A village in Armenia has decided to rename its main street bearing the name of Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev, in protest against the Central Asian state’s pro-Azerbaijani position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The local council of the village of Harich, located in the northwestern Shirak province, is due to formally choose a new name for the street later this week. Local residents led by their mayor, Roland Nazaretian, have already removed the street name signs that were placed a decade ago.
On Monday, they also dismantled “Kazakhstan’s corner” at the village library, a collection of Nazarbayev’s portraits and books about Kazakhstan. Nazaretian said they will be sent back to the Kazakh Embassy in Yerevan. “Let them hang these pictures at their embassy,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The angry moves were prompted by Kazakhstan’s reaction to the April 2 outbreak of heavy fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which left more than 80 Armenian soldiers and civilians dead. In a clear show of support for Azerbaijan, the Kazakh government forced the cancellation of a Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) summit that had been scheduled to take place in Yerevan on April 8.
The Armenian government condemned Astana’s stance, with President Serzh Sarkisian saying that it undermined the credibility of the Russian-led trade bloc comprising five ex-Soviet states.
Nazarbayev may have also signed up to a joint declaration adopted by fellow leaders of Muslim countries making up the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) at a summit in Istanbul last week. The OIC document branded Armenia an “aggressor” and voiced strong support for Azerbaijan’s efforts to regain control over Karabakh.
“Nazarbayev was supposed to be our friend, but he is now saying that ‘the Armenians are killing our brothers,’” said Nazaretian, the Harich mayor. “So if the Azerbaijanis are their brothers then the Armenians must be their enemies. That is why the street [named after Nazarbayev] doesn’t exist anymore.”
The street leads to Harichavank, one of Armenia’s largest and most famous medieval monasteries.
“A road leading to a temple must always be sacred,” said another villager. “Life has shown that we must not pretend to be brothers [with Kazakhs.]”
Nazarbayev, whose country has close ethnic and cultural similarities with Azerbaijan, already caused friction between Astana and Yerevan when he tried to set conditions for Armenia’s accession to the EEU in 2014. The Kazakh strongman demanded that the accession treaty with Yerevan mention Armenia’s internationally recognized borders that do not include Karabakh.
The treaty, which was signed by Nazarbayev and his Russian, Belarusian and Armenian counterparts later in 2014, contains no such special references.