A new month begins in Armenia with the loss of yet another Armenian serviceman killed this week along the country’s militarized border with Azerbaijan.
On the morning of September 1 along Armenia’s border with Nakhichevan, Armenia’s Ministry of Defense announced that 39-year-old Junior Sergeant Gegham Sahakyan was fatally wounded by Azeri sniper fire in the region of Ararat near the village of Yeraskh. In a tweet, Armenia’s MoD has condemned the military and political leadership of Azerbaijan for their role in the unprovoked attack.
This is the second deadly attack in a matter of weeks in the province of Ararat. Last month, one serviceman was fatally wounded near the village of Yeraskh, another in the province of Gegharkunik.
The Armenia-Azerbaijan border has been volatile since Azerbaijani forces invaded Syunik and Gegharkunik on May 12. On August 29, Armenian military officials say they had to defend their positions during an intense hours-long shootout in the province of Gegharkunik and the village of Sotk. Armenia’s MoD says they stopped firing upon the sight of an ambulance driving up to Azerbaijan’s military positions.
Also in the province of Gegharkunik, civilians and fire officials have been working through the night to put out a raging fire that’s spreading in the pastures and hayfields of Kut and Sotk. Armenia’s Human Rights Defender Arman Tatoyan says the fires, which were intentionally set by Azerbaijan’s military over the weekend, have been spreading uncontrollably due to windy weather conditions. The blaze is concentrated in higher areas of the mountainous region, challenging the reach of proper firefighting equipment. Residents are participating in the firefight.
“Azerbaijani servicemen are well aware that they are located in the hayfields, arable lands and pastures belonging to civilian residents,” said Tatoyan. “People cannot use the areas in the vicinity of the Azerbaijani positions, since they shoot even when people approach those places,” he explained of the visible threats in the region. Tatoyan’s fact-finding work across four villages in the vulnerable province enumerated 270 hectares of pastures and 150 hectares of grassland burned since August 29.
Tatoyan was also outspoken about Azerbaijan’s closure of vital sections of the Goris-Kapan highway in Syunik. Normal traffic patterns on the Goris-Vorotan-Karmarkar-Shurnukh section of the major commercial throughway were stalled for just over two days last week when at least 50 Azeri units blocked the interstate road near the village of Davit Bek, according to Tatoyan. “The presence of Azerbaijani armed servicemen on the roads between Syunik communities of the Republic of Armenia is a criminal act, period,” stressed Tatoyan during the blockade, which he deemed pre-planned. “It, in and of itself, violates people’s right to life, to free movement and to other internationally guaranteed vital rights,” he continued. Armenia’s Minister of Economy Vahan Kerobyan said dozens of Iranian trucks were essentially stuck in Armenia with no way of getting to Yerevan. Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) reported that Azerbaijan’s State Border Guard Service was accusing the Armenian side of stabbing a guard. The highway remained at a standstill as investigations on these claims and trilateral negotiations with the Russian Federal Security Service to reopen the road took place. Ultimately, the interstate highway reopened on August 27 without any further details on the reason behind the traffic jam.
PM Nikol Pashinyan, for his part, addressed the blockade with the National Assembly on August 26 ahead of his brief summer vacation. He referred to his remarks back in December of 2020 during which he cautioned of the possibility of “transport and logistical difficulties” throughout certain sections of the 21-kilometer long highway that are considered “disputed territory” following the signing of the trilateral ceasefire agreement that ended the 2020 Artsakh War. Pashinyan also called on his ministers to redouble their construction and renovation efforts on alternate roads in Syunik, like the Kapan-Aghavni road and others near the communities of Shurnukh and Vorotan.