Armenian Protesters Angry Over Karabakh Roadblock Detained Near Russian Base

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Dozens of activists of a hard-line Armenian nationalist group were detained by local police on January 8 after attempting to block entrance to a Russian military base in the northwestern Armenian town of Gyumri.

Members of the National-Democratic Pole (AZhB), an extra-parliamentary bloc composed of several fringe groups that claim to be a pro-Western political force in Armenia, allege that Russian peacekeeping forces in Nagorno-Karabakh are colluding with Azerbaijan and Turkey to keep the only road linking the region with Armenia blocked.

The Moscow-brokered 2020 cease-fire agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan put Russian peacekeepers in control of the region, including the Lachin Corridor, the only road to Armenia. The corridor has been blocked since December 12 by people claiming to be environmental protesters.

During the protest, the AZhB activists called for the Russian peacekeeping forces to be replaced with an international force and urged Armenia to quit the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russian-led defense bloc including Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

The AZhB has been claiming without proof that Russia is secretly backing the roadblock to force Yerevan and the ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh to make concessions, including supporting a Russian-controlled corridor from Azerbaijan to Turkey via Armenia as well as Armenia’s accession to the proposed union state of Russia and Belarus.

The activists marched toward the military base with banners, one of which called for “de-occupation” of Armenia from Russia as well as for “de-Sovietization” and “de-Russification” of the country.

Armenian authorities sent dozens of police officers from Yerevan to maintain peace and prevent the protesters from approaching the street where the Russian military unit is located.

Armenia, a country of just 3 million people, agreed to host several thousand Russian troops at the base in Gyumri to protect its borders following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The Gyumri base was built during the Soviet period to guard the Soviet Union’s borders with Iran and NATO-member Turkey, with whom Armenia has tense relations. The Russian troops in Gyumri are separate from the Russian peacekeeping forces in Nagorno-Karabakh.

During the protest, one of the leaders of the AZhB, which also openly condemns Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, called on Armenians around the world to start blocking roads to Russian embassies and organizations.

Police officials warned the protesters that such calls were “unlawful.” As the march proceeded, police detained several dozen activists.

As a result of the blockade, more than a thousand ethnic Armenian residents of Nagorno-Karabakh, including many children, have not been able to get home for about a month now.

The blockage is disrupting supplies of goods to Nagorno-Karabakh, causing a shortage of food and essential goods, including medicines, in the region.

Azerbaijan, which considers the region to be part of its territory, has denied that the environmental activists are interfering with the movement of humanitarian supplies.

It said that vehicles belonging to Russian peacekeeping forces and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have been able to enter and exit with medication. They have also transported seriously ill patients to Armenia.

The Russian Ministry of Defense has said it is holding talks with Azerbaijan and Armenia about the resumption of full traffic along the Lachin Corridor.

Russia currently has about 2,000 peacekeepers deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh after brokering a cease-fire between Armenia and Azerbaijan following their 44-day war over the region in September-November 2020.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh for years. Some 30,000 people were killed in a war in the early 1990s that left ethnic Armenians in control of the breakaway region and seven adjacent districts of Azerbaijan proper.

Azerbaijan regained all of the adjacent districts and seized some territory of Nagorno-Karabakh proper during the 2020 war in which close to 7,000 people were killed on both sides.

Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.