For more than thirty years, Armenia and Azerbaijan were locked in a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. However, in September 2023, Baku swiftly regained full control of the mountainous enclave, prompting the capitulation of the breakaway Republic of Artsakh and the exodus of its Armenian population to neighboring Armenia.

With the resolution of this dispute, the delineation of the state border and the uncertain fate of disputed settlements have emerged as the primary hurdles in the path toward restoring relations between Yerevan and Baku.

The border between Armenia and Azerbaijan has remained undefined due to ongoing conflict since the waning years of the Soviet Union. Back then, demarcation did not represent a contentious issue between the two sides as it served as an internal administrative division. Soviet cartographers used to draw borders based on ethnic demographics, which often led to the emergence of enclaves and exclaves in areas with mixed Armenian and Azeri populations. Nevertheless, with the escalation of tensions between the two ethnic groups into a full-fledged war, fighting broke out not only in Nagorno-Karabakh but also in the less protected and non-adjacent regions of both countries.

Until recently, Armenia maintained authority over eight territories comprising four border villages (Baghanis Ayrim, Kheyrimli, Gizilhajili, and Ashagi Askipara) and four exclaves (Karki, Sofulu, Barkhudarli, and Yukhari Askipara). These areas, largely depopulated or abandoned, were originally part of the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic but came under Armenian control during the First Karabakh War (1988-1994). At the same time, Azerbaijan has retained control of Artsvashen, an exclave originally belonging to the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic and captured by Azerbaijani forces.

The four border villages and three exclaves, situated de jure in the Gazakh district in northwestern Azerbaijan and (now formerly) de facto in Armenia’s northeastern Tavush province, are strategically important for Yerevan. In fact, they are positioned along or near the M16/H53 highway, which is one of the two main routes linking the Armenian capital to Georgia. Furthermore, these settlements are in proximity to pipelines that transport Russian natural gas into Armenia.

Pashinyan with Limited Choices

Discussions about the handover of the 4 villages started in early March 2024, after that the state commissions of Azerbaijan and Armenia convened for the seventh time to discuss the delimitation of their mutual borders. Within this framework, Azerbaijan demanded Armenia’s immediate withdrawal from the settlements as a precondition to start the demarcation process.

On March 12, Pashinyan declared that he was ready to relinquish the villages as a means of preventing Azerbaijan from finding a pretext for military actions. A week later, he cautioned residents of the affected areas that, if the settlements had not returned to Baku, a full-blown war could have broken out by the end of the week.

Some observers use the term 'coercive diplomacy' to define Baku's approach to negotiations with Yerevan following the 44-day war that the two countries fought in 2020. Azerbaijan has shown more than once that it has no problem resorting to military pressure if its core demands are not met In May 2021, November 2021, and September 2022, the Azerbaijani military made multiple advances into Armenian territory. According to the Armenian government, 31 villages covering approximately 200 square kilometers within Armenia proper territory are currently under the control of its neighbor. In a January interview, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev stated that his army will not retreat any time soon from the positions established in May 2021 or September 2022.

Additionally, following the conclusion of the 44-day war in 2020, Baku has been advocating for the establishment of a transportation corridor linking the Azerbaijani mainland with its exclave, the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, and traversing through Armenia's Syunik region. Within Armenia, this project is known as the "Meghri" or "Syunik" corridor, named after a city in the southern region. However, the Azerbaijani government employs the term "Zangezur Corridor," in line with nationalist narratives that assert this territory as historically Azerbaijani lands.

Yerevan supports the idea of enhancing regional connectivity and modernizing the current cross-border transportation infrastructure inherited from the Soviet era. Among these projects are the two railway connections that linked mainland Azerbaijan to Nakhichevan, which became inactive with the beginning of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. At the same time, Armenia rejects the "corridor" notion. In fact, there are concerns in the country that the implementation of an extraterritorial corridor through its southern regions could jeopardize its territorial integrity.

Azerbaijani officials' continued assertions regarding possible territorial claims only add credence to these concerns. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has numerous times used the irredentist term "Western Azerbaijan" in reference to Armenia. In December 2022, Aliyev announced the establishment of a "Western Azerbaijani community" and expressed the belief that "they should be able to return to their ancestral lands."

Therefore, Baku's current stance implies that its recent actions could be part of a broader strategy to gain additional benefits before agreeing to seal a peace deal. With Armenia having relinquished the four border villages, the issue of the four exclaves left under Yerevan’s control remains unsettled, potentially prompting Baku to pursue its claim over them by military force.

A New Wave of Protests in Armenia

On April 19, the Armenian Foreign Ministry declared that the two governmental commissions had officially agreed to the handover of the four villages to Azerbaijan. The first border markers were spotted along the affected areas. Azerbaijani officials hailed the event as a "long-awaited historic moment," while Pashinyan defined it as essential to Armenia's security. However, the deal has stirred unease in Armenian society.

Residents of several communities in Tavush began protests late on the same day and, since then, have repeatedly blocked traffic at sections of the road linking the villages of Kirants and Baghanis to the towns of Ijevan and Noyemberian. People living in the areas affected by the demarcation process fear that the handover of the border villages will not only deprive them of their land but also make the whole region far more vulnerable to Azerbaijani attacks.

The opposition parliamentary groups in the National Assembly of Armenia, including the "Armenia Alliance" led by former President of Armenia and de facto Nagorno-Karabakh republic, Robert Kocharyan, and "I Have Honor" led by former President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan, have echoed similar assertions. Even before the Armenian and Azerbaijani governments reached an official agreement, the opposition claimed that unilateral concessions to Baku without a comprehensive agreement will heighten security threats along its route to Georgia and do not guarantee that Baku will refrain from further aggressive actions in the future. The president of the National Assembly of Armenia, Alen Simonyan, responded to such critics by declaring that the country "is not making concessions, but it is adjusting its borders according to legally binding maps."

Galstanyan’s emergence reignites questions about Church and government relations

On May 4th, Archbishop Archbishop Galstanyan, the prelate of the Tavush diocese, started a march called "Tavush for the Homeland" from Kirants to Yerevan, accompanied by a small group of supporters. As the procession continued, it started attracting more participants. By May 9th, upon reaching the capital, several thousand people had gathered at Republic Square to protest the handover of the four villages. Some estimates indicate that the crowd numbered around 31,700 individuals.

Speaking at the rally, Galstanyan addressed the crowd by saying: "I am here today fighting because we live in a time of stolen joy and infamy, when a cherished part of our homeland, our beloved Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), is lost, when all the borders of our homeland are in danger, and when we are surrounded by an atmosphere of lies and hatred... We need a new government, a government of the people, a compassionate, empathetic government, a government of reconciliation." The Tavush bishop called on Pashinyan to resign within an hour, but this demand went unmet.

Galstanyan also met with representatives from the opposition parliamentary groups, who agreed to reiterate their call for a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister through parliamentary procedures. However, the opposition bloc lacks the necessary 36 deputies to proceed, as it only commands 35 out of the 107 seats in the National Assembly. Therefore, at present, it seems unlikely for the opposition to impeach Pashinyan, whose Civil Contract party still holds a majority in the Parliament.

The emergence of Galstanyan’s figure has sparked discussions about the relationship between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Government. While Karekin II, the highest authority in the Armenian Apostolic Church, has refrained from stating his stance on the recent protests, Pashinyan commented in a televised interview that "It is evident that the primary figure behind the (protests) is the Catholicos of All Armenians, and the one benefiting is Robert Kocharyan."

Is Russia involved?

The government and certain analysts claim Kocharyan represents Russia’s fifth column within the nation, insinuating that Moscow could be implicated in the recent protests. Relations between Armenia and the Kremlin have been strained due to Russian inaction during Azerbaijani military incursions on Armenian soil in 2021 and 2022, despite the security obligations that Moscow has towards Yerevan. Tensions further increased when the Russian peacekeepers did not prevent Azerbaijan's offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh in 2023. As a result, Armenia started seeking for closer ties with the EU and the US. Recently, Foreign Minister Mirzoyan has recently declared: "by undermining the Alma-Ata Declaration [The protocol confirming the dissolution of the Soviet Union and establishing the Commonwealth of Independent States, signed by the representatives from 11 Soviet republics on December 21, 1991] and the peace process that it supports, these individuals continue to erode Armenia's sovereignty, statehood, and territorial integrity. In the best interpretation, they do this unwittingly, failing to understand the consequences; in the worst interpretation, under direct orders from another country." Despite these statements, there is no definitive evidence linking Moscow to the "Tavush for the Homeland" movement.

Armenia faces an uncertain future

Recent events have vividly showcased the vulnerability of Pashinyan's position, both in regional affairs and within Armenia itself. His choices regarding the demarcation process largely stem from Azerbaijan's pressure rather than pragmatism, reflecting his own limited bargaining power. Despite the potential success of the ongoing wave of protests being unlikely, the Armenian government finds itself navigating a precarious landscape. The unrest within the country presents a turbulent picture that raises questions about of the role of the Church, which plays a fundamental role in defining Armenian national identity, and the potential interference of Russia. Regardless of its direct involvement in supporting the opposition, Moscow has an interest in activities aimed at undermining the stability of Pashinyan. As the Armenian government grapples with its weakened stance within the demarcation process and at home, a sense of unease persists, hinting at a tumultuous road ahead for the country and the South Caucasus region.


This article was written in the framework of The Eastern Frontier Initiative (TEFI) project. TEFI is a collaboration of independent publishers from Central and Eastern Europe, to foster common thinking and cooperation on European security issues in the region. The project aims to promote knowledge sharing in the European press and contribute to a more resilient European democracy.

Members of the consortium are 444 (Hungary), Gazeta Wyborcza (Poland), SME (Slovakia), PressOne (Romania), and Bellingcat (The Netherlands).

The TEFI project is co-financed by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Neither the European Union nor EACEA can be held responsible for them.