After the fighting, uncertainty reigns in Armenia’s borderlands

The answers to these questions are likely to be determined, at least in part, by Russia, the main broker of the peace deal. “We understand that the priority for Russia is to open roads and railroads to allow rapid good transportation to open up the region,” said Papazian.

More immediately, however, development will require good relations and closer cooperation between Armenia and Azerbaijan. “Without this, the expected effect of opening up – and this is for all the actors concerned – will not take place,” said Papazian.

Armenia’s deputy prime minister declined to comment on specific plans for upcoming meetings with Azerbaijani and Russian representatives. “The goal is to find the best and most efficient formula for cooperation that will eventually contribute to increasing exports and promoting investment, and reducing the prices of imports,” Mher Grigoryan said. “At this stage, we are considering and evaluating all possible options.”

Gerard Libaridian, an academic and former diplomat, told openDemocracy that transport routes are seen by Russia, Turkey and Azerbaijan as the most important issue, which explains their prominence in the November agreement. Issues such as the future status of Karabakh and the fate of Armenian prisoners of war have so far been relegated to second place in the negotiations.

More important for Armenia, said Libaridian, a former adviser to the country’s first president Levon Ter-Petrosian, was the question of “what to do about the defeat and Armenia’s decreased level of sovereignty?” For Armenia, any potential economic opportunities should be seen in the “political-strategic context within which these have become possible,” he said.

A crisis roadmap developed by Armenian civil society representatives in December focused on the aftermath of war in Armenia, and suggests that the Nakhichevan-Azerbaijan highway should be negotiated over “in the last place”. Libaridian said that the current situation can best be characterised as the absence of war and a “peace process” that is more imposed than negotiated.

“Has the revolution reached Syunik?”

In Syunik, anxiety over what comes next is tempered by a sense of self-sufficiency, in relation to Armenia’s urban centres. Some residents joked to us that they were still waiting for the 2018 revolution – led by the now prime minister Nikol Pashinyan – to reach the region. (In 2018, for example, voters in the regional capital Kapan elected an independent mayor instead of a candidate backed by Pashinyan.)

Several people we met expressed concern that the interests of people in Syunik – which are particular, due to their proximity to several borders – were being overlooked by Armenia’s leaders, and that some form of cohabitation with Azerbaijan was necessary. “You have to stop panicking and be patient to understand someone who lives near the borders,” said Sarkissian, the cafe owner in Meghri.

Hayrapetyan, the hotel manager, was more forthright. “War is a problem of elite politics,” he said. “We care about our children just as the Azeris care about theirs. I was a construction engineer and I worked with Azeris. The people of Yerevan do business abroad with the Azeris in Russia [but] we have to live with our neighbours, we have to build peace. We have already had 30 years of tension. We can’t go on like this for another 30 years.”

Henrik, our driver, put it even more bluntly. “We receive less aid than Karabakh.” Two of his brothers fought at Jabrayil, a part of Karabakh occupied by Armenians until a particularly fierce battle in October.

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