

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By Gayane Saribekian and Robert Zargarian

YEREVAN (Azatutyun) — Police made at least 14 arrests on Monday, May 20,  as they confronted angry protesters trying to enter an Armenian border village that is losing part of its territory as a result of the Armenian government’s territorial concessions to Azerbaijan.

The village of Kirants remained cordoned off by security forces for the second consecutive day amid continuing preparations for the handover of several of its houses as well as much of its agricultural land and a section of a highway leading to Yerevan. Local residents discovered in the morning three new border posts placed there and masked security personnel guarding them.

“When I left my house I saw a post put in the orchard created by my father, with armed men standing near it,” one of them told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “I got angry and told them to get out of the orchard created by my father.”

The land in and around Kirants is one of four border areas which Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s administration has agreed to cede to Azerbaijan in what it calls a start of the delimitation of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. The areas are also adjacent to three other villages in Armenia’s northern Tavush province.

Masked security officers guard a new border post placed in Kirants, May 20, 2024.

Archbishop Bagrat Galstanyan, the prelate of the Tavush Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, emerged as the top leader of protests in the affected communities that broke out following the announcement of the land transfer on April 19. Galstanyan took his campaign to Yerevan where he attracted tens of thousands of demonstrators and demanded Pashinyan’s resignation on May 9.

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Together with a large group of supporters, Galstanyan headed back to Kirants on Monday to show support for its residents. Security forces did not allow his convoy of vehicles as well as opposition lawmakers and journalists accompanying him to enter the village.

“This is completely illegal,” Galstanyan said at a police roadblock set up on a highway leading to the village 160 kilometers north of the Armenian capital.

His furious supporters argued and jostled with scores of police officers deployed there. Some of them were dragged away and detained as a result. The police reported 14 arrests later in the day.

Meanwhile, Galstanyan somehow managed to sneak into Kirants and to talk to some villagers. He urged them not to “get distressed,” saying that he will keep pushing for Pashinyan’s removal from power.

“We are strong,” replied one local woman.

“Nobody can hamper or intimidate us in any way and in any place. Our cause is about the truth,” Galstanyan said after a police vehicle escorted him back to the roadblock outside the village.

The 53-year-old cleric then returned to Yerevan to continue his daily meetings with various political factions, professional associations, artists and other prominent public figures aimed at drumming up greater support for his anti-government movement. The movement has already been joined or endorsed by virtually all Armenian opposition groups.

Galstanyan has scheduled his next major rally for May 26. He has hinted that it will mark the beginning of nonstop street protests designed to force Armenia’s government-controlled parliament to oust Pashinyan through a vote of no confidence.

Parliamentary leaders of Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party say that none of the pro-government lawmakers will defect from the prime minister’s political team. They have condemned the anti-government protests as a coup attempt.

The first group of border guards was spotted there on Saturday. They are replacing Armenian army units that are due to withdraw from the four border areas adjacent to several Tavush villages.

Unlike the other border villages, 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. Angry local residents again staged protests on Thursday the day after the government resumed preparations for the land transfer seen by them as a serious security risk.

Minister of Territorial Administration and Infrastructures Gnel Sanosyan visited Kirants on Saturday in a bid to allay their concerns. He reiterated government pledges to build a road bypass for the community.

“We will build the road and that will automatically bring security,” claimed Sanosyan.

The protesting villagers dismissed his assurances. As one of them said, “When the Azerbaijanis come and stand here, how can I live here?” How can my children live here?”

 

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