The fighting, which also left at least one Azerbaijani soldier dead, broke out on Tuesday in Armenia’s Gegharkunik province bordering the Kelbajar district west of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenian forces controlled Kelbajar until withdrawing from the mountainous district in December 2020 under the terms of a Russian-brokered ceasefire that stopped a six-week war over Karabakh.
“Up until the signing of that capitulation agreement, until our troops withdrew from Karvachar (Kelbajar) without a single gunshot we had very serious fortifications that made our armed forces much better protected,” said Gegham Manukian of the main opposition Hayastan alliance. “Unfortunately, incomplete border fortifications make Armenian soldiers defending the border a target [of Azerbaijani attacks.]”
“Videos or other information that occasionally emerge [from Armenian border posts] do not testify to a satisfactory state of affairs and systematic [fortification] efforts there … Those efforts have not been adequate, and we now witness their consequences,” Manukian told reporters.
This is why, he said, the Azerbaijani army managed to advance a few kilometers into Armenian territory in Gegharkunik and another province, Syunik, in May.
Armen Khachatrian, a senior lawmaker representing the ruling Civil Contract party, dismissed the opposition criticism. He said that the government has always promptly financed and facilitated the construction of border fortifications initiated by the Armenian military.
Khachatrian insisted that the military has increasingly fortified its new defensive lines in Gegharkunik and Syunik over the past year. He said that Tuesday’s fighting broke out when Azerbaijani forces opened fire to try to stop such work carried out outside Verin Shorzha, a border village in Gegharkunik.
Khachatrian and other pro-government parliamentarians regularly visit Armenian army positions at this and other sections of the volatile frontier. By contrast, their opposition colleagues have been repeatedly denied permission to inspect border posts and their defensive facilities.
Manukian said that he and other deputies from Hayastan, which has the second largest group in the National Assembly, have again asked the Defense Ministry to allow them to visit the border later this month. The ministry has not yet replied to the request, he said.
The military has also seriously restricted independent and pro-opposition media’s access to border areas.