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‘We’re losing our homeland’ Armenians protest government’s decision to return four villages to Azerbaijan, in photos

Source: Meduza

In early March 2024, Azerbaijan demanded that Armenia hand over eight villages along the two countries’ borders. To avoid a new war, Yerevan agreed to transfer four villages to Azerbaijani control; the border delimitation process is now underway. Local residents, however, oppose the decision; they want Armenia to refuse to concede any territory and have appealed to international human rights organizations for help. Photographer Egor Kirillov traveled to the border village of Kirants, which is still Armenian territory, to photograph residents’ fight against the transfer.

The road into the village of Kirants. Residents have been blocking part of the M6 highway, which leads to a neighboring village closer to the Azerbaijani border, since April 19.
The M6 highway leads from the Armenia-Georgia border to the city of Vanadzor through Armenia’s Lori and Tavush provinces. It’s the country’s most important motorway.
According to Kirants village head Kamo Shahinyan, between 50 and 500 people are taking part in the protest at any given time.
Kirants residents work in shifts to ensure there’s always somebody blocking the road. If a military vehicle tries to cross the Kirants River and enter the village, protesters walk onto the road to prevent it from passing; they specifically don’t want to allow sappers to demine the border territories. Emergency service vehicles and cars belonging to local residents are allowed through.
A street in Kirants
Residents briefly blocked the road near the Bagratashen crossing point on the Armenian-Georgian border. Within hours, however, police arrived and restored traffic.

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On the evening of April 21, Yerevan sent a special forces unit to Kirants. However, the protesters [foreground] refused to disperse and began arguing with the officers.
A truck driver tried to join the protest and block the road, but after a talk with the police, he said goodbye to the protesters and continued his journey.
The protesters in Kirants set up a tent to shield themselves from rain and the sun and set up a field kitchen.
Lena, a 96-year-old Kirants residents, protests with her fellow villagers
A sign featuring political scientist Suren Petrosyan, the leader of the Kirants protest. On April 23, he was arrested and taken to the city of Noyemberyan. Four days later, he was released and returned to Kirants. “This fight is crucial, because it’s not just a fight for the Tavush [Province] — it’s a fight for our state, for our sovereignty, identity, and dignity. It’s a mission, but most importantly, it’s a peaceful process within the framework of the law,” he told Meduza.
Protesters prepare for another night guarding the road: building fires, setting up tents, and bringing food for the following day.
Kirants residents aren’t the only border villagers fighting to keep their land. On April 25, schoolchildren in the bordering village of Baghanis refused to go to class as a sign of protest against the national authorities’ decision. Armenians have also blocked parts of other major highways in the country.

“We’re losing our homeland. Every Armenian needs to understand: our old enemy, the one who committed genocide against us, could come knocking on any door at any moment,” local resident Mariam Simonyan told Meduza. Even if the protests don’t change anything, she wants her descendants to know that she opposed the land’s transfer to Azerbaijan.

“How are we supposed to fight? We don’t have anything. We can fight with words,” Mariam says, adding that she plans to stay in the village no matter what:

I’ll live better that way — next to our old enemy. And that will be better than living in Ijevan and Yerevan alongside our internal enemies. Alongside the people who didn’t stand up for their homeland. They’re bigger enemies than the Azerbaijanis themselves.

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Photos by Igor Kirillov for Meduza

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