Iran Bans Lorries from Entering Karabakh via Armenia

Orkhan Jalilov Feature 22 October 2021
Iran Bans Lorries from Entering Karabakh via Armenia

The Iranian transportation ministry has warned logistics companies against any illegal entry of their trucks into the Azerbaijani territories liberated in a war with Armenia last year.

“Any other form of entry into those territories from neighboring Armenia would be regarded as trespassing by Azerbaijan and could entail legal risks,” Mohammad Javad Hedayati, head of Iran’s Road Maintenance and Transportation Organisation (IRMTO), said in a letter to the trade unions of international transport companies on October 20, according to the Iranian Mehr news agency

In the letter, the IRMTO referred to a directive issued by Iran’s Foreign Ministry on October 1 which says any entry into Azerbaijan’s territory through the crossings that are not regarded as the official border of that country is a violation of Azerbaijan territorial integrity.

It warned that Iranian transit trucks traveling from Iran through Armenia should enter liberated territories in the Karabakh region, including the city of Lachin, only through the official border checks established on the border by Azerbaijan.

The IRMTO also warned Iranian drivers against signing any trade agreements with residents of Karabakh, and the issuance of shipping documents to transport companies carrying goods to this region.

The Goris-Kapan road is the main land route between Iran and Armenia. The 21-km section of the road had been handed over to Azerbaijan, following the autumn 2020 Second Karabakh War. Azerbaijan and Armenia are yet to demarcate their borders.

On September 12, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry issued a statement saying that it had sent letters to the Russian Defense Ministry and the command of the peacekeeping force "regarding the illegal entry of vehicles belonging to third countries into Azerbaijani territory where the Russian peacekeepers are temporarily deployed".

The ministry said that these cases were in violation of the Moscow-brokered Karabakh armistice deal that ended the 44-day war between Azerbaijan and Armenia in November 2020.

In early September, Azerbaijan began to collect fees from Iranian cargo lorries for using an Azerbaijani-controlled section of the road between the Armenian towns of Kapan and Goris in Armenia's Syunik region. According to Azerbaijan's State Customs Committee, foreign vehicles entering or leaving the country must pay a road use tax and an international transport fee.

On September 15, the Azerbaijani border guards detained two Iranian drivers for "illegally crossing" into Azerbaijan from Armenia. After this, Armenia's State Security Service temporarily closed the Goris-Kapan road in Syunik Region for Iranian lorries. 

The Azerbaijani State Customs Committee announced on October 21 that the two lorry drivers were handed over to Iran "based on the principles of humanism, mutual respect and good-neighborly relations and showing goodwill”.

The committee added that the two men had been detained for smuggling goods through Azerbaijani customs checkpoints by forging papers and for illegally crossing the Azerbaijani state border.

Azerbaijan closed two sections of the road following a reported attack on an Azerbaijani border guard in the area on August 25, but the road reopened after two days of negotiations with Russian mediation.

The alternative Sisian-Meghri road which is part of Armenia's North-South highway project is still under construction. It will connect Agarak near the border with Iran with Kapan, Yerevan, Gyumri, and Bavra near the Georgian border.

In early October, the Iranian high-ranking delegation from the Road and Urban Development Ministry announced in Yerevan that Tehran is ready to share in the construction of a road that would allow freight to avoid the Azerbaijani territory.

The proposed new road is to avoid Azeri territory altogether to join the two cities and open up Iranian access to Europe through Russia as well. Only 15 kilometers of the road are left to completion, but Tehran is willing to participate in the project so as to speed up the finalization of the route.

Armenia also expects Russian companies to take part in the tender for the construction of the strategic North-South highway leading to Iran. Earlier, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stated that the government intends to spend about $1 billion on the construction of the North-South road.

In addition, the director of the Trade Promotion Organisation of Iran, Alireza Peymanpak said on October 15 that Iran has launched six sea lanes through which it will no longer need transit routes via Azerbaijan.

Iran has finalized an agreement with the Caspian littoral states which allows exporting goods to Eurasian countries through sea lanes. Iranian ships would dock in Russian Astrakhan and Makhachkala ports and Aktau port in Kazakhstan from October 23.