Pashinian admitted on Thursday Moscow drafted earlier this week an agreement on the creation of an Armenian-Azerbaijani intergovernmental commission tasked with delimiting and demarcating the border. But he flatly denied the existence of any secret protocols to the agreement that would commit Yerevan to making major territorial concessions to Baku.
Opposition leaders and other critics of the Armenian government remained unconvinced by these assurances, renewing their demands for Pashinian’s immediate resignation.
Ruben Rubinian, the chairman of the Armenian parliament committee on foreign relations, also dismissed allegations about secret border deals with Baku.
“I want to make it clear to you that there is no agreement, including an oral one, on the return or exchange of villages or surrender of territory,” he told reporters. “Such an issue has not been a subject of discussions.”
Rubinian also stressed that Yerevan will continue to make the signing of the Russian-drafted agreement conditional on the withdrawal of Azerbaijani forces from Armenian border areas occupied by them last week.
Russia proposed the creation of the commission on the borer delimitation and demarcation as part of its efforts to end a continuing Armenian-Azerbaijani military standoff caused by the Azerbaijani troop movements at several sections of the frontier.
In remarks that seemed primarily addressed to Armenian factions, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Friday urged all stakeholders to ignore unconfirmed reports about the border crisis and possible solutions to it.
“This issue is so sensitive and efforts to resolve this situation are so serious that one must react to such frivolous reports in a very restrained manner and to follow only official sources,” Peskov said, according to Russian news agencies.
Yerevan maintains that Azerbaijani forces advanced several kilometres into Armenia’s Syunik and Gegharkunik provinces on May 12-13. The Armenian military sent reinforcements there in a bid to stop and reverse those advances. No gunfights or skirmishes between the two sides have been reported so far.
The Azerbaijani side has denied crossing into Armenian territory, saying that its troops simply took up new positions on the Azerbaijani side of the border.
Pashinian said on Thursday that between 500 and 600 Azerbaijani soldiers remain stationed within Armenia’s internationally recognized borders. The Armenian Defense Ministry reported the following day that the situation there remains largely unchanged but “stable.”
The epicenter of the standoff is a mountainous area about 10 kilometers north of the Syunik town of Goris. According to Syunik Governor Melikset Poghosian, three dozen Azerbaijani soldiers advanced on Thursday towards the Armenian village of Khoznavar located just east of that area.
Khoznavar residents confirmed the information. They said children and elderly persons living in the village were evacuated for security reasons.
Local shepherds said they were the first to notice the Azerbaijani servicemen while grazing cattle on nearby hills.
“We approached them, thinking that they are our guys,” one of them told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “We then saw that they are not wearing [Armenian] uniforms and not saying anything. One them signaled me to go away.”
The locals said that Khoznavar, which has about 400 inhabitants and is heavily dependent on animal husbandry, now risks losing most of its pastures.
Armenia’s Investigative Committee said on Friday that the Azerbaijani troops were forced to retreat from those pastures late on Thursday after brawling with Armenian soldiers guarding Khoznavar. Eleven Armenians were injured in that clash, the law-enforcement agency said, adding that it occurred on the Armenian side of the local border section.
Azerbaijani authorities did not report violent incidents or comment on troop movements in that area as of Friday evening.