Azerbaijan Officially Blocks Lachin/Berdzor Corridor | Armenian-Azeri Negotiations | Drug Use Epidemic in Armenia | Ep 251 - April 30, 2023 [EP251]

Posted on Monday, May 1, 2023 | Category: Armenia, Politics | Series: wir



  • Azerbaijan Officially Blocks Berdzor/Lachin Corridor
  • Update on Armenian-Azeri Negotiations
  • Drug Use Epidemic in Armenia

Episode 251 | Recorded: May 1, 2023

Show Notes

Berdzor Corridor Officially Blocked

Since losing the 44-day war, the Pashinyan administration has framed the necessity to sign the humiliating Nov. 9/10 ceasefire agreement as our only way to keep the remaining 25% of Artsakh as Armenian and to get our POWs back. Almost three years later, our POWs are still in Baku, and meanwhile, the last remaining pro-Armenian point in the statement, the free passage of people and goods through the Lachin corridor, seems to be gone with the latest developments from last week.

Azerbaijan Moves to Block on the Eve of April 24

Last week on the eve of the 108th commemorations of the Armenian Genocide, Azerbaijan continued its flagrant violations of the November 2020 tripartite agreement they had signed, as its armed forces installed a checkpoint at the entrance to the Lachin/Berdzor corridor, on the Hagari bridge.

Following that, just a couple of days ago, Aliyev’s assistant came to Shushi and told their pretend “eco-activists” that now that the corridor was fully blocked, their demands were mostly met, and so now they’re gone. I think he said “new realities have been created since April 23”, referring to Azerbaijan setting up the border checkpoint on the corridor.

Since the blockade started, Armenian authorities and analysts have consistently warned about the danger of Azerbaijan’s demands of a checkpoint. Back in January, then foreign minister of Artsakh David Babayan said:

“... if someone does not realize what it is and approaches it theoretically and considers that customs point as a possible customs point between Belgium and Luxembourg, he is terribly mistaken. They will not be customs points but points of kidnapping and arrest of Armenians; this is clear.”


  • What are we facing, if the checkpoint remains in place?
  • The bridge is adjacent to new heights near the village of Tegh/Kornidzor that Azerbaijan took at the end of March, without firing a single bullet. Do you think that this move to install a checkpoint would be possible without the occupation of the heights? Shouldn’t we view the establishment of the checkpoint as a continuation of the tactical moves that started in March?
  • Some people are describing these moves as tightening the screws, or precipitating the existing humanitarian crisis, all of which is right, but the reality is that in the face of Russia and even the West continuously calling for the implementation of the Nov 2020 ceasefire agreement, Azerbaijan is now officially showing the finger to Russia and saying: what are you going to do about it? Do you think these Azeri moves are coordinated with Russia, or The West, or Armenia?

Russian Peacekeeping Head Changed

Immediately after the incident, Russia replaced the head of their peacekeeping mission in Artsakh. Gen. Alexander Lentsov replaced Gen. Andrei Volkov. Baku has already dismissed the change as irrelevant to their plans and the state of affairs. Lentsov is reportedly a “friend of Shoigu”, the Russian defense minister, and he has long experience in Russian armed forces including Afghanistan, the first and second Chechen wars, assignments in Bosnia, Ossetia, as well as Syria.


  • Will this change result in anything significant for Armenians? Will Lentsov make any difference for the better, or for worse, for that matter?

Armenia: It’s Russia’s Problem, No The World’s Problem

After the news of the checkpoint, Pashinyan held a phone call with Putin and other international officials, and has vocally put responsibility on Russia to resolve the issue.

We know that especially since Prague (October, 2022), Armenia has been pursuing a policy of putting full responsibility for the Lachin corridor on Russia, and washing Armenia’s hands off it. Pashinyan has also asked Artsakh to negotiate with Azerbaijan directly. All this, despite being a signatory of the tripartite statement.

In an interview with Armenian Public TV, Armen Grigoryan, Secretary of the National Security Council said that Russia literally “owns” the Lachin corridor. Pashinyan said this as well, on Thursday: “Besides Russia no one else should oversee Lachin”. But in the same speech, Pashinyan called for an international representation with a “wide mandate” on the Berdzor/Lachin corridor.


  • Are these accurate statements? What does it mean to say that Russia “owns” the Berdzor corridor? What was the point of that statement? What is the point of saying it is Russia’s problem but in the same breath calling for international observers or peacekeepers on the corridor?
  • Since the 44-day war ceasefire, despite what Armenian leaders are saying or not saying, doing or not doing, isn’t Russia effectively the security guarantor of Artsakh? Is it able to meet this responsibility today? How can we objectively analyze the performance of the Russian peacekeeping contingent?

International “Help”

International players, including France, USA, etc… condemned the move and asked Azerbaijan to open the checkpoint. Blinken called Aliyev and said that there should be open movement of people and commerce on the Lachin corridor. French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna was in Armenia, and visited the border, including the new checkpoint at the Lachin corridor. She has been clear and unequivocal in calling for the reopening of the corridor for the free movement of people, and also without mentioning Russia, she called for the parties to respect the ceasefire agreement.


  • These statements sound right. And France is great! But really, what can they do? Especially when the statements are sometimes also accompanied by side-statements that message Azerbaijan that no sanctions are being considered against it.
  • Can France exert any influence in our region?

We note that during this same week, just a few days before Colonna’s visit, Aliyev was in Bulgaria celebrating another gas deal and promising more gas for Europe.

State of Armenian-Azerbaijani Negotiations

In parallel to the blockade of Artsakh, which Azerbaijan claims to be its own matter and Armenia is not objecting, we have a process of negotiations on so-called “peace” between Armenia and Azerbaijan, that is accompanied with an ever-expanding list of demands from Azerbaijan. In the background, we also see that Azerbaijan is actively engaged in military exercises.

The Pashinyan regime meanwhile talks about “peace”. Can we even call it a “peace treaty” if Pashinyan says that whatever he signs will offer no guarantee of peace, or non-violence, or basically anything of value. It seems it’s just a signature for Aliyev to show everyone that he brought Pashinyan to his knees.

Eight Demands

Let’s begin with the demands. After 4 months of the blockade of Artsakh, judgments from the ICJ and the ICC against Azerbaijan, accompanied by a background of constant military action that claimed casualties almost every week, Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the UN decided to use his time at the UN Security Council meeting on Monday or Tuesday to spell out eight demands in order to establish peace, including:

  • Fully withdrawing Armenian military forces from Artsakh
  • Return 8 “border villages” that he claimed Armenia has occupied
  • Pay reparations to Azerbaijan
  • And a number of other vague demands, like “stopping disinformation”, etc.

The Armenian side provided a very vague response to this statement, saying that they “do not contribute to reducing tensions and establishing peace in the region”, but otherwise, as we’ll see, negotiations are continuing.


  • What do you think of this constant raising of demands, and adding new ones by Azerbaijan, while at the same time continuing negotiations?

Azerbaijan “Diplomacy”

There are reports that Azerbaijan has called up over 10,000 reservists and is holding expanded military exercises. They hold these aggressive military drills regularly, in part to show their strength aimed both at Armenia, as well as Iran.

Meanwhile, Armenia has held 0 large-scale military exercises since the 44-day war.


  • Do you understand the strategy of keeping Armenia completely defenseless?

According to the Global Fire Power annual listing, Armenia is now ranked 94th most powerful armed forces, while Azerbaijan is 57th. Armenia compares very unfavorably in all categories. Here’s a summary article about where things stood in 2020.

The Moscow/DC Switcheroo

For the first time in 6 months, the ministers of foreign affairs of Armenia and Azerbaijan will meet and have marathon negotiations that will last the whole week. But apparently Armenia and Azerbaijan did a “switcheroo” at the last minute and changed the venue.

  • On Thursday, April 27, Maria Zakharova said that Russia was organizing a meeting between Bayramov and Mirzoyan in Moscow. She underscored that the west had failed in its bid to act as an honest mediator.
  • Zakharova’s announcement seems to have been confirmed by Mirzoyan on the same day.
  • But only two days later on April 29, Armenian media reported that the meeting between the ministers will take place on May 1 (that is today, when we’re recording this). Mirzoyan announced his trip will last for 6 days, 5 nights.
  • This meeting reportedly may set up a “roadmap to peace”, and if successful, the EU may “close the deal” in a matter of weeks.


  • On April 27, when the intention of meeting in Moscow was announced, Azerbaijan had already forcefully installed the illegal checkpoint. What could account for the apparent about-face in holding the negotiations in DC, rather than Moscow?
  • In the context of the diplomatic maneuvering by Washington, and the high level visit by Colonna, and to remind everyone: the US and France, together with Russia, are the currently dysfunctional OSCE MG co-chairs responsible for finding a permanent solution to Artsakh’s status; what’s the analysis on these current diplomatic efforts by all these co-chair countries, and also in the background, the EU?

Does Armenia Want To Remove Russia From the South Caucasus?

Going back to the interview with Armen Grigoryan on Armenian Public TV, he made some of the most anti-Russian statements by Armenian officials to date.

For example:

  • In one segment, he said that today, we are in a similar situation to 1914 when. And this is his train of thought:
    • Russia was present in our region
    • Then Russia got involved in WW1
    • And afterwards ended up leaving the region
    • Armenians suffered
  • He alleged that Russia tried to change status quo in “Mountainous Karabakh” in 2020 by “appearing with Peacekeepers there”
    • Was he blaming the Russians for starting the 2020 war or for appearing with peacekeepers?
    • We know that by Nov. 6-7 Stepanakert was already empty, is he actually upset that the Russians showed up to “change the status quo”?


  • Is there any truth to Grigoryan’s statements?

Turkish Diplomacy At Work

Over the weekend, Turkey closed its airspace to Armenian airlines without notice or explanation.

Ironically this bit of “Airspace diplomacy” comes right after the 108th worldwide commemorations of the Armenian Genocide, and also the dedication this past week of a monument to the Nemesis Project, in Yerevan. Not only has Turkey not atoned for its historical sins towards the Armenians, it condemned and insulted diplomats worldwide, most notably the Turkish foreign minister called US president Joe Biden a “charlatan” for asserting the Armenian Genocide.

Incidentally, this ban happened as Aliyev visited Turkey and took well-publicized photo-ops with president and presidential candidate Erdogan, whose re-election bid at present is not a certainty.


  • With all this context in mind, was this Turkish move really an “unexpected” turn of events?

Pashinyan’s government thinks that “normalization” with Turkey will mean that there’s a reliable partner next door that Armenia can trade with and prosper.


  • What is the lesson here?

Drug Use in Armenia, Poligraf Raid

Startling Drug Statistics

Recently the prosecutor general’s office in their yearly report to the National Assembly provided some sobering statistics about drug use and drug dealing in Armenia. Instances of drug distribution have risen 76.39% (from 917 in 2021 to 1717 in 2022).

As startling as these figures are, it should be noted that these are just official statistics about open criminal cases. According to Ruzanna Yeremyan, the director of “Together We Can” NGO in a Civilnet interview, this may be the tip of the iceberg, partly because much of the distribution of illicit narcotics happens through encrypted apps such as Telegram. We also know that Armenian society in general looks very negatively on drug use, thus many affected families try to hide the problem both from health and law enforcement authorities.

The NGO, which monitors social media for drug-related business, counted more than 3000 shops in Telegram actively engaged in sales. And according to Yeremyan, the most dangerous drugs, such as methamphetamines and other synthetic drugs, are in highest demand due to their relatively low cost.

The problem is especially affecting the youth and seems to have infiltrated into schools and even the armed forces according to opposition MP Artsvik Minasyan who also alleges that distribution of narcotics is done under sponsorship of individuals in political power.


  • Arthur, in our previous interactions off the record, you have talked to us about what you personally observed. Can you tell us, in your own assessment, how serious do you think this issue is?

Poligraf Raid

Arthur, we talked about this in private in the past and it seems that the problem is also really prevalent in certain night clubs. On April 25, 2023 the Armenian police raided one of the more well-known “underground” clubs, Poligraf. Up to 40 individuals were detained. Club owners and attendees allege that police used excessive force.

The discussions around this evolved in two directions, focusing on activities of the police and to a lesser extent talking about the epidemic and what to do about it. Some well known civil society personalities called this a deliberate attack against sexual minorities under the pretense of a drug raid. Other NGO community members condemned the excessive use of force. There was also coverage about the drug problem from various angles, such as experts who deal with the problem of drug abuse criticized the NGOs for focusing too much on civil liberties while an epidemic of drug abuse is raging.

It’s also interesting to hear the solutions offered by different political camps. The liberal camp suggests that we shouldn’t raid clubs or increase enforcement and instead the government should control the entry of drugs into Armenia from the porous borders, mostly Iran. Conservatives are calling for stricter law enforcement, including in the clubs.


  • So it seems that similar to the US so-called “war on drugs”, every stakeholder is blaming the others for the problem. Are Armenians having the right conversation, to tackle this drug problem in the country?
  • What was your take on the Poligraf raid? Was it heavy handed, was it the right move, did it target the drug problem appropriately, what did you think of the event?

Tackling the Problem

According to Ruzanna Yeremyan, most of the drugs are imported into Armenia. Some of the largest drug busts on our borders have happened on the Southern border with Iran. International organizations have recognized that Armenia could be a potential route for Afghani opioids Northward towards the Russian markets. It seems now, Armenia itself is becoming a destination for drugs, rather than a transit point.

But let’s not forget the demand side of the problem. There is this notion that certain clubs in Armenia are fostering an atmosphere friendly for drug use and away from the eyes of law enforcement. There are even allegations that certain clubs in Armenia are making immense profit from allowing drugs to be dealt in their premises and even shocking allegations that some clubs directly engage in dealing themselves.

In a panel discussion on the issue hosted by Factor TV, a member of DJ Vaccina, Arusik Mkrtchyan, alleged that certain clubs even lace their drinks with drugs, unbeknownst to customers, as a way to introduce them to the substance. Let’s also recall MP Artsvik Minasyan’s allegations about sponsorship of drug business from members of the government.


  • Where do we start tackling the drug problem: is it a border control issue, a law enforcement issue, an education issue, is it a consumer problem or a provider problem?

It’s interesting to note that Azeri press often mentions drug seizures on the Iranian border. I’ve never seen the Armenian press mention any drug seizures.


  • Are there entrenched stakeholders within the circles of power who do not want to tackle or solve this problem?

Alright, let’s wrap up our topics here. I’d like to ask each of you if there’s been something on your mind this past week that you want to talk about.

Topics from the Panelists

  • Arthur: Armenians attending concerts while Genocide looms.
  • Hovik: One year anniversary of the death of Sona Mnatsakanyan by Pashinyan’s motorcade, and nobody held accountable.


We hope you found our Week in Review helpful. We invite your feedback and your suggestions, you can find us on most social media and podcast platforms. Thanks to Laura Osborn for the music on our podcasts.


Arthur Khachikyan

Arthur Khachikyan

Dr. Arthur Khachikyan, an International Relations expert from Stanford University, specializing in intervention. He currently teaches at the Russian Armenian University in Yerevan.


Hovik Manucharyan

Hovik Manucharyan

Hovik Manucharyan is an information security engineer who moved from Seattle to Armenia in 2022. He co-founded the ANN/Groong podcast in 2020 and has been a contributor to Groong News since the late 1990s.

Asbed Bedrossian

Asbed Bedrossian

Asbed is founder of Groong and co-founder of the ANN/Groong podcast.