Edmon Marukian made a case for the deployment of Russian troops in Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province bordering Iran as well as Azerbaijani districts southwest of Karabakh.
Azerbaijani forces mostly recaptured two of those districts during the six-week war stopped by a Russian-brokered ceasefire on November 10. Parts of the Zangelan and Kubatli districts adjacent to Syunik remained under Armenian control until last week.
Armenian army units and local militias completed their withdrawal from those areas at the weekend amid angry protests staged by many local residents. The latter say that they can no longer feel safe because Azerbaijani forces will now be stationed dangerously close to their communities as well as a strategic highway passing through the mountainous region.
“People have fears and I will dare to say those fears must be eliminated,” Marukian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
“The only way to to allay those fears and save Syunik from depopulation and preserve the province as Armenia’s backbone now is to deploy a Russian military base there,” he said.
Russia currently has up to 5,000 troops mainly stationed along Armenia’s closed border with Turkey. Marukian argued that their Soviet-era base headquartered in Gyumri has successfully precluded Turkish “infringements” of his country’s internationally recognized territory.
The Armenian-Turkish border is also protected by Russian border guards in collaboration with their Armenian colleagues.
The Russian military and border guards have already set up several outposts in Syunik over the past two months. The Armenian Defense Ministry said late last week that the border guards will also patrol sections of the main regional highway straddling the Soviet-era Armenian-Azerbaijani border.
Marukian’s Bright Armenia Party (LHK) is one of the two opposition groups represented in the Armenian parliament. The LHK was until recently reputed to be a pro-Western party. Its U.S.-educated leader has criticized Armenia’s membership in Russian-led military and trade blocs in the past.
Marukian visited Moscow last week on what his aides described as a private trip. He denied on Wednesday any connection between the trip and his calls for stronger Russian military presence in Armenia.