Hello, and welcome to the Armenian News Network, Groong, Week in Review. This week Dr. Pietro Shakarian here to talk about the following major topics:
● Independence day
● Pashinyan’s Turkish overtures
● Goris-Kapan closure
Dr. Pietro Shakarian is a Lecturer in History at the American University of Armenia in Yerevan. His research focuses on the history of Eastern Armenia and the Caucasus, especially Soviet Armenia during the era of Nikita Khrushchev’s Thaw.
This Tuesday, Sept 21 marks the 30th anniversary of Armenia’s independence from the Soviet Union. It is bittersweet in many ways including the fact that in its 30 year history Armenia’s independence has never been so challenged and also the fact that this week will be the anniversary of the start of the 2020 Artsakh war.
Pietro: What are your thoughts on this year’s independence anniversary? Why the date September 21? Can you give us a bit of historical context on what was happening 30 years ago around Armenia?
The Armenian government has decided to forego a modest, solemn celebration and instead Pashinyan is boasting of planning a “colourful” event that will be widely celebrated around the country. The $2M budget allocated to this year’s activities is 10 times that of previous years.
A small group of citizens, including parents of killed soldiers and war veterans, were in front of the government building at Republic Square protesting the government’s plan. This happened on both Saturday the 18th and Sunday the 19th and during both days there were reports of arrests. However, the groups plan to continue protests on Monday and Tuesday (the day of the event).
What are the motivations of the government?
On September 9, the entire second day of his two-day visit to Georgia, Pashinyan was in Batumi. Official news at the time were rather muted, but the choice of this city in particular was interesting in the context of Pashinyan’s recent overtures to Erdogan about normalization of ties.
Rumors that Pashinyan was trying to establish ties with Erdogan seem to have been confirmed by the latter just a few days ago, when Erdogan officially responded to Pashinyan with what seems to have been a reiteration of Turkey’s preconditions, specifically spelling out to Pashinyan that Armenia must open “corridors” connecting Azerbaijan proper with Nakhijevan.
Will Pashinyan acquiesce to Turkish/Azerbaijani demands as they concern “corridors”? How should we view these recent exchanges between Pashinyan and Erdogan?
What’s the difference between now and 2008?
What is the significance for Turkey of establishing relations with Armenia? Is it an economic or political consideration for Turkey?
Azerbaijan’s brinkmanship on the Goris-Kapan highway was ratcheted up over the last two weeks. Azerbaijan closed a segment of the highway in late August for nearly two days and opened it only after Pashinyan and the Armenian National Security Service made statements utilizing Azerbaijani toponyms of Eivazli and Chaizami for the portion of the highway that Azerbaijan has closed.
This week, we learned that Azerbaijan has installed a border checkpoint on that road and has been charging Iranian trucks transit fees for ostensibly traversing through territory that they claim is Azerbaijani. Two Iranian truckers were arrested for allegedly trying to supply goods to Stepanakert.
Even more worrisome, Azerbaijani police have been stopping Armenian transport as well. In one case, they stopped a bus full of members of a youth soccer team from Artsakh. They scraped off the flag and symbols of Artsakh from the side of the bus with a knife and proceeded to verbally abuse the kids.
Just yesterday there was a report of two young Armenian men arrested by Azerbaijanis on that road. The Armenian NSS claimed that the men lost their way but friends who claim to have been on the phone with the two men while they were stopped by Azerbaijanis indicate that the men were stopped while driving on the road.
Thoughts on what’s going on? What is Azerbaijan after?
Some statements from Armenian officials:
● Pashinyan had earlier explained that his use of the Azerbaijani toponyms of Eivazli and Chaizami were specifically meant to underscore that the Armenian government believes that the segment of the road occupied by Azerbaijani soldiers belongs to Azerbaijan according to Soviet maps.
● Suren Papikian on the police checkpoint: “Those are police checkpoints on the territory of Azerbaijan, here we can’t adopt any decisions”
● Andranik Kocharyan: “Azerbaijani police activities are directed at Iranian interests.”
That last statement about Iran is interesting. Essentially Andranik Kocharyan is washing his hands from this and declaring the issue to be between Iran and Azerbaijan.
Pietro: I think in a previous episode we talked about Iran and its declarations that for Iran, Armenia’s territorial integrity is a “red line”. Assuming even that Armenia no longer considers segments of the Goris-Kapan highway as Armenian territory - which is shocking in and of itself - what message does this send to Iranians? Did Iran consider that this road is partially Azerbaijani? Did Armenia notify Iranian truck drivers, so that their equipment and cargo doesn’t get held up?
That was our Week in Review show, and we hope it helped you catch up with some of the issues in and around Armenia from this past week. As always, we invite your feedback and your suggestions. You can find us on most social media and podcast platforms, or our website Groong.org.
On behalf of everyone in this episode, we wish you a good week. Don’t forget to subscribe to our channels, Like our pages and follow us on social media. Thanks for listening and we’ll talk to you next week.
Pietro Shakarian, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Caucasus, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish-Armenian relations, Iranian-Armenian relations, Independence Day, 1991 Armenian independence referendum, Communication Channels, Borders, Goris-Kapan Highway, Syunik