Customs payments for Iranian trucks: what is happening at the Armenian-Azerbaijani border
Azerbaijan has established police and customs checkpoints on the section of the road between the Armenian cities of Goris and Kapan – this section came under the control of Azerbaijan after the second Karabakh war.
According to the official reports from Azerbaijan, customs posts appeared due to the fact that “numerous facts of entry of Iranian trucks into the part of Karabakh controlled by Russian peacekeepers have been established”.
Azerbaijani customs posts collect fees from Iranian drivers.
Armenia is concerned about both the fact of appearance of police and customs checkpoints at the Azerbaijan-controlled section of Eyvazli (near the Armenian village of Vorotan) of the Goris-Kapan highway, and the demand for fee payements from Iranian trailers.
The Armenian opposition demands urgent and effective steps from the country’s authorities, as it believes that this situation raises questions related not only to security. The oppositionists also point to the possible economic consequences for Armenia, recalling that 40% of the country’s trade turnover is carried out through Iran.
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Reports from Azerbaijan
Official note to Iran
On August 11, 2021, the Iranian Ambassador to Baku, Seyed Abbas Mousavi, was invited to the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, where he was handed a note of dissatisfaction. The document pointed to the illegal transportation of goods by Iranian trucks to the part of Karabakh, controlled by the Russian peacekeepers, according to a trilateral statement dated November 10, 2020.
“The note expresses our dissatisfaction with the constant entry of various vehicles belonging to the friendly Islamic Republic of Iran into the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan without the permission of official Baku. Our discontent, which some time ago was orally conveyed to the Iranian side, was again raised before the ambassador during the meeting”, the press service of the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said.
What happened after?
On September 11, 2021, the information portal caliber.az, which is close to the Azerbaijani authorities, came out with a material, which cited the facts of the continuation of supplies from Iran to Karabakh.
The article notes that “in the period from August 11 to September 10, 58 trucks of various purposes entered Khankendi [the Armenian side calls this city Stepanakert], in particular, with fuel and lubricants, 55 of them later left.
“Also, according to the information we received, Iranians and Armenians are resorting to various tricks. For example, when approaching the zone of temporary responsibility of the Russian peacekeepers, they put Armenian registration numbers on Iranian trucks in order to hide the exact number of Iranian trucks heading to Khankendi. It seemed to them that with the help of this trick they could outwit someone. But the Iranians missed the point that these numbers are repeated, wandering from truck to truck, and we have concrete photographic evidence”.
The Azerbaijani side stated that it controls the Lachin corridor connecting Armenia with Khankendi by installing video surveillance cameras.
Official statements of the Azerbaijani authorities
On the same day, September 11, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Azerbaijan officially announced the establishment of a checkpoint in the section of the Kapan-Goris road passing through the territory of Azerbaijan.
“The employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs fulfill their official duties with dignity on the territory of all cities and districts liberated from the occupation.
For a more efficient organization of service, police posts are being established in the appropriate places”, said the official representative of the department.
A day later, on September 12, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry sent letters to the Russian defense department and the command of the peacekeeping forces regarding the illegal passage of vehicles belonging to other countries to the territory of Azerbaijan, where the Russian peacekeepers are temporarily stationed.
“Such cases contradict the trilateral statement on Karabakh and it was recommended to prevent them. Legal entities and individuals of other countries and their vehicles cannot enter the territory of Azerbaijan without the consent of Baku, as this is a violation of the laws of the country”, the official letters of the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said.
On September 13, the State Customs Committee of Azerbaijan commented on the facts of levying road taxes and other customs duties from vehicles passing through the country:
“Motor vehicles of foreign countries subject to road tax when entering and leaving the territory of the country. Vehicles are subject to road tax, as well as a state duty for issuing a permit regulating international road transport in the territory of Azerbaijan.
Currently, the customs authorities ensure the implementation of the provisions of the legislation in this direction throughout the country”.
Reports from Armenia
On September 10, photographs appeared on social media showing that Azerbaijan had set up a police post near the village of Vorotan, Syunik region.
Only two days later, on September 12, the National Security Service of Armenia issued a statement, saying that the Azerbaijani police were stopping trucks with Iranian license plates near the village of Vorotan, checking the driver’s documents and cargo.
It was also reported that the border guards of the SNB and the FSB of Russia are working together to resolve the situation. After that, no official information was received.
Opposition MPs on September 13 raised the issue in parliament addressing the fact that Azerbaijani border guards were levying customs payments from Iranian truck drivers to allow them to continue on their way.
They offered to discuss the issue in parliament. The ruling party did not object, but the format of the discussion has not yet been decided, no dates have been set.
In a conversation with reporters, Vahe Hakobyan, a deputy from the Hayastan opposition bloc (Armenia), stated that the situation around Vorotan could have economic consequences for Armenia:
“Yes, this is the second issue after security, but no less important. As you know, over 40% of our trade flows through Iran – and it may be under threat now”.
Meanwhile, a deputy from the ruling Civil Contract party, Babken Tunyan, told reporters that he hopes for an early resolution of the situation:
“No one can deny that the inspection of Iranian trucks by Azerbaijan and the requirement to pay state duties is a serious problem. This obstacle is fraught with inconvenience, uncertainty, and risks”.
Tunyan also believes that this may result in a refusal to import goods through the territory of Armenia.
Tatul Hakobyan, a political observer and coordinator of the Ani center, said in an interview with Radio Azatutyun (Freedom) that the situation is not new. Azerbaijan regularly protested against the entry of Iranian trucks into Nagorno-Karabakh:
“This step is directed not against Iran, but against Armenia. If Iranian cars do not enter Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, first of all, we will suffer, given that we are a small market for Iran”.
According to the expert, by its actions Azerbaijan also intends to discredit the Russian peacekeeping mission in NK:
“Azerbaijan is showing its teeth, time will tell what it is capable of. […] I think that Azerbaijan will not stop there. They will set up checkpoints, check one by one. I do not exclude the possibility of someone being taken prisoner because that this person committed some actions against Azerbaijan in such and such years”.
Tatul Hakobyan believes that Azerbaijan is trying to put pressure on Armenia and intimidate it in order to achieve, at least, a corridor connecting it with Nakhichevan, its exclave:
“Of course, they want to get Syunik [the southern region of Armenia, bordering on Azerbaijan], but there are red lines that Azerbaijan needs to think a thousand times before crossing, and there are factors that do not allow Azerbaijan to think in this direction at the moment”.