The town of Berdzor and several nearby villages inhabited by Armenians will be ceded to Azerbaijan following the construction of a new route connecting Armenia and Artsakh, according to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
Pashinyan confirmed during a three-and-a-half hour online press briefing on June 27 that several villages and towns in the Berdzor district “will pass to Azerbaijan’s control.”
The Berdzor district was ceded to Azerbaijan after the 2020 Artsakh War, except for the Lachin corridor, which was protected by the November 9 ceasefire agreement as the sole route connecting Armenia and Artsakh. Under the terms of the ceasefire, Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to construct an alternate route to the Lachin corridor within the following three years, to which Russian peacekeepers would be redeployed.
The new route will bypass the Armenian communities that currently lie along the Lachin corridor, which will be ceded to Azerbaijan. The communities include the villages Aghavno, Nerkin Sus and Sus, as well as the town of Berdzor.
Pashinyan said that the change in route would “ensure a more reliable and quality connection for Armenia.” Problems arising from the handover of villages “will be solved with the help of the Artsakh government.”
The new route will start in the Armenian village Kornidzor in Syunik, pass through the villages Hin Shen and Mets Shen in the Shushi district and reach Stepanakert. Construction of the portion of the road passing through Azerbaijani-controlled territory has been underway. The head of Azerbaijan’s state road agency said earlier this year that he expects the route to be ready by July. In contrast, construction on the part of the road that runs through Armenia has not commenced.
Aghavno came under Armenian control during the first Artsakh War. The village was rebuilt largely through funding from humanitarian organizations in the diaspora.
After Azerbaijan took control of the Lachin corridor in December 2020, the residents of communities like Aghavno were ordered to leave, yet many chose to stay. Of the 270 people who lived in Aghavno before the war, 185 have returned, according to Eurasianet.
The mayor of Aghavno Andranik Chavushyan told Eurasianet that living in the village raises “constant obstacles.”
“We never had gas, so we use gas cylinders. We had power outages, so we brought generators. Water shortages? Fortunately, we have a river in the village. We believed in ourselves, not in the government, and refused to leave the village. We are living here today because we relied on ourselves,” Chavushyan said.
“We are responsible for our future generation. We defended ourselves in the 90s, we did it in 2020, and we are ready to fight again. We only need will and faith in ourselves,” the mayor continued.
During the question-and-answer session on Monday, Pashinyan also said that Azerbaijan is “trying to build up legitimacy for a new war against Armenia and Artsakh” by creating the impression that Armenia impedes progress on negotiations on border demarcation and a peace treaty.
“Whether they plan the new war in three months, three years or 30 years is a different issue,” Pashinyan said.
On the contrary, he said that Azerbaijan obstructs negotiations and hopes to continue the decades-long blockade of Armenia.
He accused Azerbaijan of canceling a meeting scheduled for Monday in Brussels between Armenian Secretary of the Security Council Armen Grigoryan and foreign policy advisor to Azerbaijan’s president Hikmet Hajiyev. He also accused Azerbaijan of turning down a proposal to organize a face-to-face meeting between the two countries’ foreign ministers.
Nonetheless, Pashinyan was insistent that Armenia must remain committed to a peace agenda.
“There is no alternative to the peace agenda, but it cannot be one-sided. Rather, there must be two-sided, constructive movement. We have done everything and do everything in our power to open an era of peaceful development in our region. The alternative to that is a new war,” Pashinyan said.
Pashinyan also commented on ongoing negotiations to normalize relations with Turkey, stating that Armenia sees the opportunity to “move forward in small steps” toward this goal.
“Turkey’s references to the ‘Zangezur corridor’ create a negative tone and are not helpful for the process, but that does not mean that we will halt dialogue,” he said.
Most local media outlets boycotted the press conference in protest of its online format.
Pashinyan’s last three press conferences since November 2021 have been hosted online, with media outlets given the opportunity to submit questions in advance. The prime minister’s office has defended the ongoing use of the format, citing coronavirus precautions.
A group of 27 editors of primarily pro-opposition or opposition-leaning media outlets released a statement announcing their decision to boycott the press briefing. The outlets, including ARF-owned Yerkir Media, NEWS.am, Panorama.am and Aravot Daily, called on Pashinyan to return to an in-person format.
“The previous experience has proved that such ‘online contacts’ take place in a pre-planned scenario. Only the questions by the pro-government media, Telegram channels and bloggers are publicized during these events, who, apparently, agree in advance with the organizers of the event, and in the case of the questions by other media—they are either ignored, or edited, or distorted,” the statement reads.
In a separate statement, eight media outlets, including Civilnet, RFE/RL, the Fact Investigation Platform and Aravot Daily, urged the prime minister to return to an in-person format, since virtually all other coronavirus-related restrictions have been lifted by the administration.
“During these press conferences, the questions sent by the media are grouped and edited by the prime minister’s office, as a result of which often the content of the question is distorted or nuances of the question are lost. Sometimes some questions are not asked at all,” the statement reads. “Consequently the access of the public to proper information is effectively restricted.”
“We deem this form of interaction with the media by the country’s leader to be discriminatory, ineffective and in contradiction with the core principles of democracy, transparency and accountability,” the statement continues.
Editor’s Note: The headline of this news report and any references to the city of Lachin were modified on July 1 to reflect the proper Armenian name of the communities to be ceded to Azerbaijan. We regret this error in our reporting.