Episode 251 | Recorded: May 1, 2023
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 is founder of Groong and co-founder of the ANN/Groong podcast.