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Armenian Troop Redeployment Sparks Protests


Armenia -- Protesters block a road in Syunik province, December 17, 2020

Hundreds of residents of Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province bordering districts recaptured by Azerbaijan during the war in Nagorno-Karabakh blocked a highway on Thursday to protest against Armenian troop redeployments resulting from the Russian-brokered ceasefire.

The Azerbaijani army mostly regained control of the Zangelan and Kubatli districts southwest of Karabakh and approached Syunik during the six-week war stopped on November 10. Some internationally recognized parts of the two districts close to Syunik’s capital Kapan and other communities have remained under Armenian control until now.

Armenian army units began pulling back from those areas and redeploying much closer to the Syunik settlements on Thursday, sparking angry protests by local residents concerned about their security.

Hundreds of them closed a section of the main Syunik road to demand a halt to the troop withdrawal. The protesters said that Azerbaijani forces will now be stationed dangerously close to their communities.

“Our security won’t be guaranteed,” one of them told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “How can we be sure that their snipers won’t shoot at us from there?”

Kapan’s Mayor Gevorg Parsian also voiced serious concerns. Aysor.am quoted Parsian as saying that the “unfortunate order” issued to Armenian troops will leave Kapan without a vital “security zone.”

The troop redeployments also raised questions about the safety of the highway connecting Kapan to another provincial town, Goris. Some of its sections straddle the Soviet-era Armenian-Azerbaijani border.

Syunik Governor Melikset Poghosian talked to the protesters and tried to allay their fears. He said that the security risks resulting from ongoing delimitations of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border can be minimized.

The protests erupted as Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian toured Syunik to discuss practical modalities of the troop redeployment with local military commander and provincial authorities.

In a statement on Harutiunian’s visit, the Armenian Defense Ministry announced that more Russian border guards will be deployed at “some sections of the Syunik border.” It gave no other details.

Harutiunian visited Moscow and held talks with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu at the weekend.

In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian insisted on Wednesday that Armenia will not lose any inch of its internationally recognized territory as a result of the border delimitations. “The borders are being demarcated on the basis of Soviet-era maps,” he said.

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