Thursday, December 31, 2020

Syunik Officials Want Local Armenians to Be Armed – and Other Danger Signs in South Caucasus

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 29 – Armenian officials in Syunik Oblast, the portion of Armenia between Azerbaijan proper and Azerbaijan’s autonomous republic across which transit is to be opened for all per the November 10 declaration say that the situation is so tense that they would like to arm the population.

            Such an action would be designed to discourage any Azerbaijani move in this location, a move that Armenian President Nikol Pashinyan would lead Russia to intervene on Russia’s side ( and But an armed population would increase the danger of violence and provocations that could threaten the current cease fire.

            Just how real such a threat arming the population could present  was on view today on the Goris-Kapan highway when the vice mayor of Goris, Menua Ovsepyan, called on people already blocking that throughway to arm themselves in order to resist any Azerbaijan encroachments (

            Meanwhile, there were three other developments, one in Stepanakert, one in Baku and one in Yerevan, that also point to trouble ahead. According to a Moscow commentator, Vitaly Balasanyan, head of the self-proclaimed Artsakh Republic’s security council, said in an interview that he was giving orders to the civilian authorities there (

            In addition, Balasanyan said he has imposed restrictions on alcohol consumption that will apply to Russian peacekeepers as well as Armenians in his much-reduced territory. He said he has established working relations with the peacekeepers on an equal basis; and some in Moscow speculate the latter will soon hand out Russian passports to those who want them.

            But perhaps most concerning is this: Balasanyan recently visited Yerevan where he worked with the Armenian military’s general staff and defense minister but did not meet Pashinyan or other civilian leaders. That suggests the Armenian military may be pursuing its own line in the conflict, something that could lead to misunderstandings, provocations or worse.

            In Baku, a group of opposition politicians and political analysts sharply criticized the actions of the Russian peacekeepers in the Qarabagh region and demanded that their services be dispensed with or at least restricted (

            That is not the position of the Azerbaijani government, but it is a sign that already now many Azerbaijanis are angry about the Russian presence and see it as a threat to the interests of their nation. Such people are likely to monitor what the peacekeepers do and highlight anything they believe helps Armenia or hurts Azerbaijan, thus keeping tensions high.

            But perhaps the most worrisome development of all came from Yerevan, where the foreign ministry said that it would not start the process of demarcating the Armenian-Azerbaijani border until after the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries and the formation of a joint commission (

            The foreign ministry said that the lines now being drawn are not borders but rather designations of the presence of forces. It issued that statement after people in Syunik protested what they felt were concessions by the Armenian side on the ever-sensitive border issue. At the very least, this keeps the border question open for some time.

            But the Yerevan statement may have another consequence: if Armenia is not prepared to recognize borders until after diplomatic relations are established between the two countries, that means it is not yet prepared, in contrast to Azerbaijan, to agree now to any recognition of the 1991 borders which Baku, Moscow and the international community have insisted on.

            And by linking this issue to mutual recognition, the Armenian authorities have made that necessary step forward far more difficult as Baku would not want to exchange diplomats if doing so meant that it was open to a future discussion of the borders. 


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