After a three-day period of national mourning, tens of thousands participated in a nationwide strike on Tuesday, resuming mounting pressure against Armenia’s prime minister to step down over his decisive role in the conclusion of the Artsakh War.
During the massive rally led by the ‘Movement for the Salvation of the Homeland,’ Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) representative Ishkhan Saghatelyan offered the My Step faction a deadline to discuss these demands in-person. In staying the course, Saghatelyan told reporters on Tuesday night that if PM Nikol Pashinyan remains in power, there would only be ruins left to rule.
The process of demarcating the borders of Armenia and Artsakh following the November 9 ceasefire agreement has been fraught with uncertainty, creating security concerns for residents of border villages. Under the agreement, the districts of Zangelan and Kubatli were transferred from Artsakh to Azerbaijan, creating a new border between Armenia’s southernmost province of Syunik and Azerbaijan. Parts of the major Goris-Kapan-Meghri highway now pass through Azerbaijani territory as well.
On December 17, Kapan mayor Gevorg Parsyan shared that Armenia’s Ministry of Defense had ordered volunteer detachments to withdraw from their defensive positions overlooking the town by 5:00PM local time the following day, since those territories were handed over to Azerbaijan under the ceasefire agreement. These posts were set up during the war by locals in order to defend Syunik against the advancement of Azerbaijani troops. During meetings with community leaders from Syunik on the 18th, Armenian Minister of Defense Vagharshak Harutyunyan stated that Russian peacekeepers would be deployed to the area to guarantee its security. He assured them that the process of border demarcation was taking place with the participation of high ranking officers from both sides and that no territory would be conceded from the Republic of Armenia.
“Not even a single millimeter of land has been surrendered from the region of Syunik,” insisted PM Pashinyan in an attempt to dispel rumors of land loss ahead of his planned visit to the region on December 21st. He wanted to “look directly into the eyes” of residents and answer their questions, but his visit was cut short as roads to his passage were blocked by protesters. He returned to Yerevan without visiting Meghri, Kapan or Goris. On the eve of Pashinyan’s arrival, Goris mayor Arush Arushanyan called on residents to gather at the gates to the entryway of Syunik to block his entrance. Arushanyan was arrested on charges of illegally organizing a rally, and has since been released.
Six Armenian soldiers were found in the Azerbaijani-occupied Hadrut region and returned home on December 20th after a successful search operation was conducted with the combined efforts of the Artsakh State Emergency Service, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Russian peacekeepers. Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan said the young men had been cut off from the Armenian Armed Forces for 70 days.
The bodies of nine soldiers found near Armenian military positions in southern Artsakh were handed over to the Defense Army on December 16 by Russian peacekeepers. The circumstances surrounding their deaths have not been revealed. At least 3,000 Armenians died in the war, as the fate of dozens of soldiers captured by the Azerbaijani military near the Hin Tagher and Khtsabert communities following last week’s hostilities remains unknown. The area was the site of renewed fighting after Azerbaijani forces attacked the two villages on December 11, as a result of which the villages were placed under Azerbaijani control.
Meanwhile, Artsakh Ombudsman Artak Beglaryan submitted his resignation on Tuesday. Beglaryan will be taking up another position within the Artsakh government, where he says he will be addressing the ongoing challenges in the Republic. Those details will be revealed in a press conference on Wednesday.