The opposition factions in Armenia have launched a series of protests this week in preparation for a mass rally to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
Vice President of the National Assembly and chair of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Supreme Council of Armenia Ishkhan Saghatelyan announced on April 22 that nationwide protests would take place every day starting on April 25.
“We are facing not only new concessions from the homeland, but also the real danger of losing statehood. These are not just words. This is the bitter reality,” Saghatelyan said in a video address.
The movement, which is calling itself “Zartnir, Lao” in reference to the Armenian revolutionary folk song, emerged in response to a controversial speech delivered by Pashinyan at the Armenian National Assembly on April 13. Pashinyan received widespread criticism from political figures and civic activists from Armenia and Artsakh for his call to “lower the bar” regarding the status of Artsakh in negotiations on a peace deal with Azerbaijan.
“Today, the international community again tells us to lower the bar a bit regarding the question of the status of Artsakh, and you will ensure a great international consolidation around Armenia and Artsakh,” Pashinyan said during his address. “Status in the current situation is not a goal, but rather a means to guarantee the security and rights of the Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh.”
Supporters of the Armenia Alliance and I Have Honor Alliance, the two parliamentary opposition groups, have held demonstrations in Yerevan and nearby towns for the past three consecutive days.
On April 25, demonstrators marched through Yerevan, chanting “Armenia Without Nikol” and “Armenia Without Turks.” The police detained 11 protesters at the Civil Contract Party headquarters, according to I Have Honor MP Tigran Abrahamyan.
“It is already clear that Pashinyan has instructed the police, particularly the infamous structure of red berets, to prevent any protest action by the strictest means,” Abrahamyan wrote on Facebook.
Another small group of protesters marched from Pashinyan’s hometown of Ijevan to Yerevan to join the rally.
The following day, a group of ARF youth were detained by the police during a demonstration in Yerevan.
The staff of the office of the Human Rights Defender of Armenia has visited 24 protesters from the opposition movement detained at various police stations. The detainees told the Human Rights Defender’s office that the police had used excessive force against them and arrested them without providing justification.
More than 100 relatives of deceased soldiers from the 2020 Artsakh War also held a rally in Yerevan on April 26. They demanded that Pashinyan be prosecuted for the mass murder of the fallen soldiers.
The rally responded to Pashinyan’s confession during his April 13 address to parliament that he could have prevented the 2020 Artsakh War.
“It is my fault that in 2018, 2019 I did not stand in front of our society and did not voice that all, I repeat, all our friends, close and not so close friends, expect us to surrender the seven famous regions to Azerbaijan in one way or another and bring down our benchmark for the status of Artsakh,” Pashinyan said during his speech.
“By surrendering, I might have saved thousands of lives, but by not surrendering, I actually became the author of decisions that resulted in thousands of victims,” Pashinyan continued.
During the April 26 rally, the protesters placed t-shirts with bloody handprints on the steps of the government building then marched to the Prosecutor General’s Office to call for an investigation against Pashinyan.
Prosecutor General Artur Davtyan spoke with the families and said that Pashinyan’s statement alone is not sufficient to accuse him of murder.
“If we had ceded parts of our homeland without a fight, should there also have been an indictment by the same logic?” Davtyan said to the protesters.
Nonetheless the families submitted two formal requests to the Prosecutor General’s Office to include Pashinyan as a defendant and the fallen soldiers as victims in an ongoing case investigating the causes of the “catastrophic war.”
During a separate opposition rally on April 26, Armenia Alliance MP Gegham Manukyan announced that he would continue the march to the Prosecutor General’s Office in support of the families of deceased soldiers.
That same day, a 28-year-old pregnant woman died after she was hit by a police car that was accompanying Pashinyan’s motorcade at the Leo-Paronyan intersection of Yerevan. Armenia’s Investigative Committee has filed charges against the officer.
Yerevan-based democracy activist Daniel Ioannisyan criticized what he described as the ongoing reckless driving demonstrated by Pashinyan’s police escorts.
“Traffic police escorts have long been driving with unprecedented obscenity,” he wrote on Facebook. “All the policemen who have endangered people’s lives for these cases remain unpunished.”
During a rally hosted by the ARF on April 27, Armenia Alliance MP Kristine Vardanyan said that the spilled blood of the pregnant woman is their blood.
The demonstrators poured red paint in front of the government building and “bloodied” their hands as a sign of the government’s “thirst for blood,” while chanting “Nikol, murderer” and “Nikol, murderer of Armenians.”
Eighteen more protesters were detained during demonstrations that day, 11 of them at Republic Square and seven at Tumanyan St.
Pashinyan has insisted in response to criticism of his April 13 speech that his government does not plan to surrender Artsakh.
“If we were to surrender Artsakh, we would not have spent tens of billions of drams to ensure the return of Artsakh residents to their homes after the 44-day war,” he said during an April 22 cabinet meeting. “Our strategy in the short, medium and long terms is as follows: to ensure a situation or solution whereby the people of Artsakh will continue to live in Artsakh.”
He did not specify what kind of status of Artsakh would be acceptable to the Armenian government.
Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan has said that no document on the status of Artsakh is being discussed at this stage. Following a meeting with Pashinyan, Harutyunyan said that the two leaders have a clear agreement that “in case of any discussion on the future status of Artsakh at the international level, the position of the Armenian side must be agreed upon with the Nagorno Karabakh Republic authorities and people.”