QSome 5,000 people demonstrated Monday in Yerevan to demand the resignation of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, accused by the opposition of wanting to cede the entire separatist enclave of Nagorny Karabakh to Azerbaijan.
“We are launching a popular protest movement to force Pashinian to resign,” deputy speaker of parliament and opposition leader Ichkhan Sagatelian told AFP.
“He is a traitor, he lied to the people,” he added, accusing Mr. Pashinian, 46, of wanting to cede Nagorny Karabakh, a separatist region populated by a majority of Armenians, to Azerbaijan. .
“He has no popular mandate to do so,” Sagatelian said.
Nagorny Karabakh, which the two countries have been fighting over for thirty years, was the subject of a six-week war in 2020 which left more than 6,500 dead before ending with a ceasefire negotiated by Russia.
As part of this agreement, Armenia ceded whole swaths of territory it had controlled since a first victorious war in the early 1990s and a Russian peacekeeping force is deployed in Nagorny Karabakh.
In April, the Armenian Prime Minister declared before the parliament that “the international community calls on Armenia to reduce its demands on Nagorny Karabakh”, remarks which the opposition denounced as revealing a desire to cede all of this territory to Azerbaijan.
Mr. Sagatelian warned that the protests would continue as long as Mr. Pashinyan remained in power.
“Nikol must resign. His pathetic policy has resulted in territorial and human loss of life,” said a protester. “Our people have never been in such a depressed state. We don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
On Monday morning, public transport in Yerevan was disrupted as small groups of protesters tried to block traffic in the city center. Police briefly arrested dozens of protesters.
The Union of Journalists criticized the methods used by the police, citing several examples of journalists covering opposition protests being molested by police.
On Sunday, several thousand people had already demonstrated in Yerevan to call for the resignation of Mr. Pashinian.
The Russian-brokered ceasefire deal was seen as a national humiliation in Armenia and sparked weeks of anti-government protests.
In September, Mr. Pashinyan’s party, the Civil Contract, won the snap parliamentary elections called following the protests.
Towards peace talks
The head of the American diplomacy Antony Blinken, who welcomed his Armenian counterpart Ararat Mirzoian in Washington on Monday, gave strong support to Nikol Pashinyan.
He “expressed genuine gratitude for the vision and courage and flexibility that the prime minister and Armenia are showing in this process to achieve what we all want, which is a lasting peace.”
In April, Armenia and Azerbaijan announced they were engaged in “preparations” for “peace talks” to resolve the conflict, following a meeting in Brussels between Nikol Pashinyan and the President Azerbaijani, Ilham Aliev, under the mediation of the President of the European Council, Charles Michel.
The meeting took place after renewed tensions in Nagorny Karabakh on March 25, when Azerbaijani forces seized a strategic village located in the area under the responsibility of Russian peacekeeping forces, killing three soldiers separatists.
Baku presented its proposals in mid-March for a peace agreement which provides for mutual recognition by the two parties of their territorial integrity, which means that Yerevan accepts that Nagorny Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan.
The Armenian Foreign Minister sparked controversy in Armenia when he said, commenting on Azerbaijan’s proposals, that for Yerevan “the Nagorny Karabakh conflict is not a territorial issue, but a rights issue” of the territory’s Armenian population.
Populated mainly by Armenians, the mountainous region of Nagorno Karabakh seceded from Azerbaijan when the USSR collapsed in 1991, leading to a first war in the 1990s which killed 30,000 people and left hundreds thousands of Azerbaijani refugees.
02/05/2022 20:38:41 – Yerevan (AFP) – © 2022 AFP