Protesters in Armenia besiege parliament, demand prime minister’s resignation
Thousands of protesters converged on Armenia’s parliament building Wednesday to push for the resignation of the prime minister over his handling of the fighting with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Nikol Pashinyan’s opponents are angry over a peace deal that ended six weeks of fighting over the separatist region. Under the truce, Azerbaijan has retaken wide areas that officially belonged to it but that were controlled by Armenian forces for more than a quarter-century.
Armenia’s opposition parties gave Pashinyan an ultimatum to resign by Tuesday, but he has ignored the demand, defending the peace deal as a bitter but necessary move that prevented Azerbaijan from overrunning the entire Nagorno-Karabakh region.
About 15,000 protesters marched through downtown Yerevan, the Armenian capital, to the parliament building, chanting, “Nikol, go away!”
The opposition has been pushing for Pashinyan’s resignation since the Russia-brokered peace deal took effect Nov. 10. The protests have escalated over the last few days, with demonstrators blocking traffic in various sections of the capital and also rallying in other cities.
The Armenian Apostolic Church and all three of the country’s former presidents have joined in the demand for Pashinyan to step down.
As Azerbaijan regains control of land it lost to Armenian forces a quarter-century ago, those who fled then wonder if they can go back home now.
Undeterred, the prime minister told lawmakers in parliament Wednesday that the nation needs consolidation in the current difficult period. “Voices of different groups mustn’t be mistaken for the people’s voice,” he said.
Speaking outside parliament Wednesday, Artur Vanetsyan, who leads the Homeland opposition party, said Pashinyan should step down to allow opposition forces to “normalize the situation” in the country. “Each day he stays on the job raises a new threat to the nation,” said Vanetsyan, the former head of Armenia’s National Security Service.
Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a separatist war there ended in 1994. That war left Nagorno-Karabakh itself and substantial surrounding territory in Armenian hands.
In 44 days of fighting that began in late September and left more than 5,600 people dead on both sides, the Azerbaijani army forged deep into Nagorno-Karabakh, forcing Armenia to accept the peace deal that saw Azerbaijan reclaim much of the separatist region along with surrounding areas.
Azerbaijanis have celebrated it as a major victory, and the country is set to hold a massive military parade Thursday. The ceremony will be attended by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who strongly backed Azerbaijan during the conflict.
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