Mass protests in Armenia demand the resignation of the Prime Minister over Nagorno-Karabakh

Tens of thousands of opposition supporters marched on the Armenian capital on Saturday to demand the resignation of the former Soviet nation’s prime minister over his handling of the conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.

During six weeks of fierce fighting that ended with a peace agreement with Russia on November 10, the Azerbaijani army reclaimed lands held by Armenian forces for more than a quarter of a century.

Armenia’s opposition parties warned Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan that there would be civil disobedience across the country if he did not resign by noon on Tuesday. Pashinyan has refused to resign and defends the peace deal as a painful but necessary step that prevented Azerbaijan from surpassing the entire Nagorno-Karabakh region.

More than 20,000 protesters gathered in Yerevan on Saturday, shouting “Nikol, your traitor!” and “Nikol, go away!” and then marched to the Prime Minister’s official residence.

>> Nagorno-Karabakh: “Everyone benefits from Russia-mediated ceasefire except Armenia”

“The seat of the Prime Minister of Armenia is currently occupied by a political corps,” said Artur Vanetsyan, leader of the opposition Homeland party and former head of the National Security Service, at the rally.

Several priests from the Armenian Apostolic Church joined the protest and condemned Pashinyan for allowing Azerbaijan to take over some sacred sites.

Nagorno-Karabakh is located in Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces supported by Armenia since a separatist war there ended in 1994. That conflict left not only Nagorno-Karabakh itself but large tracts of surrounding countries in Armenian hands.

During 44 days of fighting that began on September 27, Azerbaijan’s troops led the Armenian forces and cleaved deep into Nagorno-Karabakh, forcing Armenia to accept the November 10 peace agreement that saw a significant part of the separatist region return to Azerbaijan. It also forced Armenia to hand over all the territories it had outside Nagorno-Karabakh.

Azerbaijan completed the recapture of these territories on Tuesday when it took over the Lachin region between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia.

“Of all the actors involved in this conflict, all but Armenia benefit,” Galia Ackerman, a Paris-based historian specializing in Eastern Europe and author of the Immortal Regiment: La Guerre sacrée de Poutine (“Immortal Regiment: Putin’s Sacred War”), said after it was signed.

Russia regains control of Armenia and gets boots on the ground in Nagorno-Karabakh; Turkey is strengthening its relations with Azerbaijan. and Azerbaijan are very happy because they have recovered territory that separatists had occupied for more than a quarter of a century, Ackerman continued.

Armenian opposition leaders hold Pashinyan accountable for not negotiating an earlier end to hostilities on terms that could have been more favorable to Armenia. However, they have stressed that the opposition did not press for the peace agreement to be annulled.

Veteran politician Vazgen Manukyan, who has nominated 17 opposition parties as a candidate for prime minister, said at Saturday’s meeting that his transitional government would try to negotiate some vague aspects of the November 10 peace agreement.

Manukyan, 71, served as prime minister in 1990-91, when Armenia was part of the Soviet Union and later served as defense minister during the separatist war.

Armenia’s Ministry of Health said on Wednesday that at least 2,718 Armenian soldiers were killed in the latest battle. At least 55 Armenian civilians were also killed.

Azerbaijan said this week that 2,783 troops of its kind were killed and more than 100 are still missing. The government said 94 of its civilians were also killed and more than 400 injured.

Azerbaijan celebrated the end of the fighting as a national triumph, and President Ilham Aliyev instituted a new November 8 national holiday called Victory Day to celebrate the event.

Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said it would hold a military parade next Thursday with 3,000 troops and 150 military vehicles. It is said that the show will also feature trophy weapons seized by the Armenian forces.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to visit Azerbaijan that day. Turkey has strongly supported its ally and used hostilities to expand its influence in the region. Earlier this week, Russian and Turkish military officials signed documents to set up a joint monitoring center to ensure compliance with the peace agreement.

Russia deployed almost 2,000 peacekeepers for at least five years to monitor the peace agreement and to facilitate the return of refugees. The Russian troops will also ensure safe transit between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia across the Lachin region.

( Jowharwith AP)