Yeraskh, a small Armenian village with 905 inhabitants, sits near the border with Azerbaijan’s autonomous Nakhichevan region. Unfortunately, the village has become accustomed to recurrent shootings from Azerbaijani forces stationed on the nearby hills. The most recent incident occurred on the evening of June 13 when Azerbaijani forces opened fire on Armenian positions in the area and damaged a civilian car.
However, it was the unprecedented nature of the recent Azerbaijani shootings in Yeraskh that thrust this incident into the international spotlight. For the first time, foreigners found themselves caught in the crosshairs of an unprovoked Azerbaijani attack on Armenian territory. At around noon on June 14, Armenia’s Defense Ministry reported that Azerbaijan had opened fire in the direction of a metallurgical factory under construction in the village with foreign investments, wounding two foreign citizens.
The Indian Workers
Armenia’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) has identified the two wounded individuals as Muhammad Asif and Mirhasan Sahajan, both Indian nationals employed in the construction of the plant. Following the incident, they were promptly transported to the nearby Ararat Medical Center, where they underwent surgery. The Ministry of Health described their condition as “moderate.”
With official permission, EVN Report had exclusive access to them at the Ararat Medical Center for a short interview. The men, aged 21 and 25, hail from the city of Muzaffarnagar, in the northern Indian province of Uttar Pradesh and had been working at the construction site for one month. They expressed gratitude for the company’s support and care during their treatment. Several company representatives were at the hospital upon our visit. One of them, Levon Sargsyan, 27, had helped the injured men in bringing them to the hospital.
The Indian embassy in Armenia commented that it is “in touch with injured Indian nationals” and that embassy officials “have visited them in the hospital and all the necessary assistance is being provided.”
EVN Security Report: May 2023
Mining for Security
Armenia’s vast mines have never been part of its security architecture, nor has the potential securitization of this sector ever been considered a fundamental cornerstone of building alliances or strategic partnerships. Mining-for-security should not be qualified as a political act, but rather, a fundamental security act, Nerses Kopalyan writes.Read more
We asked Muhammad and Mirhasan about their plans post-treatment.“We want to work, if there is no firing from the Azerbaijani side. We don’t have any problems in Armenia,” one of them told us. “We fear random firings coming from Azerbaijan. They don’t see us and fire indiscriminately. If they stop firing, we are ready to work,” the other added.
Previously, the hospital’s director had disclosed that the men sustained injuries to the chest and shoulder area from shrapnel, which Sargsyan identified as originating from Istiglal sniper rifles. Dr. Artur Nersisyan, the operating surgeon, provided reassurance that their condition was stable and anticipated their release within a few days.
American Investment, Indian Workers, Armenian Village
The plant in Yeraskh is being built by GTB Steel LLC to process scrap ferrous metal into rebars and other products on an area formerly occupied by a warehouse and situated a mere 400 meters from the Azerbaijani border.
The company registered in Armenia in July 2022 and has two shareholders, each owning 50%. Virtual Funding, LLC, registered in Wyoming, U.S., is owned by Grigor Ter-Ghazaryan and Nevada-registered CSE Global Investments, LLC, owned by Bobby Kang, an Indian-born U.S. citizen. Ter-Ghazaryan is an Armenian citizen and the son-in-law of Armen Sargsyan, the brother of Vazgen Sargsyan, Armenia’s long-time Defense Minister and Prime Minister who was killed on the parliament floor in 1999. Previously, Ter-Ghazaryan’s wife and Armen’s daughter, Nono Sargsyan, declared ownership of Virtual Funding. The Sargsyans are natives of the nearby village of Ararat.
Examining the Context
EVN Report’s Editor-in-Chief Maria Titizian speaks with Dr. Nerses Kopalyan, author of the monthly series “EVN Security Report” about implementing a mining-for-security strategy as part of Armenia’s overall security architecture.
The company filed for an environmental impact assessment with the Armenian government in November 2022. Earlier this month Armenia’s Economy Minister Vahan Kerobyan stated that the plant is a significant Armenian-American venture with a $70 million investment. Upon completion, it aims to generate an annual output of 180,000 tons of metal products and create job opportunities for a substantial workforce of 1,000 individuals. Currently, approximately 200 workers are engaged in the plant’s construction, including a contingent of 70 Indian nationals.
After the incident, Matthew Miller, a State Department spokesperson, stated that the U.S. is “deeply concerned that two civilian employees of a U.S.-affiliated company in Armenia sustained injuries from gunfire from the direction of Azerbaijan.” In an op-ed Michael Rubin, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), called on the Biden administration to revoke the waiver on Section 907 and immediately cease all military assistance to Azerbaijan for attacking American interests within Armenia.
At a meeting with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Nilakshi Saha Sinha, the Indian ambassador, thanked the Armenian government for the care and attention shown to the health problems of the Indian citizens injured in Yaraskh.
Investors, Locals Determined to Complete Construction
After the incident, on June 15, diplomats and media outlets were taken on a tour to the plant, where GTB Steel CEO Tiran Hakobyan said its construction will resume after technical issues are addressed. He expressed determination that construction of the plant will continue. “We are in the sovereign territory of Armenia, we are resolute in our activities, we will not stop and we will continue to work,” he said. He added that Ter-Ghazaryan, one of the shareholders, had intentionally chosen Yeraskh for the plant due to its strategic location.
Saro Ayvazyan, the mayor of Yeraskh, told reporters that residents are not in panic and the steel plant construction will proceed normally. “They [Azerbaijan] want to disrupt the construction of the plant and not allow our economy to develop. This is the main reason,” he stated.
Armenia’s MoD reported that Azerbaijan again fired at the plant this morning.
Ani Ghulinyan and Abhishek Jha contributed to the reporting.