Armenia’s North-South Artery Cut for Two Days After Border Incident
Several sections of the winding road across Armenia’s Syunik Province cut across short stretches of Azerbaijani territory. Image: KAR ARM/Shutterstock
Amid the sorry ‘business as usual’ reports of Armenia-Azerbaijan cross-frontier salvos, a few of Wednesday’s Azerbaijani newswires reported that at 15:45 on August 25, border guard Ruslan Shiraliyev was non-fatally stabbed by two Armenian soldiers using their bayonets. The incident was apparently on the sensitive Goris-Kapan highway at a point southwest of the ruins of Ashaghi Jiblikli. Though reports didn’t divulge the exact location of the incident, it was very possibly 39.348240, 46.446475 where a single hairpin bend crosses into Azerbaijani territory for just 40m.
Google Maps show where a single bend in the Goris-Kapan highway crosses into Azerbaijani territory. This is the probable location for the August 25 stabbing that Azerbaijani sources have accused of starting the crisis.
Alternatively, it might have been a longer section further south. Either way, as we have explained in some detail in previous articles, these anomalies are due to the fact that the road was built during the Soviet era, crossing to and fro across the Azerbaijan-Armenia border, which, back then, was an almost meaningless internal frontier within the USSR. Now, however, it’s the front line between two belligerent neighbours where straying a few metres in the wrong direction can have serious consequences.
Following the stabbing, Azerbaijan responded by closing its parts of the road while seeking answers to who committed the attack.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan denied that the country’s servicemen were involved with the incident, and for a while, there was a stalemate with only Russian peacekeepers allowed to use a 21km stretch of the critical Goris-Kapan road. This left the Armenian village of Shurnukh essentially cut off, though supplied with essentials through Russian assistance. Meanwhile, all commercial traffic on the important Goris-Kapan-Megri route came to a standstill, including trucks that bring supplies from Iran and copper ore from the mine at Karajan. The fact that shutting very short Azerbaijani stretches of the road can have such a significant effect is due to the very tough terrain and lack of driveable workarounds.
Meghri: trucks bringing supplies from Iran cross the border into Armenia 8km from here and use the road via Goris to reach the rest of the country. Image: Kirill Skorobogatko/Shutterstock
While Iran noted its concern and Russia helped mediate a solution, some commentators suggested that the standoff was, in fact, a bigger issue than that of the original stabbing: that Azerbaijan was playing hardball in trying to push Armenia to accept the post-war status quo and notably to agree to the much-discussed Nakhchivan transit corridor which Yerevan is reticent to allow.
Late Friday (August 27), sources in Kapan reported that the road had been reopened less than two days after the start of the problem. However, the incident shows the potential power wielded by Azerbaijan over Armenia’s key north-south artery. It also highlights the importance to Armenia of building an alternative highway. In fact, the upgrading of an old, unpaved Tatev-Aghvani-Kapan link road has been underway since before the Second Karabakh War, but progress has sped up dramatically in recent months specifically to ensure against future jams of this type. Longer-term, Armenia is also planning a more wholesale upgrading of the route as part of the North-South Corridor programme.
 The wreckage of the long-abandoned village is centred on 39.358204N, 46.463358E