Karabakh: Communication security is impossible without the liberated lands

Stepanakert-Goris serpentine highway
During the recent session of the Karabakh government, NKR Prime Minister Ara Harutyunyan stated that the repair of Drmbon-Qarvachar-Vardenis highway is planned in perspective. Recently 44-kilometer section of the highway has been washed out by torrents and is currently almost impassable. The highway runs through the Qarvachar region, not far from Dadivank, 9th century church complex.

There are many talks about diversifications of highways in Karabakh. Especially in conditions of blockade with Azerbaijan, cars are the only transportation means. Railway and air communication was cut in 1990 and 1992 respectively. At present NKR has a closed 8-meter border with Iran, mined military borderline with Azerbaijan and an open visa-less border with Armenia.

Drmbon-Qarvachar-Vardenis highway is an alternative road connecting Karabakh to Armenia. The only road Karabakh residents currently use to get to Armenia and into the rest of the world from there is a 100-kilometer Goris-Stepanakert highway. The serpentine road going through mountain passes was repaired in 1996 by financial support of Hayastan All-Armenia Fund. During winter Goris-Sisian part of the highway becomes impassable and rows of cars pile up on the road. And then Karabakh gets cut off.

However, despite all talks, Drmbon-Vardenis highway is not worked on, one can pass some parts of it only by four-wheel drive. A few years ago, when major copper-gold mining started in Drmbon (Martakert region), Karabakh government was considering the possibility of repairing the highway as ore from mines are taken to Alaverdi (Armenia) for final processing. The then Prime Minister of Karabakh Anushavan Danielyan even talked about the possible creation of railroad communication, especially that the mining company – Base Metals- agreed to partly cover the expenses.

Nonetheless, until now, trucks with copper and gold ore have to go to Alaverdi by a roundabout road- through Goris and Selim pass. It is justified by the fact that the road through Stepanakert from Drmbon to Goris and further is asphalted.

Stepanakert-Drmbon highway is being repaired by Hayastan All-Armenia Fund means as well, within the framework of North-South project. The project was launched in 2000 and includes a repair of 169-kilometer road which- passing through Stepanakert- links all the regions together. There wasn’t enough money to complete the project, however recently the NKR government and the Fund management reached an agreement about joint funding. The repair is close to its finish.

After completion of the North-South project the issue of transport communication inside Karabakh will be solved to some extent. This project too has caused some misunderstanding in Karabakh. The thing is that according to the project a road by-passing Aghdam connects Martakert, Martuni, Askeran and Hadrut regions with each other. The road passes through a rugged country and periodically freezes in winter. Meanwhile, yet since Soviet times, there is a quite even and convenient road connecting both Stepanakert to Martakert and Martuni to Hadrut. The thing is that the road runs through Aghdam where Azeries had lived till 1993 and which is considered to be a part of “liberated lands”. Despite the road through Aghdam being shorter and better, Karabakh authorities preferred to invest in the North-South project passing around Aghdam. This has caused negative reactions; some local mass media pointed out that the authorities are demonstrating readiness to “return [concede] the liberated lands”. Especially that RA President Serzh Sargsyan confirmed that he does “not consider Aghdam a part of our motherland”.

One glance on the map is enough to realize that Karabakh is in strong need of diversified communication. That added to the fact that it is not possible to ensure communication security without the regions, which were not a part of the Autonomous Region of Nagorno Karabakh (ARNK). During the Soviet times ARNK was connected both to Armenia and Azerbaijan, through which communication with the rest of the world was ensured. Now, in the current condition of blockade with Azerbaijan, Karabakh’s only way out into the world lies through Armenia. And Goris-Stepanakert highway is not enough to provide full connection.

“My relatives live in Vardenis. Recently we decided to go on a holiday together to Qarvachar’s hot waters. Before we would get to Qarvachar, our relatives reached it much earlier having crossed only 30 kilometers. It is a good road, it just needs to be repaired a little bit,” said military serviceman Arsen Arzumanyan.

The issue of lands around the former ARNK, which was artificially deprived of a border with Armenia during the Soviet times, is one of the conditions put forward by mediators in the Karabakh conflict settlement. In particular, in the so-called “Madrid principles” “return of lands” was fixed as one of the conditions.
But it is enough to take a look at the map to see that Karabakh within the limits of former ARNK cannot be regarded as a separate unit and cannot exist without Armenia.

It is obvious that Karabakh’s current borders, including ARNK and a number of lands ensuring connection with Armenia, are the most optimal solution to security issues - among them communication security, which would be impossible if limited to former ARNK borders.