Thousands descended on Yerevan’s Freedom Square on Wednesday to demand the resignation of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan following his announcement of a trilateral agreement with Russia and Azerbaijan to end the war in Artsakh. The nine-point agreement includes the transfer of key areas of Artsakh to Azerbaijan, including Shushi and Hadrut, as well as the installation of Russian peacekeeping forces for at least five years.
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A scene from today’s protest in Yerevan where thousands descended on Freedom Square to demand the resignation of Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan following his announcement of a trilateral agreement with Russia & Azerbaijan to end the war in Artsakh. (Footage submitted by @janbazian)
“There is one primary obstacle to save Artsakh, and his name is Nikol,” exclaimed Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Supreme Body representative Ishkhan Saghatelyan during the opposition rally, which progressed to the government building and then the National Assembly. “The war was brought about by Nikol as a result of his inconsistent policies. He has destroyed our relations with our military allies, Russia and Iran,” continued Saghatelyan, who along with Gegham Manukyan of Yerkir Media, was detained by the Armenian National Security Service (NSS) on Wednesday evening. The office of Armenian ombudsman Arman Tatoyan is said to be in talks with the detainees.
The ARF, which is in the process of creating and establishing a “committee to save the homeland,” was one of 17 political parties that issued a joint statement on Monday calling for the voluntary resignation of the Pashinyan administration and the urgent creation of a new executive body to resolve this current political and military situation. The joint statement was made public just hours before PM Pashinyan announced the ceasefire agreement in a late night Facebook post, which almost instantly compelled angry mobs to storm Yerevan’s government buildings, calling him a “traitor.”
PM press secretary Mane Gevorgyan claimed that the political parties calling for the Prime Minister’s resignation were briefed on these details in the course of several meetings. “All political forces that today state that they were not aware of the developments at the frontline, the technical capacity of the armed forces, the issues related to replenishing the armed force and the discussions on a political settlement, including the details of the negotiations brokered by the Russian president, are not being honest with the public,” she said.
ARF leaders also met with Armenian President Armen Sarkissian on Tuesday after it was revealed that he learned about the ceasefire agreement from the press. President Sarkissian described the conflict as a “matter of national significance.” In a statement, the President emphasized that “the fate of Artsakh, and consequently of the Armenian people, can be resolved only taking into account our national interests and only on the basis of a national consensus.”
The Prime Minister responded to the political unrest in a Facebook Live broadcast in which he presented the realities at the military front in the past week that precipitated the trilateral agreement. “The biggest sin attributed to me is that I have agreed to hand over three territories— Aghdam, Lachin and Kelbajar—to Azerbaijan,” he said. According to PM Pashinyan, this agreement was signed under conditions in which Shushi had already fallen on Saturday and these three territories could not be held. “In a situation where Stepanakert remained unprotected and the military operations continued, there was a large probability that Stepanakert, Martuni and Askeran would be conquered, and later our second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth buffer zones would be blockaded and thousands of soldiers would be cut off. A total collapse would proceed.” This collapse was prevented, with the assent of the General Staff of the Armenian Armed Forces and political leadership of Artsakh, through unavoidable concessions, according to the Prime Minister.
Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan, for his part, called on the people of Artsakh not to participate in the protests in Yerevan or search for political scapegoats. “The politicians who are trying to find traitors today, let them present information about their participation and that of their children and relatives. You should have been at the frontline,” he said during a Facebook broadcast. The Artsakh leader stressed that the trilateral agreement was signed when nobody was left to defend Stepanakert, despite the many calls he made to the nation to join the armed forces and replenish their resources. “We sold [the land] as a nation. We betrayed our 18 to 20 year-old soldiers, our children,” he said. The President and his spokesperson Vahram Poghosyan also urged residents of Artsakh not to panic while their safe return home is coordinated, where all of their minimum living conditions will be met.
Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the visit of a Russian delegation to hold talks on monitoring the ceasefire agreement, asserting that Turkey and Russia would cooperate on a joint peacekeeping mission in the region. Russian peacekeepers have already been deployed to Artsakh and have established control over the Lachin Corridor. The trilateral agreement does not mention Turkey and includes no provisions on the deployment of Turkish peacekeepers.
The French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, on his end, asserted that Turkey must abstain from taking any actions that would go against the key priority of maintaining the cessation of hostilities. “We expect Azerbaijan to strictly uphold the commitments that it has made to put an immediate end to its offensive,” his statement reads. He averred that discussions between Armenia and Azerbaijan “must allow for the return of people displaced by the conflict in recent weeks, and for the definition of the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh.”
The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner, for its part, also released a statement two days after the end of the war was announced, calling for the immediate withdrawal of mercenaries from Artsakh and for an end to any further recruitment, funding and deployment of mercenaries by Azerbaijan and Turkey in the conflict zone. The United Nations Working Group on the use of mercenaries expressed its concern that the mercenaries transported from Syria are affiliated with armed groups, such as the Syrian National Army, accused of war crimes and human rights abuses, thus “perpetuating a cycle of impunity and risking further abuses of international law.”