Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan presented a roadmap of government activities on November 18 for the next six months with the goal of overcoming the “present state” in Armenia and establishing stability and security. The plan was created in response to the political unrest and mounting calls for his resignation following his signature on a trilateral agreement signaling Armenia’s defeat in the 2020 Artsakh War.
The agreement, signed on November 9 and brokered by Russia, ended 45 days of military hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan and established a timetable by which Armenia must withdraw its armed forces from the regions of Kelbajar, Aghdam and Lachin while surrendering areas captured by Azerbaijan during the course of the war, including Shushi and Hadrut. Russian peacekeeping forces have already been dispatched along the new Line of Contact as per the agreement.
Pashinyan’s agenda includes the resumption of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process under the OSCE Minsk Group format with an emphasis on the status of Artsakh, the restoration of infrastructure in Artsakh and Armenia, the provision of expansive social guarantees, the reformation of the Armenian Armed Forces and the creation of a system of psychological rehabilitation. “I have already said that I consider myself primarily responsible for the present state. I am also primarily responsible for overcoming the situation and establishing national stability and security,” he wrote. “I emphasize that not only do I have no intention of relinquishing those responsibilities, but I am also fully committed to that work.”
The disclosure of the deal on November 10 triggered several days of protests in Yerevan. Yet the challenge facing the future of the Pashinyan administration was cemented by a series of controversial statements and Facebook posts by the PM following the announcement of the ceasefire agreement. On the evening of November 15, in a comment perceived as a call for civil war, Pashinyan wrote on his Facebook page, “Today I watched dozens of videos of soldiers from the front line. I was struck by the soldier’s wisdom. Boys, you are right. I am waiting for you in Yerevan. To finally resolve the issue of whiners under the walls.” In response to this comment, four members of parliament as well as two Deputy Ministers from the ruling My Step bloc tendered their resignations.
The Prime Minister clarified that he was not calling for violence against his political opponents during a livestream the following morning. However, later that day, he was once again mired in scandal when he told Parliament that the war had been inevitable unless Armenia had handed Shushi over to Azerbaijan. Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anna Naghdalyan publicly refuted this claim, asserting that “there has been no question about renouncing the city of Shushi in any stage of the peace process.” Just minutes after this statement, Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, who had been at the helm of diplomatic relations during the war, announced his resignation. Several days later on November 18, former deputy foreign minister Ara Ayvazyan was appointed as his replacement.
During that same speech, Pashinyan also said, “Shushi was an unfortunate, colorless city. Did we need Shushi? If we needed it, why was it left in that condition?” He said in a Facebook post the next day that he had been lamenting that enough private and public investments had not been devoted in the past decades to Shushi’s development.
In response to criticisms facing Pashinyan, President Armen Sarkissian called for the PM’s resignation, early parliamentary elections and the creation of a “high quality National Consensus Government” that would rule in the interim period during a speech broadcast this week, effectively distancing himself from the Pashinyan administration in case of a snap election.
After the announcement of the trilateral agreement, Chief of the General Staff of the Armenian Armed Forces Onik Gasparyan asked the parliamentary opposition political parties to wait one week before calling for an end to martial law in order to provide the military leadership an opportunity to explain the security issues undergirding the ceasefire agreement. As promised, he released a statement on Tuesday in which he argued that, presented with a “very bad scenario and a tragedy,” the military “chose the very bad.” “Yet the realization that as a result of that decision we succeeded in keeping most of Artsakh and defending the primary military potential of the Armenian Armed Forces says that we do not have a right to despair. We must unite, recover quickly and prepare to continue the fight,” he wrote.
Nonetheless the Prosperous Armenia and Bright Armenia parliamentary factions have been leading calls to lift the currently imposed martial law and remove Pashinyan from power through a vote of no confidence. These two opposition parties have declared that they will boycott parliamentary sessions until a motion of no confidence is placed on the agenda. “Only one issue should be discussed in this hall: the end of martial law, the resignation of Nikol Pashinyan, new leadership and new negotiations,” said MP Naira Zohrabyan during a National Assembly session.
On November 18, simultaneous rallies in support of and in opposition to the Prime Minister were held in Yerevan. “We have no goal or desire to rise to power,” spokesperson of the Republican Party Eduard Sharmanazov emphasized during the opposition rally. “The salvation of the homeland must begin with the removal of this landlord and traitor.” The rally in support of the PM, which his administration claims it did not organize, was largely attended by members of the military. “If [his detractors] found themselves in Karabakh for one minute, they would understand that if now we unfortunately have 2,000 casualties, if that agreement was not signed, we would have 15,000 casualties,” one soldier in attendance told Radio Liberty.