Protesters took to the streets of Yerevan after an ultimatum demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan by noon on Tuesday, December 8 expired without any reaction from the PM.
Since the PM’s signature of a trilateral ceasefire agreement on November 9 codifying Armenia’s defeat in the 2020 Artsakh War, a coalition of opposition political parties, including the Republican Party and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), has been organizing protests for his removal. Eight minutes after the imposed deadline on December 8, ARF representative Ishkhan Saghatelyan declared that the citizens of Armenia have the legitimate right to engage in acts of civil disobedience in order to share their grievances. In the following hours, protesters attempted to block traffic and succeeded in shutting down Yerevan’s subway system. Twelve protesters were detained by the police, including Yerkir Media director Gegham Manukyan, who recently ended a nine-day hunger strike.
The unmet ultimatum was initially posed at a demonstration on December 5, the largest since the end of the war. “The sheer size of the protest was promising. There was a large number of youth participants, as well as people from different cities,” recalled ARF-Eastern Region Central Committee member Sebouh Hatsakordzian. “This gave me hope and encouragement to fulfill our demands,” he continued.
The keynote speaker at the rally was Vazgen Manukyan—the coalition’s pick to replace PM Pashinyan. Manukyan, 74, served as Armenia’s Prime Minister between 1990 and 1991 and Defense Minister from 1992 to 1993. “We could have avoided the war. We could have won the war. We could have ended the war earlier with a low number of casualties. None of that happened,” he stated during his speech. While Manukyan does not intend to renounce the ceasefire agreement, he hopes to implement necessary changes to overcome the security risks that the opposition blames on Pashinyan’s foreign policy failures, particularly the disintegration of Armenia’s relations with its traditional allies, including Russia. “Forces with foreign influence are currently at work in Armenia, which are deliberately dividing our people,” he proclaimed. “For two and a half years they have been resolving their geopolitical issues through our people, using us as a toy. That field must be cleared.”
The creation of a “National Movement for the Salvation of the Homeland” was also announced with the primary goals of removing the current administration from power through snap elections and establishing a transitional government led by Manukyan to lead the postwar recovery.
During a live Facebook address hours before the December 5 rally, the Prime Minister reiterated his firm stance that he would not resign. He blamed Armenia’s diplomatic and military failures on the previous administrations, proclaiming that his administration was unable to undo the consequences of 25 years of widespread corruption in two and a half years. “Why didn’t you purchase [military equipment] during the previous 18 to 20 years?” he asked, addressing the former political leadership. “How is it that you considered building castles, purchasing islands, buying private homes in Europe and accumulating millions in Swiss banks more important than purchasing in 20 years all that we did not in two?”
Pashinyan and his predecessors have been leveling accusations at one another of pursuing ruinous diplomatic strategies, deflecting blame for defeat in the war in Artsakh. Previous President Robert Kocharyan, who has declared his support of the “National Movement for the Salvation of the Homeland,” asserted during an interview on December 4 that Pashinyan’s administration thwarted the negotiation process by adopting a hardline stance through reckless and careless statements, such as his forceful appeal in August of 2019 for the reunification of Armenia and Artsakh.
In response, Pashinyan said that the process of turning the Artsakh conflict into a territorial dispute and Armenia into an occupying power in the public perception had been realized over the past two decades. “We have not failed in diplomacy. Rather our efforts to overcome the burden of the diplomatic failures of the past 20 to 25 years have failed,” he said during his live Facebook address. “We have failed to avoid the consequences of your failures.”
Several other public figures have also called for the PM’s resignation. Former President Levon Ter Petrosyan issued a call to the people to pursue Pashinyan’s imminent removal by “exclusively constitutional means” rather than through “civil conflict,” warning of the dangers of civil war posed by the the “mass provocations which are being inflamed by both the administration and the opposition.” Catholicos Karekin II met with the PM on December 8 and entreated him to resign in order to prevent any “shocks to public life” and “possible clashes and tragic turns.” In his televised message from Lebanon, Aram I of the Great House of Cilicia described the homeland as a “lifeless ship plunged into a terrible storm.” “The unity of our people is more than imperative. We must stay away from approaches and actions that provoke polarization, create divisions and sow the spirit of intolerance,” cautioned the spiritual leader in his respective calls for Pashinyan’s resignation. Meanwhile, Armenian President Armen Sarkissian, who has been vocal in his support for the creation of an interim government of national accord, met with former leader Serzh Sargsyan on December 8 to discuss the current situation in the country.
This meeting happened one day after a recording of a conversation between Sargsyan and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko regarding possibilities for settlement of the Artsakh conflict was leaked. In the recording, Lukashenko can be overheard stating that Azerbaijan is ready to offer $5 billion in exchange for Armenia’s withdrawal from the seven outlying territories of Artsakh. Sargsyan refused the offer and countered that Armenia was prepared to give Azerbaijan $6 billion. Sargsyan’s office confirmed the authenticity of the recording, stating that the dialogue took place on October 14, 2016 during a closed-door meeting among members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Yerevan.