A senior official claimed on Thursday that Russian border guards did not block construction work on Armenia’s border with Iran which was commissioned by an Armenian government agency earlier this year.
The State Committee on Water Resources contracted an Armenian construction company in April to reinforce a 40-meter section of the northern bank of the Arax river separating the two countries. Ahead of its latest weekly session in Yerevan, Prime Minister Karen Karapetian’s cabinet publicized a draft decision allowing the committee to annul the contract.
An explanatory note posted on the government website said that the construction firm has failed to reach an “agreement” with Russian border guards deployed in the area. It said the Russians’ consent to any construction on the border is necessary for security reasons.
Opposition figures and media commentators were quick to criticize the statement, saying that the border guards cannot challenge Armenia’s sovereignty.
The head of the State Committee on Water Resources, Arsen Harutiunian, insisted, however, that there was a “typo” in the government statement and that in fact it was the Iranian side that prevented the planned works.
“The Russian side has nothing to do with that,” he said after Thursday’s cabinet meeting. “We are talking about the Iranian side … We have no problems with the Russian side.”
Harutiunian said that Iranian authorities also have a say on such matters because the planned measure to guard against floods could change the river bed and affect Iran as well. “We are now negotiating with the Iranian side to sort out the issue,” he told reporters.
Despite these assurances, a parliament deputy from the opposition Yelk alliance, Gevorg Gorgisian, raised the matter on the parliament floor later in the day. “I consider this a very serious issue and think that the government must give explanations so that we can understand why we can’t repair that section of the extremely important border and what we should do to stop being dependent on the whims of that Russian security unit,” he said.
Russian border guards are deployed along Armenia’s frontiers with Turkey and Iran in line with Russian-Armenian agreements signed in the early 1990s. Armenian conscripts make up a considerable part of their personnel.