Protests Swell As Armenian Opposition Issues Ultimatum For PM's Resignation Over Karabakh Deal
By RFE/RL December 05, 2020
The Armenian opposition intensified pressure on December 5 as thousands of protesters rallied in the Armenian capital demanding Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian resign over a controversial truce deal with Azerbaijan to end fighting over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Some 20,000 protesters gathered in central Yerevan, chanting "Nikol the traitor" and "Armenia without Nikol," and then marched to the prime minister's official residence.
Armenia was plunged into political crisis in the wake of a Moscow-brokered deal struck on November 10, ending a 44-day war between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces that left thousands dead on both sides.
Under the deal, Azerbaijan took back control over parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and all surrounding territories in what amounted to a capitulation in the face of Armenian battlefield defeats.
The deal was a blow to Yerevan-backed ethnic Armenian forces who controlled all of Nagorno-Karabakh as well as seven surrounding areas since a 1994 cease-fire ended all-out war. Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but the ethnic Armenians who make up most of the population reject Azerbaijani rule.
Calls To Step Down
Armenian opposition groups demanding Pashinian's resignation over his handling of the conflict warned at the rally that there will be countrywide civil disobedience if he does not step down by December 8.
The ultimatum comes after earlier this week 17 opposition groups nominated Vazgen Manukian, a former prime minister and ex-defense minister in the early 1990s, to head a "transitional, anti-crisis government" until early parliamentary elections are held.
Addressing the rally, Manukian said that Pashinian should take the chance to leave in a "civilized manner."
Manukian said a new government would have to abide by the Russian-brokered agreement, because it could not afford a war with Azerbaijan and its ally Turkey.
However, he said a new government would strive to resolve some vague issues of the agreement in close coordination with Russia, Armenia's most important ally. Crucially, the agreement failed to address the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Armenian President Armen Sarkisian has also called for early parliamentary elections and the formation of an interim government of national accord to handle the political crisis.
But Pashinian has not given any indication he intends to resign, and his My Step faction still holds a wide majority in the 132-seat parliament to avoid a no-confidence vote.
While Pashinian has acknowledged that the peace deal he signed was "bad for us," he has defended it as Armenia's only option and that it ensured Nagorno-Karabakh's survival.
In an address to the nation on December 5, he again sought to cast Armenia's defeat in the war as a symptom of past leadership failures and endemic corruption, which he says left the country in a difficult diplomatic position and the army unprepared to withstand the Azerbaijani offensive.
Pashinian, a reformist pressing an anti-corruption campaign, came to power in 2018 in the wake of mass popular protests.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, AP, dpa, and Interfax
Copyright (c) 2020. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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