The telecommunication sector used to be the second largest economic sector in terms of scale of illegal business in the then occupied Karabakh. Developing communications and favorable roaming services facilitated links to the occupied region, thus boosting illegal resettlements of ethnic Armenians from both Armenia and other countries of the globe to the occupied lands.
According to the 2016 Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry's report, Armenia illegally assigned its unique numbering code +374 to the occupied territories, thereby exploiting Azerbaijan's radio frequencies.
Furthermore, contrary to Recommendation E.212 of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which provides the authority to ITU to assign and reclaim MCC and MNC codes, Karabakh Telecom CJSC used the codes 283 (MCC) and 04 (MNC) for the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.
Karabakh Telecom CJSC was established in 2002 by Lebanese businessman Pierre Fattouche (sole shareholder). According to the company's website announcement dated September 2013, it extended its cellular communication and internet service network to the then-occupied Zangilan District.
In January 2015, Director-General of Karabakh Telecom CJSC, Karekin Odabashyan, said the town of Shusha, then under occupation, had been connected to fibre-optic network, and presented it as a major achievement in IT sector. He also shared the company's plans to extend the coverage to other towns and villages under occupation. In his words, it would contribute to "the comprehensive development of areas", "to ensure growth in the social, economic, cultural and other fields."
"There are stable rules in the international telecommunications. Therefore, currently roaming [between Armenia and the occupied territories] cannot be eradicated. However, we have been constantly working towards reducing roaming tariffs", he said.
Odabashyan also informed that in 2014 Karabakh Telecom CJSC assisted in the amount of one billion drams ($1.9 million) to the process of settlement in the occupied Karabakh, which is in its own right a violation of international law. The Foreign Ministry's report writes that the funds were channeled to various fields, including health, education, construction of churches, security forces, etc.
Apart from Armenian ventures, dozens of foreign companies with global outreach operated in telecoms sector in Karabakh at different times. Among them are Vodafone (UK), Orange (France), VimpelCom (Russia/Netherlands) etc.
The report writes that Armenia's mobile operators provided roaming services to Karabakh Telecom CJSC at reduced tariffs.
These included Armentel (a subsidiary of the Russian Vimpelcom under the "Beeline" brand), Viva Cell MTS, and Orange Armenia, a subsidiary of Orange Group of France.
"There are a number of other international IT service providers that have illegal roaming relations with or facilitate operations of Karabakh Telecom CJSC. Among them are Movisar (Argentina), Zain Bahrain (Bahrain), Etisalat (UAE), Netmechanica (USA), Alcatel-Lucent (France-USA), Comfone (Switzerland), Mobile Telesystems OJSC (Russia) and some others", the report maintains.
Information on some telecommunication companies in Karabakh is provided in the reports "Who Else Profits?
" by Kohelet Policy Forum.
The report writes that Orange S.A., a company registered in France and having a reported annual revenue of $44.9 billion, has operated in Armenia since 2009 through a direct subsidiary, Orange Armenia. The company actively cooperated with the puppet regime of "NKR", asserting the statehood of this unrecognized entity in its documents.
It provided roaming services in Karabakh through a special agreement with Karabakh Telecom, a company based in the occupied territory and dedicated primarily to serving it, the report writes.
The company's press release announcing price reduction in the service said that "its goal was to make things more "convenient" for Armenians traveling to Karabakh, including Armenian Army soldiers located there." Apart from telecom services, for many years Orange S.A. helped to run a fundraiser for strategic infrastructure projects in the NKR, supporting the settlement enterprise building in Karabakh.
Vodafone, a UK-based company with a registered annual revenue of $54.5 billion, has been active in the post-Soviet markets and has partnered with Russia's MTS since 2008. In Armenia, MTS-Vodafone operates through VivaCell-MTS, which supports the improvement of services between Armenia and occupited Karabakh by greatly lowering roaming tariffs. It also supported philanthropic causes directed at unifying Armenia and Karabakh through festivals, nationalistic fundraisers, and other projects.
VimpelCom (recently rebranded as VEON), an international telecommunications company headquartered in the Russian Federation and in the Netherlands, has over 235 million customers and offers mobile services in thirteen countries and a registered annual revenue of $10 billion. It is owned in part by Telenor, a Norwegian government-owned multinational telecommunications company. VimpelCom's Russian brand, Beeline, provides service in Russia, Laos, and former Soviet states, Armenia among them.
In October 2020, when the Patriotic War was on, Beeline blatantly set a zero tariff for its subscribers in the occupied Karabakh.
For those who were at the time in roaming mode in Karabakh, Beeline set the tariff "zero drams per minute" for all incoming calls, outgoing local calls to mobile and landline phones in occupited Karabakh, and outgoing calls to Beeline Armenia numbers. This tariff also covered calls from Beeline Armenia numbers to all mobile and landline numbers in the occupied Karabakh.