Azerbaijan gained control over a 21-kilometer section of the highway last December as a result of an Armenian troop withdrawal from border areas along Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province which also border Iran.
Azerbaijani officers deployed there began stopping and taxing on September 12 Iranian trucks delivering goods to and from Armenia. Many truck drivers have refused to pay the “road tax” reportedly ranging from $150 to $350 per vehicle.
Two of them were arrested by Azerbaijani authorities last week for allegedly travelling to Nagorno-Karabakh without Baku’s permission. The Iranian Foreign Ministry called for their immediate release at the weekend.
Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi discussed the road crisis with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian at a meeting held in Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe on Friday.
The issue was also high on the agenda of Iranian Ambassador Abbas Badakhshan Zohouri’s meeting with Armen Grigorian, the secretary of Armenia’s Security Council, on Wednesday.
“Ambassador Zohouri expressed concern over problems with the use of road infrastructure connecting Iran to Armenia,” Grigorian’s office said in a statement.
It said Grigorian assured the diplomat that Armenia is “conscious of the issue’s sensitivity for its Iranian partners” and hopes for a quick solution to the crisis.
“The Iranian side, including the Embassy, is making efforts to have this issue resolved as soon as possible,” Zohouri told reporters on Monday.
He stressed at the same time that Tehran hopes the Armenian government will speed up the ongoing reconstruction of an alternative Syunik road “so that Iranian drivers can transport cargo in safe and secure conditions.”
That 70-kilometer road bypasses Armenian-Azerbaijani border areas. Deputy Prime Minister Suren Papikian indicated last week that it will not be fully refurbished before next spring. Armenian media reports suggest that many Iranian trucks are already using it.
Iran offered to help Armenia rebuild or repair its strategic highways passing through Syunik even before the latest crisis. The two governments set up this summer a joint working group tasked with looking into Iranian companies’ possible participation in multimillion-dollar transport projects planned by Yerevan.