In Armenia’s first post-war year following the 2020 Artsakh War, issues of security, territorial integrity, demarcation/delimitation of borders, prisoners of war, opening of communication routes, and normalization of relations with Turkey were at the forefront of discussions and ongoing tensions in the region. Domestically, the situation in the country was just as turbulent. Following protests early in the year, under pressure Armenia’s prime minister resigned to trigger the process of holding early parliamentary elections, which took place in late spring followed by municipal elections in the fall and winter. 2021 was a difficult year for the Armenian nation as it continued to confront external threats, Azerbaijani incursions into its sovereign territory and an unclear future for both Armenia and Artsakh. Here we present a brief overview of the main events from the past year.
Border Tensions and Incursions
Border disputes and tensions have been ongoing since the end of the 2020 Artsakh War as what was Armenia’s border with Artsakh before the war became Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan after the war. By December 2020, Azerbaijani Armed Forces had advanced near a 21 km section of Armenia’s Goris-Kapan state highway and put up signs that read “Welcome to Azerbaijan”. Azerbaijan claimed that some sections of that state highway passed through its territory and it was establishing control over them. The Goris-Kapan road was built during Soviet times when there was no real border between Armenia SSR and Azerbaijan SSR. When the Soviet Union ceased to exist Armenian forces gained control over the territories which became part of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic including the roads at issue today. After the 2020 Artsakh War, Armenia lost control over those territories and some sections of the Goris-Kapan highway came under Azerbaijani control.
After the events of December 2020, the situation escalated on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border on May 12 of this year when during a late-night session of Armenia’s Security Council (then acting) PM Nikol Pashinyan confirmed rumors that Azerbaijani forces had crossed Armenia’s state border near Black Lake (Sev Lich) in the Syunik region advancing 3.5 kilometers into the sovereign territory of Armenia. He announced that their “primary plan was to resolve this issue through negotiations, also through diplomacy. But that was one of the options.”
The following day, on May 13, Armenia’s Defense Ministry reported that Azerbaijani forces, once again, using the excuse of “clarifying” state borders, had tried to advance their military positions into sovereign Armenian territory in Vardenis (Gegharkunik region) and Sisian (Syunik region).
During a Security Council meeting that day, Pashinyan stated that representatives of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces were using clearly falsified maps alleging that those were Azerbaijani territories to explain their presence inside Armenia’s borders. “As I have already noted, Soviet-era maps clearly show that Azerbaijan’s allegations have no grounds,” Pashinyan said. He went on to say that “the day of the provocation, Azerbaijan announced that they would be holding large-scale military exercises with 15,000 soldiers starting on May 16” and that at the end of April, the President of Azerbaijan made clear threats against the territorial integrity of Armenia, saying that he will resort to the use of force to open the so-called Zangezur corridor connecting Azerbaijan with its Nakhijevan exclave.
Security Council chief Armen Grigoryan had announced during an interview with Public TV that the state border with Azerbaijan had become considerably longer and that time was needed to establish proper bases and infrastructure, and that the cold weather conditions had impeded the process.
Tensions remained high in the following weeks as the Azerbaijani military continued to remain on Armenian territory. On May 21, Melikset Poghosyan, the regional governor of Syunik, reported that another 30 Azerbaijani soldiers crossed the Armenian border near the Khoznavar settlement near the village of Tegh. Khoznavar is near Black Lake (Sev Lich). By then, according to the Defense Ministry, approximately 1000 Azerbaijani soldiers were on Armenian territory. There were reports of skirmishes leaving several Armenian soldiers wounded. These skirmishes did not involve any exchange of fire – they were face-to-face, fist-to-fist battles between Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers. However, on May 25, a shootout did occur which resulted in the death of an Armenian junior sergeant who was fatally wounded by Azerbaijani gunfire in Upper Shorzha in the Gegharkunik region.
Two days later, in the early morning hours of May 27, six Armenian contract servicemen were surrounded and captured by Azerbaijani forces in the border area of Gegharkunik region. Armenia’s Ministry of Defense announced that the soldiers were carrying out engineering work, while the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry had claimed earlier that Armenian servicemen had crossed into Azerbaijan on a special mission, which the Armenian side denied, stating that the captured servicemen were in Armenian territory.
Later, PM Nikol Pashinyan clarified during a government session that the soldiers were installing landmines on the territory of the Republic of Armenia. According to Pashinyan, the presence of the soldiers in the area could not have been perceived in any way as an incursion attempt; warning signs that the area was being mined were already installed. Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Armenian Armed Forces Edvard Asryan said Azerbaijan, through aerial intelligence, discovered the positions of Armenian troops and surrounded them, capturing the six soldiers. After a trip to Gegharkunik region’s Kut village to get acquainted with the situation Pashinyan announced during another emergency meeting of Armenia’s Security Council that the military units of the two armies were no longer standing face-to-face but were “intermixed” in the Sotk-Khoznavar area.
In the beginning of June, on several occasions, Azerbaijani forces tried to carry out engineering work along the eastern Armenia-Azerbaijan state border. On June 10, Azerbaijani forces again tried to initiate engineering work in the Gegharkunik region. Armenian forces retaliated and in response the Azerbaijani side opened fire on Armenian positions. The Armenian forces responded; no casualties were reported from the Armenian side.
Throughout the second half of July, ceasefire violations by Azerbaijan were mainly registered in the direction of Armenia’s western border with Azerbaijan near Nakhichevan, but there were occasional shootouts towards Armenia’s eastern borders, as well as in the direction of Artsakh. As a result of an Azerbaijani offensive in Armenia’s Gegharkunik region on July 28, 150 employees of the Sodk gold mine had to be evacuated due to safety concerns. And two days later, on the morning of July 30, the Defense Ministry reported that starting from around 11 p.m. the previous night, the Air Defense Units of the Armenian Armed Forces prevented Azerbaijani UAVs from entering Armenia’s airspace near Gegharkunik, a similar attempt had also been registered over that weekend. One of the UAVs was shot down.
The situation on the border remained tense in August as well. In the first two weeks of August there were multiple ceasefire violations and skirmishes in the directions of Yeraskh, Black Lake, and Shosh-Mkhitarashen in Artsakh.
On August 11, an Azerbaijani combat drone was launched in the direction of Defense Army positions in Artsakh. On the same day, Azerbaijani troops also started firing on Armenian positions on the Yeraskh section of the Armenia-Nakhichevan border. And the next day, on August 12, Azerbaijani units tried to cross the Line of Contact between Artsakh and Azerbaijan in the west but they were pushed back to their initial positions.
A few days later, in the early morning hours of August 16, Azerbaijani forces tried to advance their positions near Black Lake. The Armenian side responded and was able to halt their advance. One Azerbaijani serviceman was reported killed. On the same day, the Defense Ministry reported that two Armenian servicemen were shot dead in separate border clashes; one by an Azerbaijani sniper near Yeraskh on the Armenia-Nakhichevan border, the other sustained a fatal gunshot wound as a result of an intense skirmish in the Gegharkunik section of the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. According to Armenia’s Defense Ministry, the Azerbaijani side had numerous casualties following retaliatory operations by the Armenian military.
During that week, Azerbaijani Armed Forces also fired at Armenian positions near the village of Aravus in the Syunik region. The shooting took place in an area where Azerbaijani forces are deployed a few hundred meters away from civilian homes. Azerbaijani forces stopped shooting after municipal authorities, the command of Armenia’s 1st Army Corps, and Russian border guards arrived. Armenia’s Ombudsman Arman Tatoyan also reported that the Azerbaijani military opened fire toward the villages of Kut and Norabak in the Gegharkunik region using different caliber weapons. Residents were evacuated to shelters.
Following the skirmishes on the border, on August 25, Azerbaijani Armed Forces blocked the Karmrakar-Shurnukh section of the Goris-Kapan highway and later the Goris-Vorotan section. During a speech in Parliament the next day, PM Nikol Pashinyan announced that the Azerbaijani side had blocked 21 km of the Goris-Kapan highway, which, he said, was not part of Armenia according to Soviet maps. He also said that it did not mean that Syunik would be separated from the rest of Armenia as there was the alternative Kapan-Aghvani road, which was still being repaired at the time of the announcement. The Goris-Kapan highway was opened again on the evening of August 27, after negotiations among the Armenian, Azerbaijani and Russian sides.
On August 25, there were also Azerbaijani provocations near Shushi. Azerbaijani forces deployed near the villages of Shosh and Mkhitarashen in Artsakh opened fire on Armenian positions and the civilian population in the area the whole day and late into the night on August 24. A house was damaged from shots fired in the direction of Shushi.
The strained situation in Armenia’s Syunik region continued to remain so in September as well. On September 10, Azerbaijan set up a police checkpoint on the Goris-Kapan highway. Two days later, Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry issued a complaint to the Russian Defense Ministry and the command of the Russian peacekeeping forces, that foreign vehicles were crossing into the territory of Azerbaijan where Russian peacekeeping forces are located. Azerbaijan claimed that this violated the clauses of the November 9, 2020, trilateral statement as foreigners and their vehicles could not enter the territory of Azerbaijan without Baku’s consent. They asked the Russian side to prevent such incidents. Baku’s complaint was about Iranian trucks crossing into the territory of Artsakh.
On September 12, Armenia’s National Security Service announced that starting at noon Azerbaijani police were checking the documents of Iranian truck drivers. The border guards of Armenia’s NSS and Russian peacekeepers were working to mitigate the situation. The next day, reports came in from Syunik that Azerbaijani police officers were demanding a $130 US payment from Iranian truck drivers for crossing over their territory. Azerbaijanis also put up big signs near Karmrakar and Vorotan which read “You are entering the territory of Azerbaijan” in three languages. Later Baku confirmed that they were charging a road tax from vehicles crossing over their territory. Azerbaijan’s State Customs Committee announced that their customs authorities were enforcing compliance with legislation throughout the country. On September 14, the deputy Mayor of Goris reported that Azerbaijani police were checking Iranian buses as well. He also stated that Iranian drivers were complaining about the situation and that the new Azerbaijani police patrol was causing traffic jams and huge delays on the Goris-Kapan highway. And on September 15 Azerbaijani police arrested two Iranian truck drivers, who were released in November.
Asked to comment on the situation at the Goris-Kapan highway, the Iranian Embassy in Yerevan stated that Iran was closely following the situation concerning Iranian truck drivers and also went on to say that Iran prioritizes relations with its neighbors and will pursue to facilitate trade with all its neighbors including Armenia.
During a Parliament session that week, Armenia’s PM Pashinyan noted that in December 2020, Armenian Armed Forces retreated to the border of Soviet Armenia to avoid another military escalation. He added that at that time it was agreed that Armenian vehicles would have free access to the roads that went through Azerbaijan’s control, however, the issue of foreign vehicles traveling on that part of the road had not been discussed. Pashinyan stated that Azerbaijan’s actions were probably a response to Armenia’s claims that there was no talk about a corridor linking Azerbaijan’s western territories to Nakhikevan in the trilateral agreement.
On September 22, Deputy Mayor of Goris Karen Kocharyan reported that Russian peacekeepers and Armenia’s National Security Service officers were escorting Armenian drivers on the Goris-Kapan highway. He stated that Armenian vehicles were gathering at a certain spot then passing the section of the road controlled by Azerbaijani soldiers accompanied by Russian peacekeepers and Armenia’s NSS. Kocharyan had added that those were simply “safety measures” to avoid incidents.
Tensions escalated on the Artsakh-Azerbaijan border in October. On the morning of October 15, Azerbaijani soldiers opened fire on a vehicle belonging to Artsakh’s Defense Army in the north-eastern part of Artsakh. There were no casualties or wounded reported. The night before, however, on October 14, Azerbaijani forces opened fire in the direction of Armenian forces deployed on the eastern borders of Artsakh. Six Armenian soldiers were wounded. Artak Beglaryan, Artsakh’s State Minister also reported that at the time of the incident, an escalation was observed all along the contact line, which eventually subsided. Armenia’s Ombudsman Arman Tatoyan reported that the village of Nor Shen which is close to the military post and other communities in the area were also targeted.
The strained situation in Armenia’s Syunik region escalated into the largest flare-up of the conflict since the 2020 Artsakh War in November. Azerbaijani Armed Forces tried to advance near Sev Lich on November 9, however, meeting resistance from Armenian military forces, they retreated. According to rumors circulating at that time, the Armenian side had improved its position in the area.
At midnight on November 10, Azerbaijani forces placed customs checkpoints on the 21 km stretch of the Goris-Kapan highway that ran through Azerbaijani-controlled territory. Armenia’s Security Council Secretary Armen Grigoryan made the announcement that evening during an interview with Armenia’s Public TV. Grigoryan said that the alternative Tatev-Aghvani road was ready to service all types of transportation.
The day after Grigoryan’s announcement, Nikol Pashinyan stated during the government session that since the government was notified about the checkpoints by Azerbaijan, Armenians had been directed to use the alternative Tatev-Aghvani road. Pashinyan went on to say that he was aware that people would ask – was it not possible to negotiate so that no border controls were exercised over Armenian citizens and cargo? He said that it was possible but it would come at a heavy price—that logic would entail a corridor, something that is unacceptable to the Armenian side. Baku has been insisting on a sovereign corridor linking Azerbaijan with its exclave Nakhichevan throughout the entire negotiation process around unblocking communication routes in the region.
After the government session, Armen Grigoryan told reporters that Azerbaijan was manipulating the situation and was demanding a corridor to Nakhichevan in return for allowing Armenians to use the Goris-Kapan highway. According to Grigoryan, Armenia’s government was against any deal that would include a corridor. Pashinyan made the same claim during the government session, adding that to avoid any attempt at manipulating the situation, it is important to stress that the Azerbaijani checkpoints are not on the territory of Armenia, but near Eyvazli, which, as he has stated many times, is not part of Armenia.
Five days later, on November 15, Azerbaijan placed a checkpoint on the Kapan-Chakaten road. The village of Chakaten is south of Kapan and a portion of that road, according to the Azerbaijanis, crosses into territory that is now under their control (formerly Artsakh). The new Azerbaijani checkpoint does not only cut off Chakaten, but also the connection between Kapan and five villages (Srashen, Shikahogh, Tsav, Shishkert, and Nerkin Hand). In order to get to Kapan from Chakaten, residents now have to cross 130 km, while before it was only 36 km.
These events culminated in a large-scale Azerbaijani offensive on Armenia’s eastern border in the southern Syunik region on November 16. The attack, which started at approximately 1 p.m., lasted for nearly five hours after which a cease-fire was brokered by Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu at approximately 6:30 pm.
Following the offensive, six Armenian soldiers were killed, another six wounded, while 32 servicemen were captured by the Azerbaijani military, 25 of whom were later returned through the mediation of the Russian side as well as the EU. According to Azerbaijan, their side had seven casualties and 10 wounded.
Later that evening, during an emergency session of the Security Council, while providing a briefing on the situation, PM Nikol Pashinyan announced that since May, Azerbaijan has been occupying 41 sq/km of Armenian territory. The PM said that following the latest attack, the Azerbaijanis were not able to gain more territory, but that the positions of Armenian and Azerbaijani troops were now intermixed.
The day after the offensive, on November 17, Armenia’s Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan invited representatives of foreign diplomatic missions to an emergency meeting. He briefed them on the details of the recent Azerbaijani attack and incursion into Armenia’s territory stating that Azerbaijan’s recent actions are the result of the lack of proper condemnation by Armenia’s partners and the international community with regard to Azerbaijan’s aggression against Armenia. He added that the false equivalency in the statements of the international community has provided Azerbaijan with the incentive to continue its provocative behavior.
Shootings and skirmishes resulting in the death of Armenian soldiers continued after November 16 as well. The situation calmed on the border after the November 26 and December 14 meetings between Pashinyan and Aliyev in Sochi and Brussels.
Prisoners of War: Repatriation and Trials
More than a year after the end of the 2020 Artsakh War, Azerbaijan continues to hold Armenian prisoners of war (POWs) and other detainees, some of whom were given prison sentences on fabricated criminal charges.
The 8th point of the November 9 trilateral statement entailed an exchange of POWs, hostages and other detained persons and bodies of the dead to be carried out. Although Armenia has returned all Azerbaijani POWs, Azerbaijan continues to hold 50 confirmed Armenian POWs and detainees and as many as 80 unconfirmed POWs and detainees. Since the end of the war in 2020, 140 Armenian POWs and civilians have been returned to Armenia. However, Azerbaijan continues to conceal the true number of POWs, and denies the captivity of dozens of Armenian servicemen and civilians. Official Baku also ignores the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and fails to provide information on Armenian captives.
Azerbaijani authorities also brought fake criminal charges against more than 20 captured Armenians; Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has stated that Azerbaijan instrumentalizes the captured people as political hostages and tools to pursue other goals. Armenia’s MFA has also noted that the criminal cases against Armenian servicemen, as well as the torture and psychological pressure of other Armenian POWs and captured civilians set a precedent for a malicious violation of international law.
Twenty Armenian POWs and captives have been convicted in Azerbaijani courts based on false accusations of murder and other crimes. The POWs have been given prison sentences ranging from 4 to 20 years.
On June 28, Yeghishe Kirakosyan, Armenian’s representative before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), issued a statement reaffirming that Azerbaijan brought fabricated charges against Armenian POWs in gross violation of international humanitarian law. He noted that Azerbaijani authorities are disregarding Armenian captives’ right to a fair trial.
Armenia has provided Azerbaijan with landmine maps in exchange for Armenian POWs. In his statement after the trilateral meeting in Brussels, Charles Michel, president of the European Council, confirmed that Armenia had returned all landmine maps, while Azerbaijan continues to hold Armenian POWs and detainees. On December 18, Armenian border guards arrested two Azerbaijani servicemen who were later returned to Azerbaijan without any preconditions or exchange. In an online Q&A with reporters on December 24, PM Pashinyan called this an act of goodwill from the Armenian side.
On December 29, Azerbaijan returned another five Armenian POWs who had been captured on November 16. After the November 16 flare-up on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, Azerbaijan has returned 26 Armenian servicemen who were captured that day.
The transfer of the five Armenian servicemen was mediated by the Hungarian government. Armenia cut off diplomatic ties with Hungary in 2012, after the latter extradited Ramil Safarov (who brutally murdered Armenian Lieutenant Gurgen Margaryan to death while he slept in Budapest in 2004) to Azerbaijan.
Four POWs who were captured on November 16 and were returned to Armenia on December 10, were arrested the following day for deserting their posts when Azerbaijani forces attacked them on November 16. According to the General Military Investigative Department of Armenia’s Investigative Committee, on November 16, at around 11:30 am Azerbaijani armed forces attacked three Armenian positions near Ishkhanasar mountain in Syunik region. Instead of opening fire at the attacking forces, the soldiers started to negotiate with the Azerbaijani soldiers, who tried to capture them, and as negotiations failed they tried to flee. As a result, Azerbaijani Armed Forces were able to take control of the Armenian positions and capture 24 Armenian soldiers. Out of the 26 captured Armenian soldiers, three bodies and seven POWs were returned to the Armenian side (including the four that were arrested), the whereabouts of 14 soldiers are still unknown. Another POW was detained on December 30 for violating the rules of military service; he was among the five captured Armenians who were returned through the mediation of the Hungarian government.
On November 17, PM Pashinyan had announced that the military code of conduct clearly specifies the circumstances under which a soldier can or cannot fall captive and not be in violation of the code and that there should be an investigation looking into the circumstances of every single case of capture of Armenian servicemen.
Incidents Between Armenian Civilians and Azerbaijani Servicemen
Throughout this past year, Azerbaijan has constantly violated the ceasefire regime on the borders with Artsakh, as well as Armenia. The ceasefire violations resulted in the deaths of servicemen and civilians.
On March 30, Azerbaijani servicemen threw stones at an Armenian car transferring bodies of Armenian servicemen from Stepanakert to Goris. A similar incident had been reported a few days earlier when a civilian car came under attack on the Sarushen-Karmir Shuka road. On April 6, Azerbaijani servicemen again threw stones at an Armenian car on the Kapan-Yerevan highway. And the next day Azerbaijani soldiers fired in the direction of two Armenian farmers working in the fields of the village of Sarushen, Artsakh.
On April 27, a shepherd from the village of Aravus in Syunik region was beaten by Azerbaijani servicemen, while he was grazing his pasture in the area about 50 meters away from Azerbaijani military positions. According to the shepherd, Azerbaijani servicemen threatened him with weapons and tried to take him to the trench in the direction of the Azerbaijani positions by force. As Armenian servicemen rushed to help, one of the Azerbaijani servicemen hit the shepherd in the eye, causing a bruise, and immediately fled to their positions.
On July 14, communication was lost with a serviceman and a driver from one of the military units located in southeast Armenia. They were not armed. According to the Defense Ministry, the two men were on duty in a military vehicle. At that time the possibility of them being in Azerbaijani territory was discussed with representatives of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces through the mediation of the Russian side. The two servicemen were later returned in exchange for Azerbaijani serviceman Jamil Babayev, who was detained after crossing the Line of Contact and entering a house in Nagorno-Karabakh’s town of Martakert. A criminal case was launched for espionage, illegally crossing the Artsakh state border and threatening to kill the two minors of the house. In the meantime, Azerbaijani Defense Ministry had issued a statement saying that Babayev had voluntarily left the psychiatric ward of a hospital in Ganja.
On September 17, masked Azerbaijani soldiers stopped a bus traveling back to Artsakh carrying a group of teenagers belonging to a football club. The reason for stopping the bus was that the vehicle had the flag of Artsakh on it. According to Armenia’s Human Rights defender Arman Tatoyan, the Azerbaijani side held up the bus for 10-15 minutes, carrying out so-called inspections, checking the phones of the children. They also scraped the flag from the bus. Tatoyan pointed out that the behavior of the Azerbaijani soldiers was particularly worrisome as they terrorized the children with their guns and masked faces. He also noted that the Azerbaijani side is proudly sharing the video of the incident on social media where users are insulting the children and calling for the killing of Armenians.
An Armenian civilian was killed by an Azerbaijani sniper in Artsakh on October 9 while working on a farm near Martakert. Russia’s Defense Ministry confirmed the killing and stated that the command of the peacekeeping contingent was investigating the incident with the involvement of representatives from both sides. The mayor of Martakert stated that a Russian peacekeeper had been sitting next to the killed civilian in the tractor when the latter was shot.
While Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev was visiting Shushi to mark the first anniversary of the end of the 2020 Artsakh War on November 8, Azerbaijani soldiers opened fire on four Armenians (from Artsakh) who were repairing water pipes on the section of the road to Stepanakert that passes under Shushi. One of the civilians died and the other three were wounded.
A few days later, in the early morning hours of November 13, an Armenian from Artsakh threw an explosive on Azerbaijani soldiers near the checkpoint of Shushi, injuring three Azerbaijani servicemen. After the incident the Stepanakert-Berdzor road was closed temporarily, however it was later opened following negotiations among the Armenian, Azerbaijani and Russian sides.
The Artsakh citizen, who was later identified as a relative of the civilian killed by Azerbaijani soldiers near Shushi a few days earlier while repairing water pipes, was detained by Russian peacekeepers but was later handed over to Artsakh law enforcement. On November 15, Artsakh’s Ombudsman reported that the civilian was in a medical facility and had not been detained or arrested.
On December 3, a 65-year-old resident from Artsakh’s Martuni region got lost and crossed into territory under the control of Azerbaijani Armed Forces and was detained. Russian peacekeepers were notified about the incident and negotiations were underway to return the citizen of Artsakh to the Armenian side. Later Artsakh’s Ombudsman Gegham Stepanyan announced that the 65-year-old Artsakhi citizen had been killed by the Azerbaijani side.
Diplomacy: Armenian-Azerbaijani Meetings
Amid border tensions and ceasefire violations, there was also activity on the diplomatic front between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Two months after the Russian brokered ceasefire that ended the 2020 Artsakh War, Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a trilateral meeting in Moscow on January 11, 2021. The outcome of the meeting was the establishment of a trilateral working group at the level of deputy prime ministers, the aim of which is to implement the 9th point of the November 9, 2020 statement on unblocking all economic and transport links in the region. Deputy PM Mher Grigoryan is Armenia’s representative in the working group.
The trilateral meeting held eight sessions through the course of the year. The work of the group was temporarily stopped after the Azerbaijani border incursions in May, however, they resumed again in August. The working group focuses on specific issues, including railway, road, and transport communications, as well as issues related to security, borders and customs concerns.
The deputy prime ministers of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia met in Moscow on December 1 to discuss the agreements reached in Sochi on November 26. They were supposed to make a public statement, however, no announcement was made as no agreements were reached during the meeting.
The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan also met on several occasions during the second half of the year.
Armenia’s Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan and his Azerbaijani counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov met in New York on September 25 within the framework of the 76th UN General Assembly. Their meeting was mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group Co-chairs. According to the statement issued by the co-chairs after the meeting, the parties discussed a range of unresolved issues between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The mediators suggested measures to deescalate the situation and reaffirmed their commitment to continue working with the parties to find comprehensive solutions to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Following the meeting, Armenia’s MFA issued a statement that they are ready to resume the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process within the framework of the OSCE MG. Russia’s Foreign Minister announced that the co-chairs have agreed upon the resumption of visits to the region, including Stepanakert to hold meetings with Armenian and Azerbaijani representatives on the ground.
The Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan met again in Moscow on October 14, this time through the mediation of Russia, during a gathering of foreign ministers of CIS member states. Armenia’s Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan noted that some clauses of the November 9 statement remained unresolved, in particular the return of Armenian POWs. He also stated that the long-term resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is only possible within the framework of the OCSE MG based on the well-known principles.
Mirzoyan met Bayramov for a third time in Paris on November 10, again under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group. Mirzoyan stated the official position of the Armenian side, which is to resume the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process under the auspices of the Minsk Group, the urgency to deescalate the situation and solve humanitarian issues as well as inadmissibility of Azerbaijani provocations and anti-Armenian rhetoric.
The Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers were also expected to meet at the beginning of December in Stockholm, within the framework of the OSCE 28th Ministerial Council but the meeting did not take place because a parliamentary delegation from Armenia had visited Artsakh for joint parliamentary hearings, which the Baku described as a provocation from the Armenian side.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijan’s President Aliyev also met on several occasions following their January 11 meeting in Moscow. Pashinyan, Aliyev and Putin met again in Sochi on November 26. This was the second face-to-face meeting between Pashinyan and Aliyev after the 2020 Artsakh War. The meeting lasted almost three hours and was followed by a press briefing. Vladimir Putin announced that a wide range of issues were discussed and it was agreed upon to implement demarcation and delimitation mechanisms by the end of the year; the sides also made progress on expediting humanitarian issues and the opening of regional communication routes.
On November 30, Armenia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Vahan Hunanyan stated that with the agreements reached in Sochi the parties reaffirmed their obligation to a coherent and unconditional implementation of all the provisions of the November 9 trilateral statement, including the return of prisoners of war, hostages and other detainees.
The Sochi agreements once again reiterated the provision of unblocking all transport and economic infrastructures in the region enshrined in the January 11 agreement, and once again refuted the Azerbaijani position on the so-called “corridor”. The sides also reached an agreement to undertake steps aimed at increasing the level of stability and security on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.
Following the trilateral meeting in Sochi, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry made an announcement on November 27, stating that the agreement adopted after the meeting in Sochi fully reflected the views of Baku. According to the statement, one of the most important points of the trilateral agreement was the opening of communication routes in the region as soon as possible and that Azerbaijan would pursue the realization of the November 26 agreement.
However, on November 28, two days after the trilateral meeting in Sochi, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev spoke about the so-called Zangezur corridor again, this time in Turkmenistan’s capital Ashgabat, where the summit of the Economic Cooperation Organization was taking place. He said that the Zangezur corridor “is becoming a reality” and that the new transportation infrastructure will become an important part of the East to West and North-South communication routes.
Less than a month after the meeting in Sochi, Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev met in Brussels on December 14, this time under the auspices of the EU Eastern Partnership Summit; their meeting was mediated by the President of the European Council Charles Michel. According to the prime minister’s official website, the implementation process of the trilateral statements of November 9 and January 11, as well as the agreements reached on November 26 were discussed.
During the meeting, Pashinyan stressed the need for the full implementation of the trilateral statements, including an immediate solution to humanitarian issues: ensuring the return of prisoners of war, hostages, and other detainees. Reference was made to the work aimed at opening regional communications. The sides reaffirmed the agreement on relaunching the railway, which has not operated since the collapse of the Soviet Union. With the railway, Armenia will gain access to Russia and Iran, Azerbaijan will be linked to Nakhichevan. It was also confirmed that the railway will operate in accordance with internationally accepted border and customs rules, based on the principle of reciprocity, under the sovereignty and jurisdiction of the respective countries. Taking concrete steps to reduce tensions in the region and possible steps aimed at carrying out demarcation and delimitation of the borderline, as well as building mutual trust between Armenia and Azerbaijan were also highlighted.
In a statement following the meetings, Charles Michel touched upon the establishment of the direct communication link between the defense ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan, he welcomed the recent release of ten Armenian detainees by Azerbaijan and the handover of all remaining mine-maps by Armenia and announced that the EU intends to launch an economic advisory platform to build confidence, contribute to peaceful coexistence and build up economic cooperation in the region. In regard to easing tension in the region, Michel stressed that ensuring the appropriate distancing of forces is an essential element of incident prevention. The EU will make available an expert mission/consultative group to support the border delimitation and demarcation issues by providing technical assistance to both countries. President Michel also emphasized the importance of restoring communications infrastructure between Armenia and Azerbaijan while fully respecting the sovereignty of all countries.
Before the trilateral meeting kicked off, Aliyev announced during a joint press conference with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg that if Armenia wants the Lachin corridor to remain without customs checkpoints then it should provide the same conditions for Azerbaijan on the so-called Zangezur corridor. He added that if Armenia refuses to give Azerbaijan free access to the Zangezur corridor then the latter will place customs checkpoints on the Lachin corridor. He also stated that the Zangezur corridor is not only important for Azerbaijan but that it is also important for Armenia, as through the corridor Armenia can gain access to Russia and Iran.
Following Aliyev’s remarks, PM Pashinyan announced in a Facebook post that Azerbaijan was trying to bring the issue of opening communication routes to a deadlock. Pashinyan and Aliyev also had a one-on-one meeting for several minutes after their meeting with Charles Michel. This was their first such meeting after the 2020 Artsakh War.
After the EU Eastern Partnership summit, there was also a trilateral meeting held between Nikol Pashinyan, Ilham Aliyev, and French President Emmanuel Macron on December 15 at the latter’s initiative. No details were released of their conversation.
Armenia-Turkey Reconciliation Process
In the background of processes aimed at unblocking communication routes in the region, normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations was again brought under the spotlight this year (end of August, beginning of September), when the leaders of both countries made remarks on starting a dialogue.
On August 29, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that Turkey was ready to normalize relations with Armenia based on “neighborliness and mutual recognition of territorial integrity”. He also expressed hope that the actions of Armenia’s new government would be constructive as the region needed new approaches. Erdogan also added that recent history should not be a reason for animosity and if Armenia was ready Ankara could start to gradually normalize relations with Armenia, adding that Azerbaijan had a similar disposition and that Baku had offered to start negotiations on a comprehensive peace treaty.
A few days after Erdogan’s statements, PM Pashinyan announced that Armenia was receiving positive signals from Turkey to normalize relations. During a Government session on September 8, Pashinyan said that Armenia sees the opportunity for talks on reopening Armenian-Turkish transportation routes in statements made by Turkish President Erdogan. He went on to say that the process was about making “our region a crossroad that will link the west with the east and the north with the south”. Pashinyan stated that Russia had announced its support for this initiative, as did the EU, France, and the U.S.
Following the talks on positive signals and normalizing relations, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on September 19, that Armenia’s PM Nikol Pashinyan had requested a meeting through Georgia’s PM Irakli Gharibashvili, with whom Pashinyan had met in the beginning of September. Erdogan noted that if Pashinyan wanted to meet, clear steps should be taken, adding that if Armenia is honest in its pursuit of talks and is ready to take steps towards starting a reconciliation process Turkey will also set diplomacy into motion. Erdogan had stated that it was puzzling that on the one hand, the Armenian side refuses to discuss the option of the Zangezur corridor but on the other hand wants to normalize relations with Turkey. He also noted that the process must move forward with compromises from both sides, expressing hope that the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan would be settled with the opening of transportation corridors.
Pashinyan’s spokesperson Mane Gevorgyan (now-former spokesperson) stated that Armenia is ready to start a dialogue with Turkey. She noted that so far there has been no communication between officials of the two countries, although the Armenian government is ready to talk.
The Armenian-Turkish reconciliation process became a topic of debate again when on November 22, Armenia’s Foreign Ministry speaker Vahan Hunanyan said that Armenia had notified Russia that it was ready to start normalizing relations with Turkey without any preconditions. Two days earlier, Ararat Mirzoyan had told the French Le Figaro newspaper that Armenia has always been ready to normalize relations with Turkey without preconditions but Turkey was tying its relations with Armenia to the so-called Zangezur corridor which is unacceptable for the Armenian side.
During a press briefing on November 25, Russia’s Foreign Ministry representative Maria Zakharova confirmed that Armenia had appealed to Russia asking to mediate relations between Armenia and Turkey, adding that Russia was willing to contribute to the normalization of relations between the two countries. She added that this would contribute to peace and stability in the region.
On December 13, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced that Armenia and Turkey would appoint special envoys to start dialogue. He also stated that Turkey had discussed this with Azerbaijan, and would continue to discuss normalization of relations with Armenia moving forward. Cavusoglu also noted that Azerbaijan and Turkey were working together to establish peace and security in the region. In response, Armenia’s FM speaker Vahan Hunanyan announced that Armenia has always been and remains ready for the process of normalization of relations with Turkey without preconditions.
Two days later, on December 15, Turkey appointed career diplomat Serdar Kilic as its special envoy to start a dialogue on normalizing relations with Armenia. Kilic previously served as Turkey’s ambassador to Washington and is known for his active campaign against the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Armenia will be represented by deputy parliament speaker Ruben Rubinyan. Following Roubinyan’s appointment Armenia’s civil society representatives called on the ruling party to form a strong team of experts around Roubinyan, to compensate for his lack of experience in the field.
US State Secretary Antony Blinken tweeted that the United States welcomes and strongly supports the statements by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and MFA of Armenia on appointing Special Envoys to discuss the process of normalization. Russia’s FM representative Maria Zakharova also announced that Russia supports the normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey adding that it will lead to the improvement of the situation in the region.
It is rumored that the first meeting between Ruben Rubinyan and his Turkish counterpart Serdar Kilic will take place in Moscow, however, no dates have been mentioned.
The 3+3 Regional Cooperation Format
Another diplomatic direction toward an integrated South Caucasus has been the 3+3 regional cooperation format between the three South Caucasus states (Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan) and regional neighbors (Russia, Iran, Turkey). The new cooperation format was suggested by Turkey and Azerbaijan after the end of the 2020 Artsakh war and has also found the support of Russia and Iran.
While Russia and Turkey, and Azerbaijan in particular, were discussing the 3+3 format for several months, the Armenian side was hesitant to give a clear answer. Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar urged Armenia to join the 3+3 regional cooperation format during his visit to Baku to participate in celebrations dedicated to Azerbaijan’s victory on November 9, claiming that Armenia must use the historical chance and respond to peace offers coming from Azerbaijan and Turkey. The next day Russia’s MFA representative Maria Zakharova stated during a weekly briefing that it was time to implement the 3+3 format claiming that the latter benefits all parties involved. In October, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had announced during a meeting with his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian that opening communication routes in the region would be beneficial not only for Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia but also for Russia, Turkey and Iran. At that time he had stated that Iran, Azerbaijan and Turkey had agreed to the format while talks were still being held with the Armenian side.
In this regard, Armenia’s PM Nikol Pashinyan had stated on several occasions that for Armenia it was important that the 3+3 cooperation format does not include issues which are being discussed within the framework of other formats, such as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict which is already on the agenda of the OSCE Minsk Group or the implementation of the tripartite agreements which are being discussed by the deputy prime ministers of Armenia, Russia and Azerbaijan.
On December 10, the first meeting aimed at establishing a regional consultative platform was held in Moscow in the format of 3+2 (Russia, Turkey, Iran + Armenia, Azerbaijan). Georgia had announced earlier that it is not interested in participating in the regional cooperation format. The representatives of Armenia, Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan and Turkey at the level of deputy foreign ministers participated in the meeting.
According to Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the scope of possible regional cooperation was discussed at the meeting, including the issues with regards to economy, transport, culture and humanitarian spheres.
Armenia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Vahe Gevorgyan, who represented Armenia at the meeting, reiterated the position of the Armenian side, that the agenda of the regional consultative platform should be aimed at creating a mutually beneficial and comprehensible agenda of regional cooperation, by refraining from duplication of other international platforms, including those with conflict settlement mandates.
An agreement was reached to continue the consultations based on respect for the rights and inclusiveness of all countries in the region. Future meetings will be decided upon through diplomatic channels and will take place rotating from country to country.
Tensions between Iran and Azerbaijan escalated this year accompanied by a war of words and military exercises. On September 12, Azerbaijan held joint military exercises with Turkey and Pakistan on September 12 called “Three Brothers 2021” near Iran’s border. On September 30, Iran announced that it will be conducting large-scale military exercises near Azerbaijan’s border. The military exercises prompted sharp criticism from Azerbaijan. President Ilham Aliyev told the Turkish Anadolu Agency that the Azerbaijani public was surprised by the military exercises which are unprecedented in the last 30 years.
The situation escalated after Azerbaijani officers started charging a road tax in the amount of $130 US from Iranian drivers crossing the Goris-Kapan highway in Armenia, a part of which came under Azerbaijani control following the war. The highway is the main artery that Iranian trucks use to cross Armenia to Georgia. On September 15, two Iranian truck drivers were detained by Azerbaijani officers. According to Azerbaijan’s State Customs Committee, the drivers were detained while trying to smuggle goods through Azerbaijan’s border and for not having proper documentation.
Against the backdrop of strained Iranian-Azerbaijani relations, Turkey and Azerbaijan held another set of joint military drills on October 5-8, this time in Nakhichevan. Military exercises were also held by Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey in Tbilisi from October 4-8.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatib-zadeh told Iranian national radio service on October 12 that Iran has evidence proving that terrorist groups have been transferred to Azerbaijan. He stated that Iran even has recordings of conversations between the terrorists. According to Khatibzadeh, Iran has informed Azerbaijan that the presence of terrorists in the region is unacceptable and the Azerbaijani side has assured them that they will consider Iran’s concerns.
The foreign ministers of Iran and Azerbaijan held a phone conversation on October 13. Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Abdollahian told his Azerbaijani counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov that Tehran and Baku have enemies and they should not allow those enemies to spoil relations. He mentioned that differences should be settled through dialogue. The parties also discussed the Goris-Kapan highway and Abdollahian told Bayramov that Iran is expecting a solution to the issue.
On October 21, the two Iranian truck drivers held by Azerbaijan were released in what Baku said was a sign of good will
Ongoing Protests / Army Calls for Pashinyan’s Resignation
The anti-government protests spearheaded by an alliance of 15 opposition parties calling themselves the Homeland Salvation Movement, which formed after the end of the war, continued into 2021. Parliamentary opposition factions, Prosperous Armenia and Bright Armenia, two of the leading parties of the opposition movement, demanded PM Pashinyan’s resignation in December 2020, asking him to hand over power to an interim government who would in turn organize new elections within a year. Calls for Pashinyan’s resignation were renewed by the Homeland Salvation Movement following My Step’s announcement that they would not hold snap elections. In a Facebook post, the opposition movement coordinator, Iskhan Saghatelyan expressed his disappointment with My Step’s position saying that their refusal to hold snap elections is conditioned by Pashinyan’s realization that he won’t win. “Those citizens who thought about getting rid of this evil government through elections will now take it to the streets,” Saghatelyan said.
On February 3, members of the Homeland Salvation Movement, resumed acts of civil disobedience. On February 11, Vazgen Manukyan, the opposition’s candidate for the post of Prime Minister, called on people to gather at Liberty Square that day to discuss their steps moving forward. In a written address, Manukyan urged people to wake up and take the fate of the country into their hands, otherwise Azerbaijan and Turkey wlil, he said.
On February 24, supporters of the opposition Homeland Salvation Movement set up tents on Baghramyan Avenue, in front of the parliament, vowing to stay until PM Pashinyan resigned. The street remained closed for a month. Protesters later relocated themselves on Demirchyan Street, however, to “maintain public pressure and coordinate further actions.”
Top Military Brass Demands Pashinyan’s Resignation
On February 25, Armenia’s top military brass called for the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, asserting in a public statement that the military leadership has lost confidence in the current Government’s ability to serve the interests of the country. The fallout was directly related to a public spat over the efficacy of the use of Russian-provided Iskander missiles during the 2020 Artsakh War, a subject that was broached by former-President Serzh Sargsyan and triggered a rebuke from Nikol Pashinyan. The subsequent response by Tiran Khachatryan, the Deputy Chief of Staff, in which the Prime Minister’s claims were contradicted resulted in the firing of Khachatryan. Perceiving this as a direct assault against the military brass, the Chief of Staff demanded the PM’s resignation, along with a laundry list of complaints directed against the current Government.
In response to the statement by the General Staff of the Armed Forces, Pashinyan went live on Facebook saying that he considered the statement by the military brass an attempt at a military coup and called on his supporters to gather at Republic Square. He urged people in the military to continue defending the country and not lose vigilance, stressing that it is impermissible for the army to be engaged in political processes and make political assessments. After having sacked the First Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, Pashinyan said he also signed the documents needed for the dismissal of the Chief of the General Staff Onik Gasparyan. Later, Pashinyan announced that he will give a live address from Republic Square at 4 p.m.
At around the same time, the Homeland Salvation Movement announced that they will also hold a rally at Liberty Square at 3 p.m. [both the PM and the opposition gathered sizable crowds].
Before Pashinyan’s address, the General Staff issued another statement re-confirming their position about Pashinyan’s resignation. The statement stressed that the General Staff was not directed by anyone and that their demand reflects the clear conviction and position of the generals and officers of the army.
Pashinyan addressed his supporters from Republic Square at 4 p.m. He started his speech by noting that some have tried to engage the Armed Forces in anti-constitutional and anti-democratic processes. Pashinyan reaffirmed that the initiative of the General Staff of the Armed Forces was a military coup attempt and the people will not allow for a military coup to happen in Armenia. He ordered the military to deal with the security of Armenia’s borders and territorial integrity. “You should do your job, the Army cannot get involved in a political process,” added the PM.
Pashinyan reminded his supporters that Vazgen Manukyan, the leader of the Homeland Salvation Movement, admitted that during the war that he urged the Armed Forces to take power into their hands.
Speaking about his resignation, Pashinyan explained that he did not become the prime minister on his own – the people made that decision and the people will decide whether he should resign or not. He called on all political parties to suspend all acts of civil disobedience and begin discussions. “I will start consultations with all political parties, even those who have been radically opposed to me,” Pashinyan added.
At the end of his speech, the PM said that President Armen Sarkissian should sign the documents dismissing the Chief and the Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces. “If he does not sign, then does that mean that he is joining the coup attempt?” Pashinyan ended his speech by saying that the “End of the Velvet” has come, implying that the era of leniency is over and everyone will be accountable according to a rigid interpretation of the law.
Before Armenia transitioned from a semi-presidential to parliamentary model of governance in 2018, it had never held an early (sometimes referred to as “snap”) parliamentary election, i.e. ahead of the expiration of the regular four- or five-year term. In the four years since 2018, now that the National Assembly is the fountain of constitutional power, June 2021 marked the second such early parliamentary election, once again in the wake of national political upheaval.
On April 25, 2021, three years and two days after Serzh Sargsyan’s famous announcement, Nikol Pashinyan announced his own formal resignation as Prime Minister, which is a necessary step to triggering an early election. He remained in the top role in an acting capacity throughout the campaign period, with election day falling on Sunday, June 20.
As Pashinyan was resisting calls from the President, the Catholicos and senior military officials for him to resign after Armenia’s loss in the 2020 Artsakh War, an election was seen as the solution out of a political logjam. Indeed, the main political parties that led the Homeland Salvation Movement (which was blocking streets around the parliament building) did participate in the election, despite their earlier announcements that the country could not afford an immediate election because of its vulnerable situation.
A total of 28 new political parties were registered in 2021. Twenty of them were in the first half of the year, ahead of the parliamentary election; the other eight came later, with municipal elections pending. 25 different parties and electoral alliances nominated their own list of candidates for the June 20 vote. Only three of them won any seats in parliament. Amendments to the Electoral Code in the early spring had eliminated the regional open list seats, making 2021 Armenia’s first national election where voters chose only their preferred political party, and not additionally their preferred individual candidate.
A series of televised debates were organized, but they ultimately proved to be anticlimactic as the main challengers refused to share a stage with Pashinyan or were dissatisfied with the format.
An encroachment by Azerbaijani forces into the territory of the Republic of Armenia on May 12 re-elevated national security as a priority election issue. Second President Robert Kocharyan rose to become the primary challenger to Pashinyan and was seen as the candidate best able to repair Armenia’s relationship with Russia, now evidently the country’s only security guarantor.
In the end, turnout was roughly equal to that of 2018, with 1.3 million votes cast. Pashinyan’s Civil Contract Party’s majority was reduced from 70% to 54%, but it maintained an almost two-thirds majority of the seats, due to other parties not making the 5% threshold. The Prosperous Armenia Party and Bright Armenia Party lost all of their seats. The Armenia Alliance (between the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and Resurgent Armenia Party) and the I’m Honored Alliance (between the Republican Party of Armenia and the Homeland Party) became the new parliamentary opposition. Four opposition parties contested the results of the election, but the Constitutional Court ruled that the results will stand.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Artsakh War and the 2021 early parliamentary election, planned municipal elections in Armenia had been postponed. A delayed municipal amalgamation process also pushed back the dates; they were eventually held on three different days: October 17, November 14 and December 5.
Together, they included 54% of the electorate and 45 (two thirds) of the new post-amalgamation total of 79 municipalities in Armenia (which had come down from 502), including all 10 regional capital cities (but not Yerevan). These were the first municipal elections to take place after a series of 2020 reforms that expanded closed list proportional representation at the municipal level beyond just Yerevan, Gyumri and Vanadzor. All cities with at least 4,000 registered voters used the new system, where voters choose their preferred party instead of an individual candidate. Parties are allocated seats based on their proportion of the total vote, and it is the newly-formed city council that gets to choose the mayor. As outright majorities–where one party gets more than 50% of the vote–should theoretically be rare in such a system, it was expected that coalitions and power-sharing agreements between parties, based on ideological alignment, would usher in a new era of cooperative politics. While some city councils did find themselves in this position, in 27 of the 45 races, one party did pull off an outright majority. The Civil Contract Party took 18 of these and a wide spectrum of opposition parties and electoral alliances took the other nine.
The biggest blot on the municipal elections was the ruling Civil Contract Party putting their thumb on the scale by removing incumbent mayors and replacing them with party loyalists in an acting capacity, who would then lead the Civil Contract candidate list in the election. Mayor terms are set in the constitution at five years; normally an election would be held at the end of that period. However, because of the aforementioned delays, in many cities, the clock on that five-year term ran out before the new election was held. Instead of extending the incumbent’s term by a matter of months, they were entirely replaced with a Civil Contract Party member, artificially providing the ruling party with an incumbency advantage and setting a very poor precedent.
Additionally, after the elections, following a policy of selective justice, opposition candidates that did well against the Civil Contract Party were arrested under various charges. While the legitimacy of these charges may eventually be confirmed in court, the timing of the arrests (during the crucial period of coalition formation) suggests a level of political interference. Perhaps even worse, they also imply that legitimate charges against others are being kept as “kompromat” and not being brought forward if they opt to cooperate with the Civil Contract Party.
The trial of former President Robert Kocharyan continued in 2021. Kocharyan, along with Armenia’s former Defense Minister Seyran Ohanyan, former Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Khachaturov, and former Deputy Prime Minister and presidential Chief of Staff, Armen Gevorgyan, was charged with overthrowing the constitutional order in relation to the March 1, 2008 events following the disputed presidential election that same year. Following an application by the former president’s legal team to the Court of First Instance, the Constitutional Court of Armenia, deemed Article 300.1 of the Criminal Code (Usurpation of State Power), with which Kocharyan was charged to be in contradiction with Articles 78 and 79 of the Constitution and therefore invalid.
Kocharyan, Ohanyan, Khachaturov and Gevorgyan were acquitted on April 6, in relation to the March 1 case. And though the coup charges against the four former high ranking officials were dropped, Kocharyan and Gevorgyan will continue to stand trial on bribery charges. The two are accused of receiving $3 million and $1 million bribes respectively from businesswoman Silva Hambardzumyan. Hambardzumyan had come forward in 2018 claiming that she had given a $14 million bribe to then Minister of Nature Protection to obtain a mining development license. Both Kocharyan and Gevorgyan deny the charges.
Armenia’s third president Serzh Sargsyan is also facing bribery charges in relation to Silva Hambardzumyan’s 2018 announcement about having to pay bribes to high ranking officials in 2008. Hambardzumyan’s announcement incriminated former President Robert Kocharyan, his Chief of Staff Armen Gevorgyan and businessman Samvel Maryapetyan. On November 22, Serzh Sargsyan was also called in for questioning and charged for bribery (he was prime minister in Kocharyan’s government at the time).
Sargsyan is currently facing two more criminal charges. Back in December 2019, the former president was also charged with embezzling about $1 million in government funds between January 25 to February 7, 2013. The charges stem from a state assistance program providing farmers with cheap diesel fuel. Sargsyan allegedly interfered by ensuring the government tender was won by Flash, one of Armenia’s main fuel importers, rather than another fuel importer that offered a lower price and could have saved the government $1 million. Another criminal investigation is underway in connection with Sargsyan’s frequent flights using the presidential aircraft to Baden-Baden during his presidency for personal purposes. In September, the Fact Investigative Platform (FIP) reported that during his presidency (2008-2018) Serzh Sargsyan travelled to Baden-Baden 16 times using the presidential airplane. Some of the flights were organized in violation of established procedure, without prior written applications received from the Office of the President of the Republic of Armenia.
High Profile Investigations
Davit Galstyan (also known as Patron Davo), who supplied weapons to Armenia for years, was arrested on February 1 (he previously served as adviser to former Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan). According to the statement by the National Security Service (NSS). In 2018, Galstyan signed a contract with Armenia’s Defense Ministry, pledging to supply the armed forces with specific types of artillery shells produced between 1983-86. Instead he supplied different types of shells produced in Czech Republic in 1977, which had inferior quality and could not be used in combat. According to the NSS, Galstyan’s company received more than $1 million from the Defense Ministry for this deal. A criminal case was launched.
The former Mayor of Yerevan Taron Margaryan was charged for abuse of power on February 18. Similar charges were also brought against Arman Sahakyan, the head of the State Property Management Department, Andranik Kasaryan, head of the Department of Architecture and Urban Development at the Municipality and Arsen Amyan, head of the Real Estate Management Department at the Municipality. According to a statement by the Investigative Committee, Margaryan appropriated land belonging to schools in Yerevan while he was deputy mayor and then later as mayor of Yerevan. The properties were later sold to individuals closely related to Margaryan, through an auction organized by the Municipality. The investigation is ongoing.
On April 15, a criminal case was launched against the Chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council Ruben Vardazaryan. His powers have been temporarily suspended and the most senior member of the Council, Gagik Jhangiryan, is now fulfilling the duties of the chairman until the criminal case is resolved. No further details regarding the case were provided.
On May 19, Armenia’s former Defense Minister Seyran Ohanyan was charged for embezzling 1.46 billion AMD ($2 million US) in state funds. In 2010, DzoraHEK hydroelectric plant, which is located in the northern Lori province, was sold by former President Serzh Sargsyan’s government to a private company for $7.5 million. In May 2019, the Prosecutor General’s Office said that the plant was sold well below its market value causing substantial damage to the state and that the actual estimated value of the plant is 4.6 billion AMD ($9 million). The Special Investigative Service said that at the time of its privatization, the plant belonged to the Ministry of Defense and it was the Ministry that proposed the deal. Ohanyan denies the charges leveled against him. The former defense minister was also being investigated for overthrowing constitutional order during the events of March 2008, but was acquitted along with the three other former high-ranking officials.
On May 20, charges were also brought against Armen Gevorgyan, the former Deputy Prime Minister and former Chief of Presidential Staff, [who was also acquitted as part of the March 1 case], for appropriating 4.9 billion AMD ($9.4 million) between 2004 to 2018. According to the Special Investigative Committee, between 2002 to 2018, the legal incomes of Gevorgyan and people affiliated with him comprised 743 million AMD, but within the same period 39 new units of real estate that exceeded their legal income were registered under their names. According to the charges, Gevorgyan abused his official position and influenced the heads of communities in several regions to appropriate properties belonging to those communities through auctions.
On June 16, former President Serzh Sargsyan’s nephew Narek Sargsyan who was charged with owning illegal guns, cocaine and other drugs, as well as suspected of kidnapping a man, was sentenced to five and a half years in prison. Sargsyan was arrested by Interpol and the Czech police in Prague at the end of December 2018 holding a fake Guatemalan passport under the name of Franklin Gonzalez. He was extradited to Armenia on December 21, 2019, and has been under pre-trial detention since then.
On July 1, the National Security Service (NSS) launched a criminal case against Movses Hakobyan, the former Head of the Military Control Service of the Armenian Ministry of Defense for disclosing state secrets. According to the NSS, during an interview on November, 2020, Hakobyan revealed information regarding operative programs, combat readiness and military equipment of the Armenian Armed Forces in violation of the criminal law. Hakobyan denied the charges leveled against him.
Dr. Armen Charchyan
Dr. Armen Charchyan, the director of the Izmirlian Medical Center, was arrested two days before the June 20 parliamentary election for allegedly forcing employees of the hospital to vote for the Armenia Alliance. A Yerevan court placed him in pre-trial detention for a month. But before the decision was published, Charchyan was transferred to hospital, where he underwent surgery. On July 21, Charchyan was released on bail for 15 million AMD (approx $30 thousand) but was again detained on August 23 after the Prosecutor General’s Office appealed the decision, requesting that he remain under pre-trial detention. Both the Armenia Alliance and I’m Honored factions issued statements saying that Charchyan’s arrest was illegal and politically motivated.
On December 9, Armenia’s Constitutional Court ruled that detained persons had to be released once elected as parliament members, when they acquire immunity. Parliamentary opposition members had applied to the Constitutional Court following the early June elections on behalf of Armenia Alliance faction members Armen Charchyan, Mkhitar Zakaryan and Artur Sargsyan (the former mayors of Meghri and Sisian, were charged with abuse of power and corruption), who were elected parliament members but remained under detention. All three were released on December 10.
On August 10, corruption charges were brought against Vardan Ghukasyan, the former Mayor of Gyumri (1999 to 2012), who is accused of forging documents to illegally sell dozens of plots of municipal land, including parts of Gyumri’s central park and a historical building. The former mayor denied the charges as politically motivated. The investigation is ongoing; Ghukasyan cannot leave the country.
Armenia’s former Prosecutor General Aghvan Hovsepyan was arrested on September 7 on corruption charges. The Special Investigative Service (SIS) said that while Hovsepyan was a state official, he accepted a 190 million AMD bribe and embezzled 800 million AMD worth of property while he was serving in the management of a number of companies. Hovsepyan is also charged with laundering 1.3 billion AMD. Hovsepyan served as Prosecutor Generalon from 2004-2013 and from 2014-2018 chaired the Investigative Committee of Armenia.
On September 25 Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) reported that the Chief of the Aviation Department of Armenia’s Armed forces was arrested on charges of abuse of power and embezzlement. According to the NSS statement the high-ranking official, whose identity was not disclosed, knowingly conducted the purchase of expired missiles produced in 1985-1991 with prices that were higher than the market value.
Armenia’s former Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan and major arms dealer Davit Galstyan were also arrested on September 30 with similar charges. The NSS announced that Tonoyan and Galstyan were detained on charges of embezzlement of large sums of money, and committing publicly dangerous acts. Together they are charged with stealing over $4 million US.
On October 11, Armenia’s former defense Minister Davit Tonoyan’s team of lawyers issued a statement that Tonoyan does not accept the charges leveled against him and claims that he did not commit the crimes he is accused of. Tonoyan also claims that he has information that will restore “his good name.”
The statement notes that Tonoyan has refrained from making any public announcements following his resignation taking into account state secrets and Armenia’s national security interests. Tonoyan believes that an expert investigation will give substantiated, impartial answers to the allegations of purchasing “low-quality” weapons.
Over 2000 War-Related Cases
Armenia’s Prosecutor General’s office presented the nature of the cases filed in connection with the 2020 Artsakh war. Over 2,000 criminal cases have been filed in connection with violations of conscription/recruitment of soldiers involving bribery, the illegal acquisition/smuggling of arms and armaments intended for combat operations, the illegal sale/theft of military clothing, battlefield desertion, refusal to perform military orders, and draft dodging.
Cases involving the abuse of power or position by field commanders or officials during a military operation, abuse of power or overstepping of official authority, and cases of negligence/inaction by army commanders are also being investigated.
Armenia’s National Security Service has questioned some 150 individuals (including the President of the Republic of Artsakh and different commanders), regarding military operations in the south of Artsakh and events leading to the capture of Shushi.
Based on the preliminary investigation of these criminal cases more than 800 people have been registered as defendants, including high-ranking military officers of Armenia. A total of 48 criminal cases against 55 people have been sent to the courts. Eight people were convicted in court cases. The preliminary investigation of most criminal cases continues.
According to numbers reported by the Prosecutor General’s Office, in 2020, 3,016 criminal cases were registered in the armed forces, which is three times more than the number registered in 2019 (929 cases). It is believed that the sharp increase was due to the Artsakh war, since 1,501 or about 50% of the cases were registered during the war.
A number of criminal cases were launched regarding crimes committed during and in the aftermath of the 2020 Artsakh War. A general of the Defense Army was charged with abuse of power; two people were arrested for stealing ammunition and canned food while participating in military operations in Artsakh; Artsakh Prosecutor General’s Office launched a criminal case for state treason; and a citizen of Armenia, who identified as an Azerbaijani on Facebook (Aziz Muradov), demanded nude pictures of female relatives of those servicemen who are in Azerbaijani captivity or still missing in action. Also, the Investigative Committee reported that a citizen of Armenia was arrested for embezzling different amounts of funds from Artsakh Armenians who were displaced as a result of the war.
The National Security Service arrested a police officer for illegally transferring arms and ammunition from Artsakh’s Jebrail to Syunik in Armenia over the course of the 44-day war, with the intention of selling the guns and ammunition in the future.
Hasmik Poghosyan/Armen Smbatyan
The preliminary investigation of the illegal appropriation of the “AOKS” (the former, Soviet Armenian organization for cooperation with foreign countries) building in Yerevan’s city wrapped up on December 22. Armenia’s former Minister of Culture and Youth Hasmik Poghosyan (2006 to 2016) and Armenia’s former ambassador to Israel Armen Smbatyan are involved in the case and face criminal charges. The two are accused of illegally appropriating the building then selling it to an offshore company belonging to Poghosyan’s daughter-in-law in the British Virgin Islands for 550,000 USD. Armen Smbatyan is accused of money laundering and assisting the alleged abuse of power by Hasmik Poghosyan.
The government had recalled Smbatyan during the 2020 Artsakh War in protest against continuing supplies of Israeli weapons to Azerbaijan. The whereabouts of Hasmik Poghosyan remain unknown. Smbatyan was released on bail for 20 million AMD on April 19. The AOKS building is considered a cultural landmark. The criminal investigation concerning the case was launched last year. Hasmilk Poghosyan is in Russia and according to her lawyer she is undergoing treatment there. There has been a warrant for her arrest since December last year.
Armen Smbatyan and Hasmik Poghosyan’s lawyers deny the charges. They claim that money was needed to restore the building and necessary steps were taken to acquire it, stating that no illegal acts were committed in the process.
On October 3, another global offshore scandal, this time called the Pandora Papers, was released. Over 600 journalists from 117 countries investigated leaked documents about almost 27,000 companies and their owners. Names of Armenian businessmen and former and current officials were also found in the papers. Hetq published its first article of the Pandora Papers series involving former Minister of the Environment Vardan Ayvazyan. According to the investigation the former official had established businesses in Armenia with British colleagues through offshore businesses.
The name of the Aliyev family was also found in the leaked documents. It was revealed that Azerbaijan’s first family made property deals in London through offshore businesses worth nearly $700 million US. Hetq is still working on the investigation and more publications are to follow.
Resignations and Dismissals
On April 23, Mesrop Arakelyan, the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs resigned. In a Facebook post, Arakelyan explained that he took the job of Minister to address the social issues in the post-war reality. And now, according to him, Artsakh has overcome the social crisis and entered the stage of development.
On May 27, Armenia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Ara Ayvazyan resigned. His deputy, Gagik Ghalachyan and spokesperson Anna Naghdalyan also announced their resignations on the same day. On June 7, the three remaining Deputy Foreign Ministers of Armenia Artak Apitonyan, Avet Adonts and Armen Ghevondyan also resigned, the latter’s request was not approved, however. On June 10, Acting Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan clarified their decision saying they could not have accepted everyone’s resignation and left the Foreign Ministry without leadership.
On May 31, during a farewell meeting with the Foreign Ministry staff, Ayvazyan explained that the reason behind his decision was to make sure that there are never any suspicions that the ministry could take any steps or agree to some ideas/initiatives that would go against Armenia’s statehood and national interests. He went on to say that diplomats are generally perceived to be adaptable individuals but that under the current circumstances they do not have the right to act so.
Ayavazyan’s resignation came hours after a Security Council meeting, during which Acting PM Nikol Pashinyan appealed to the international community and the Azerbaijani government with a solution. According to his solution, the military units of the two armed forces should retreat from the border and move to their original positions, allowing the deployment of international observers from the Co-Chair countries of the OSCE Minsk Group – Russia, France and the United States. Pashinyan said that the presence of observers is necessary to ensure each side complies with the agreement and does not amass troops on the border. Following Ayvazyan’s remarks, Lilit Makunts, the head of the My Step parliamentary faction at the time clarified that before the Security Council meeting Pashinyan had informed Ayvazyan about his intention to seek an international observation mission and that the Minister had not objected to the idea.
Ayvazyan was appointed following the 2020 Artsakh War, after the resignation of former Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan. Following Ayvazyan’s resignation, Armen Grigoryan, who since 2018 was the Secretary of the Security Council, was appointed as acting foreign minister. On August 19, the former Speaker of Parliament Ararat Mirzoyan was officially appointed as Armenia’s new Foreign Affairs Minister. Grigoryan was reinstated to his former position.
On July 20, Armenia’s acting Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutyunyan submitted his resignation. He was appointed in November 2020, after the 2020 Artsakh War. On the same day, Arshak Karapetyan was dismissed from the position of Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Armenian Armed Forces and was appointed to the post of First Deputy Minister of Defense. On November 15, a day before the large-scale Azerbaijani offensive on Armenia’s Eastern border, Prime Minister Pashinyan appointed Deputy Prime Minister Suren Papikyan to the post of Defense Minister. During a security council meeting the same day, Pashinyan said he saw the necessity to replace the defense minister following analysis of increased tension on Armenia’s Eastern border since November 14 and referenced the loss of a previously Armenian held post in the area.
During the Q&A session in Parliament on the 17th, while refusing to provide further details about the reasons for the sacking of the former defense minister Arshak Karapetyan sighting security reasons, Pashinyan however emphasized that it is important the position of the defense minister be held by a member of the ruling political party to maintain clear communication and implementation of the government’s agenda.
Cases Launched at European Court of Human Rights and International Court of Justice
Armenia Submits Inter-State Application Against Azerbaijan at the ECtHR
On February 1, 2021, the Armenian Government submitted an Inter-State Application against Azerbaijan to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) claiming violations of the rights of the people of Artsakh and Armenia guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The right to life, prohibition of torture and inhuman treatment, the right to liberty, the right to property, the right to personal and family life and the right to education are among the articles of the Convention that the Armenian Government claims Azerbaijan violated both during and in the aftermath of the 2020 Artsakh War. The Government also raised issues pertaining to the protection of the rights of prisoners of war (POWs), civilian captives, displaced people, and local and international reporters. According to Armenia’s representative at ECHR, a large amount of evidence has been submitted along with the Application. The Inter-State Application is an essential step of triggering an international legal mechanism by Armenia. This is the first Inter-State Application submitted by Armenia at the ECtHR.
On February 9, Azerbaijan also lodged an inter-state application against Armenia, alleging Convention violations as well. Azerbaijan accuses Armenia of shelling civilian settlements with ballistic missiles and cluster munitions during the 2020 war, as a result of which 93 civilians were killed and another 423 were wounded. Violations of property rights are also raised, citing 264 buildings and 9,294 private houses destroyed due to the shelling. A significant part of Azerbaijan’s application refers back to the consequences of the First Karabakh War in the early 1990s and the inaction of the Armenian authorities with regard to the fate of over 3,000 Azerbaijanis who went missing.
On March 9, 2021, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) announced that it will inform the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe about Azerbaijan’s violations of the rights of Armenian POWs and civilian captives. According to the Republic of Armenia’s representative at the ECtHR Yeghishe Kirakosyan, the decision was made based on the many applications that the Armenian side submitted to the Court as well as the fact that Azerbaijan violated the deadlines for providing comprehensive information about Armenian captives. Kirakosyan had said that this will add a political context to the issue, since foreign ministers or permanent diplomatic representatives of member states will take part in those discussions.
On May 9, 2021, the Armenian government submitted an Inter-State Application against Turkey with the European Court of Human Rights claiming a number of Convention violations by Turkey. The application notes that Turkey recruited and transported Syrian mercenaries to the region and provided military support to Azerbaijan during the 44-day war. The right to life, prohibition of torture and inhuman treatment, the right to liberty, the right to property, the right to personal and family life are among the articles of the Convention that the Armenian Government claims Turkey violated both during and in the aftermath of the 2020 Artsakh War. The Office of Armenia’s Representative to the ECHR reported that they submitted extensive evidence with regard to Turkey’s involvement in the war.
On May 27, 2021, Armenia applied to the European Court of Human Rights in order to ensure respect for the fundamental human rights of six Armenian POWs who were captured by Azerbaijani forces in Armenia’s Gegharkunik region that same morning. The Office of Armenia’s Representative before the ECtHR requested the Court apply an interim measure under Rule 39 of the Rules of Court against Azerbaijan. The goal of the request is to ensure respect of the captives’ rights to life and prohibition of torture, as is envisaged by the European Convention on Human Rights.
On May 31, 2021, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) required the Azerbaijani government to provide information about the six Armenian servicemen who were captured by Azerbaijani forces in the border area of Gegharkunik region on May 27. The Court set a deadline on June 4.
On November 22, Armenia applied to the European Court of Human Rights to ensure respect of the fundamental human rights of the Armenian POWs captured during the November 16 offensive launched by Azerbaijan. The Office of the Representative of the Republic of Armenia before the ECHR is requesting to implement interim measures against Azerbaijan, to ensure respect of the captives’ rights to life and prohibition of torture envisaged by the European Convention on Human Rights.
On November 27, 2021, the European Court of Human Rights applied interim measures regarding four Armenian prisoners of war held by Azerbaijan. Human Rights lawyers Artak Zeynalyan and Siranush Sahakyan had applied to the ECtHR on November 22, regarding four soldiers captured after the November 16, Azerbaijani incursion, expecting that the ECtHR would indicate interim measures and appeal to Baku for information regarding the captives. One of the captives was returned to Armenia on November 26 prior to the trilateral meeting between the Armenian, Azerbaijani and Russian leaders.
Other ECtHR Cases
January 26, 2021: The European Court of Human Rights issued a judgement in the case of Samadov v. Azerbaijan. The applicant claimed that in 1993 he was forced to flee his home in Kelbajar district after it was captured by ethnic Armenian forces. The case was filed in 2008, six years after Armenia ratified the European Convention. Also, when the application was filed, 15 years had passed since Samadov’s displacement from his alleged property. According to the court, the six year period was considered an “excessive” time period and the application was found inadmissible.
July 22, 2021: The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) issued a judgment requiring the Azerbaijani government to pay 30,000 euros compensation to a citizen of Armenia, Artur Badalyan who was tortured and illegally deprived of his freedom by Azerbaijan between 2009 to 2011. In 2009, Badalyan went with a group of friends to the village of Navur near the town of Berd, close to the border with Azerbaijan, to pick mushrooms in the forest. According to witness statements from others in the group, the applicant disappeared (later it became clear that he was captured by Azerbaijani forces). Following his arrest by Azerbaijani forces, the applicant was held captive for 22 months in different military facilities. According to Badalyan, he was not given enough food and was often not allowed to go to the toilet. Badalyan was not informed of the reasons for his detention in a language that he understood, he was never brought before an officer of the law and he was deprived of the possibility to challenge the lawfulness of his detention.
November 4, 2021: The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) issued a judgment requiring the Azerbaijani government to pay 40,000 euros in non-pecuniary damages in two separate cases. In the Khojoyan and Others v. Azerbaijan case, brought before the court by the family of 77 year-old Mamikon Khojoyan, who was captured by Azerbaijani forces on the morning of January 28, 2014. According to the case, Khojoyan mistakenly crossed into Azerbaijani territory and was captured. Baku insisted that he was an armed guide for an Armenian sabotage group. He was repatriated on March 4, 2014 but died several weeks later from injuries he had sustained (including torture such as severe beatings, being burnt with incandescent metal and drug injections).
In the Petrosyan v. Azerbaijan case, applicant Artush Petrosyan said his son, Karen Petrosyan (b. 1981) crossed into Azerbaijani territory by mistake and was captured by Azerbaijani Armed Forces. Petrosyan died while in captivity.
Armenia and Azerbaijan at the International Court of Justice
On September 17, 2021, Armenia submitted an application instituting proceedings and a request for provisional measures against Azerbaijan to the International Court of Justice. The claim notes that Azerbaijan has violated the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination towards ethnic Armenians. This is the first case presented to the court with the participation of either Armenia or Azerbaijan.
The application states that Azerbaijan has subjected Armenians to racial discrimination for decades, and as a result of the State-sponsored policy of hatred, Armenians have been subjected to systemic discrimination, mass killings, torture and other abuse.
Azerbaijan’s actions during the war are also included in Armenia’s application. The application states that Azerbaijan continues to torture, kill and humiliate Armenians.
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry responded by saying that they will defend themselves at the court and will file a counterclaim against Armenia in a few days, which they did a week after Armenia’s submission to the court.
In its file, Azerbaijan is accusing Armenia of violating the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Azerbaijan claims that Armenia committed and continues to commit discriminatory acts against Azerbaijanis based on their national-ethnic origin. The basis of the claim is the events of the 44-day war.
Azerbaijan also asked the court to apply preliminary measures against Armenia until the final decision is known.
On October 14, Armenia’s case at the ICJ against Azerbaijan commenced. The hearings deal with Armenia’s request for emergency measures to release Armenian POWs, to close the Military Trophy Park in Baku and to protect Armenian cultural heritage now under Azerbaijani control.
An international team of lawyers represented Armenia’s case before the court. The Azerbaijani side was given a chance to counter the arguments of the Armenian side. The lawyers representing Armenia presented evidence of Azerbaijan’s continued hateful actions against Armenia bringing multiple examples of Aliyev’s hate speech directed towards Armenia and Armenians, showing images of Armenian cultural monuments destroyed by Azerbaijan and presenting the mistreatment and torture of Armenian POWs. The Azerbaijani side called Armenia’s claims “obviously hopeless” and accused the Armenian side of using the court to score political points.
Yeghishe Kirakosyan, Armenia’s Agent at the ICJ and the Representative of Armenia before the European Court of Human Rights, stated that Azerbaijan removed mannequins and bloody helmets of Armenian soldiers from the trophy park after Armenia filed the claim at ICJ.
Starting on October 18, the ICJ heard the case initiated by Azerbaijan against Armenia. The hearings dealt with Azerbaijan’s request for provisional measures to enable Azerbaijan to demine its territory, to prevent Armenian organizations (such as VoMa) from engaging in the incitement of racial hatred against Azerbaijanis and for Armenia to refrain from any measure that might aggravate, extend, or make more difficult the resolution of the dispute.
Azerbaijan claimed that by refusing to hand over maps of landmines Armenia is hindering the return of the Azerbaijani population to the territories that came under its control after the 2020 war. The Azerbaijani side also stated that mining the territories was based on ethnic hatred towards Azerbaijanis.
Armenia’s representative at the ICJ Yeghisje Kirakosyan countered Azerbaijan’s claims stating that Baku is spreading false information about who placed the mines and for what purpose. He stated that Azerbaijan itself had placed thousands of mines in the conflict zone in the beginning of the 1990s and while Armenia continuously tried to organize demining operations, Azerbaijan tried to impede the work of humanitarian demining missions because at the time Armenians lived in those areas. Now that the Armenians are gone Azerbaijan is raising the issue of landmines.
The Armenian side also stated that mines are planted in all conflict zones and the purpose is protection not racial discrimination. Armenia’s representatives also argued that in cooperation with the Halo Trust, all areas, except the line of contact were demined and presented this as proof that Armenia did not place landmines in territories that might one day be repopulated by Azerbaijanis and also added that even Azerbaijani maps show that landmines are only present along the border.
On December 7, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) announced its decision regarding the request for provisional measures by Armenia and Azerbaijan, marking the next stage in the ongoing conflict between the two states.
The Court issued five different provisional measures, four against Azerbaijan, one against Armenia, and one against both states. Here is a summary of them.
The three unique provisional measures imposed on Azerbaijan are:
(a) Protect from violence and bodily harm all persons captured in relation to the 2020 Conflict who remain in detention, and ensure their security and equality before the law;
(b) Take all necessary measures to prevent the incitement and promotion of racial hatred and discrimination, including by its officials and public institutions, targeted at persons of Armenian national or ethnic origin; and
(c) Take all necessary measures to prevent and punish acts of vandalism and desecration affecting Armenian cultural heritage, including but not limited to churches and other places of worship, monuments, landmarks, cemeteries and artefacts.
The one unique provisional measure imposed on Armenia is:
The Republic of Armenia shall, in accordance with its obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, take all necessary measures to prevent the incitement and promotion of racial hatred, including by organizations and private persons in its territory, targeted at persons of Azerbaijani national or ethnic origin.
Armenian Cultural Heritage Under Azerbaijani Control
On May 3, images of the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral in Shushi, now under Azerbaijani control, started circulating on the Internet with its domes removed with an alleged purpose of renovation by the Azerbaijani government.
Artsakh’s Human Rights Defender Gegham Stepanyan said that the Azerbaijanis’ distortion of the cathedral was being done under the guise of so-called renovations, which pursues a goal of destroying Armenian presence and a continuous state policy of Albanizing the Armenian Christian culture in Artsakh. “If Azerbaijan truly cares about the preservation of cultural heritage, then why have they not allowed an independent UNESCO expert group to visit the region?” questioned Stepanyan.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry also issued a statement similarly condemning Azerbaijan for “deliberately blocking the access of UNESCO experts to the endangered Armenian cultural heritage sites, on the one hand to cover up the war crimes committed by them, and on the other hand to change the historical and architectural integrity of the monument.” The situation justifies the Armenian side’s concerns that these acts of vandalism are “aimed at depriving the Shushi Mother Cathedral of its Armenian identity,” reads the statement.
On May 4, another case of vandalism became known, this time a cemetery in the Taghavard community of the Martuni region, which also fell under Azerbaijani control. The perpetrators destroyed the graves of several victims of the first Karabakh war.
Armenia’s Human Rights Defender’s Office completed the analysis of 297 visual materials which reveal Azerbaijani hostilities against Armenian servicemen and civilians, as well as the destruction of Armenian historical, cultural and religious heritage sites. This material will be sent to relevant international and national bodies. The Azerbaijani authorities must understand that they will not go unpunished for these gross human rights violations, war crimes, systematic propaganda of anti-Arminianism and genocidal policies, wrote Tatoyan.
According to Azerbaijani media, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev signed a decree this week proclaiming Shushi as Azerbaijan’s cultural capital.
CEPA/EU Aid to Armenia
On February 10, the European Union and its member states completed the ratification process of the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA). The agreement, which was signed back in 2017, will take bilateral relations between Armenia and the EU to a new partnership level and regulate dialogue in the political and economic spheres and trade relations. CEPA is an inclusive document, which creates a solid legal basis for Armenia-EU partnership and outlines cooperation in various spheres, spanning from justice, security, economy, agriculture and infrastructures to environment and climate, education and science, culture and health.
CEPA entered into force on March 1. “It [the agreement] sends a strong signal that the EU and Armenia are committed to democratic principles and the rule of law, as well as to a wider reform agenda,” said Joseph Borell, Vice President of the European Commission. Legislative reforms in the rule of law and respect of human rights, particularly an independent, efficient and accountable justice system, as well as reforms aimed at enhancing the responsiveness and effectiveness of public institutions are all part of the agreement.
The European Union will allocate 2.6 billion euros to Armenia until 2025 for the implementation of five key programs. Initially, the EU committed to provide 1.6 billion euros. But Oliver Varhelyi, the European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, who was in Armenia on an official visit, announced that an additional 1 billion euros will also be provided. As part of the first pilot project, 500 million euros will be provided to 30,000 small and medium-sized businesses aimed at shaping a sustainable, innovative and competitive economy. Some of the other priority areas include: Promoting socio-economic development and communication by supporting the North-South highway corridor; investing in information technology and science as well as investing in eco-friendly Yerevan. The EU will also invest in strengthening the sustainable socio-economic development and resilience of Armenia’s southern regions, Syunik in particular. Priority areas may include housing, infrastructure, tourism, agriculture, education, healthcare, renewable energy and support for local businesses.
Post-War Situation in Artsakh
Water Crisis in Artsakh
Following the war and loss of territories, Artsakh was faced with a water crisis. Almost 30% of residents in the capital Stepanakert did not have access to water for weeks. They were receiving water from the adjacent regions with the help of the State Service of Emergency Situations. The increased population of Stepanakert, lack of precipitation and extreme weather conditions in general were noted as the primary reasons for the lack of water. Prior to the war the capital Stepanakert had approximately 60,000 residents, but in the months following the war that number reached over 75,000.
In August, Arayik Harutyunyan, Artsakh President, announced the start of construction of the Patara Reservoir and noted that the construction of the reservoir will ensure the uninterrupted operation of the water supply system of the capital, as well as solve the issue of drinking and irrigation water in a number of communities of Askeran region.
Russian an Official Language in Artsakh
Three members representing three different factions of Artsakh’s National Assembly tabled a bill in February proposing to make changes in the law on language, which would make Russian an official language in Artsakh. Armenian would still retain the status of the state language. The proponents of the draft bill said that most Artsakh Armenians already speak Russian and that this will also allow for easier communication and greater cooperation with Russian peacekeepers, who will be in Artsakh for at least five years. The bill encourages the printing of Russian textbooks, Russian publications as well as Armenian and Russian language press. It will also allow state operations to be conducted in Russian.
A month later, on March 25, Artsakh’s National Assembly passed a bill (27 in favor and two abstentions) making Russian as an official language in Artsakh. Armenian will retain the status of the state language.
Ongoing Situation of COVID-19
On February 18, Armenia’s Minister of Health Anahit Avanesyan announced that a professional commission in Armenia had approved the use of the Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Sputnik V vaccines and thus Armenia embarked on the vaccination process.
During the first stage, residents and employees of old-age homes, medical workers, employees of social care centers, people above 65, the chronically ill aged between 16 to 64 were eligible for vaccination.
The Russian Sputnik V was the first batch of vaccines bought by Armenia. At the end of March, Armenia also received its first batch of 24,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine through the COVAX program. At that stage, the voluntary vaccination program was intended for at-risk groups (health workers, 65+ year-olds, chronically ill people aged 16-65, etc.)
Following PM Nikol Pashinyan’s visit to Moscow, Armenia received its first batch of 15,000 doses of Sputnik V vaccine on April 7 (the government paid $19 for two doses that are needed per vaccination).
On April 27, Armenia also received 100,000 doses of the new Corona-Vac vaccine (for 50,000 people), which was developed by a private Chinese company Sinovac. In September, Armenia received its first batch of 50,000 doses of Moderna vaccine donated by the Lithuanian government. The latest vaccine to become available in the country is Pfizer; the Armenian government bought 200,000 doses of the vaccine at the end of December.
On May 6, the government passed a decision that all those traveling to Armenia who have a certificate of vaccination (both doses) will no longer be required to take a PCR test when entering the country. Children up to 11 months of age are not required to get a Covid-19 vaccine or take a PCR test. All those who do not present the required paperwork proving they have done the PCR test and refuse to get tested and exhibit certain symptoms will be hospitalized. Those without any symptoms who refuse to be tested and do not have a vaccination certificate will be placed in quarantine.
Vaccine rollout started to speed up at the beginning of May, with approximately 8,600 people getting vaccinated across the country. PM Pashinyan and several other members of the government were also vaccinated. And the first two mobile vaccination stations started operating on Northern Avenue in downtown Yerevan and Dalma Garden Mall. The Health Minister announced that foreign nationals above the age of 18 were also eligible to get vaccines in Armenia free of charge. This led to thousands of Iranian nationals traveling to Armenia to get vaccinated. Lines were formed near all mobile vaccination stations. In an attempt to address the issue the government decided that starting from July 15, foreign nationals could only get vaccinated free of charge with the AstraZeneca vaccine at mobile vaccination sites and after they had been in Armenia for at least 10 days.
The new academic year began with in-person teaching in September, with everyone required to wear a face mask at all times. The schools went to an extended fall break and university classes were held online for two weeks until mid-November, when Armenia was facing its third wave of the pandemic starting at the beginning of October.
In order to boost the vaccination process, the Armenian government decided that starting on October 1, employers had to demand negative COVID-19 test results from employees if they had not been vaccinated. Later the government decided that unvaccinated employees would have to present negative COVID tests every week, instead of every two weeks as of December 1. The Health Ministry has also drafted a bill, according to which people will have to present proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test for entering cafes, restaurants, concert halls etc.
In mid-October, cases were discovered when medical workers issued vaccination cards without actually vaccinating people. In one of the cases, it was revealed that over 700 people were given vaccination certificates without being vaccinated. The staff of one of the clinics in Gyumri demanded 5,000-10,000 drams for false vaccination cards. The vaccines which were supposedly administered were in fact destroyed. Six employees of the clinic involved in the case were arrested.
As of December 26, 1,626,738 doses of vaccination were administered, out of which 934,028 (31.5% of the population) received the first dose of the vaccine and 692,082 (23.4% of the population) have been fully vaccinated.
The Dutch Parliament called on its government to recognize the Armenian Genocide in February of this year. The Federation of Armenian Organizations in the Netherlands said it considers this idea especially important, given the current situation, when Genocide Watch warned of a new genocide during the 2020 Artsakh War, and Turkey’s and Azerbaijan’s expansionist policies towards Armenia.
On April 24, in a historic move, U.S. President Joe Biden declared the systematic extermination of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turkey 106 years ago as genocide. “Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring… And we remember so that we remain ever-vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms,” he said in a highly-anticipated statement.
This was a major milestone for Armenians around the world and especially for the Armenian-American community, whose tireless efforts pushed the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate to unanimously pass genocide resolutions in 2019, and eventually the U.S. government to officially recognize the genocide that also killed countless Greeks and Assyrians.
In a letter to the U.S. President, Armenia’s PM Nikol Pashinian thanked him for the “powerful step”, saying that “the recognition of the Genocide is a matter of truth, historical justice and security to the Republic of Armenia, especially in light of the events that took place in our region last year.”
Armenian Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazyan also welcomed Biden’s statement. In a BBC interview, he said that despite Turkey’s pursuit of “hostile and aggressive policy towards Armenia since the restoration of independence back in 1991,” which included the rejection of establishing diplomatic relations, closing the border with Armenia and its recent direct involvement in the 2020 Artsakh war, Armenia hopes that the US statement “will pave the way for dialogue and eventually to the normalization of relations [with Turkey]. It will also contribute to regional peace and stability.”
Turkey was quick to respond to Biden’s statement. The Turkish Foreign Ministry noted that Biden’s recognition of the Armenian Genocide undermines relations between Washington and Ankara: “This statement by the United States, which distorts historical facts, will never be accepted by the Turkish people; it will open a deep wound that could greatly damage our mutual trust and friendship,” and called on the US President to “correct this serious mistake.”
In a letter addressed to Biden, Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan Turkish, said, “If you say ‘genocide’, then you should look in the mirror and assess yourself. There is no need to mention what happened to the Native Americans.” Then again, Erdogan expressed hope that the NATO Summit meeting with Biden scheduled for June will open a new page in relations between the two countries.
On April 28, the Turkish parliament passed a resolution condemning Biden’s move, which according to Turkish deputies, will inevitably have a negative impact on Turkish-American relations. “The US President has no legal or moral right to judge historical issues, his statement has no legal force,” the resolution reads.
This resolution was passed after Garo Paylan, a member of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party of Turkey and an Armenian MP, submitted a bill to the Turkish parliament to recognize the Armenian Genocide, remove the names of those responsible for the genocide from public places, and amend the Turkish citizenship law. “The Armenian Genocide happened on these lands, and justice for the Armenian Genocide can only be achieved on these lands, in Turkey,” Paylan said in his parliamentary address.
The Parliament of Latvia passed a resolution condemning and recognizing the Armenian Genocide committed by the Ottoman Empire during the World War I. The declaration which was passed with 58 of 100 lawmakers voting for the bill, calls on the international community “to assess these historic events, to look to the future we want to build, without violence, intolerance, a future where human rights are respected, where everyone can be free, safe and secure.” The declaration also notes that the country sees it as its duty to recognize and remember these crimes in order to prevent their recurrence. The Turkish Foreign Ministry was quick to react and condemned the decision as a “null and void attempt to rewrite history for political motives.”
On November 9, the House of Commons of the British parliament unanimously adopted a bill on the recognition of the Armenian Genocide in the first reading of the document. The second reading will take place in March 2022, and if adopted will then be sent to the House of Lords. If the House of Lords also approves the bill it will enter into force.
On November 9, opposition factions of the Israeli Knesset also presented a bill on recognizing the Armenian Genocide and marking April 24 as an annual memorial day. This is not the first time that a bill on recognizing the Armenian Genocide is being presented in the Knesset.