STEPANAKERT, Artsakh — Union. Struggle. Victory. These have been the calls in Renaissance Square in Stepanakert, where spontaneous rallies have been taking place for several days following Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s comments in the National Assembly. Thousands took to the streets in Yerevan and Stepanakert after the Prime Minister made contradictory statements on his readiness to sign another agreement with Azerbaijan that could brand him a “traitor.”
His comments followed the deadliest week of fighting in the region since the 2020 Artsakh War, as Azerbaijan’s Armed Forces unleashed a large-scale attack on the Armenian cities of Goris, Vardenis and Jermuk, using drones and heavy artillery. The death toll on the Armenian side stands at 135.
On September 14, thousands of citizens demanded to abstain from signing a document that would annex Artsakh to Azerbaijan. In the following days, professors, students and even schoolchildren from various institutions and educational programs, as well as ordinary citizens joined the protest. Artsakh’s National Assembly president Artur Tovmasyan, parliamentarians and government representatives also participated.
Meanwhile, Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan traveled to Yerevan, where he participated in a Security Council meeting. He asserted that no document related to the status of Artsakh was discussed. The head of the parliament informed the demonstration participants that “Artsakh was, is and will be Armenian.” He stated that no one, including Prime Minister Pashinyan, is authorized to settle the question of determining Artsakh’s status without considering the people of Artsakh.
National Assembly member and Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) secretary Vahram Balayan also joined the demonstrations. According to Balayan, the Artsakh Armenians have achieved their goals through joint efforts. He said that issues of national importance can be achieved through unity and that these ongoing demonstrations exemplify those desires. The problem, he said, is that Azerbaijan seeks not only to occupy Artsakh, but in this case attack and occupy territories from the internationally recognized Republic of Armenia. Balayan believes that Artsakh Armenians cannot remain indifferent to the events taking place in Armenia and that they must protest and appeal to the international community. “This is not just a matter of territories. We are a nation that has experienced genocide, and today the threat of extermination hangs over our heads again like the ‘sword of Damocles.’ We are trying to fight against it with all possible and impossible means. These demonstrations are for our rights and freedoms,” he stressed.
Before the large-scale attack on Armenia by Azerbaijan, political activist Tigran Petrosyan and his supporters had already been protesting in the main square of Stepanakert for 20 days. They had been demanding reforms in Artsakh. Now, Petrosyan says these are dire times and that we should put aside internal issues and take steps to save the motherland. “We must appeal to the international community,” he urged. “Our struggle today is for self-determination; just as other nations have that right, so do the people of Artsakh. We also prove with this multi-thousand gathering that we are not 30-thousand, as Aliyev says, but 100-thousand and more.”
Melania Babayan is a professor of Armenian history at Artsakh State University and works as an adviser to the Minister of Education, Science, Culture and Sports. She says that the threat to the motherland forces us not to remain indifferent and that any citizen concerned about the fate of the motherland should be participating. Babayan says now is the time for us to plan for our future and save our motherland. “Seeing the concern in the eyes of my students, I came with them and joined the rally,” she shared. “This is a self-defense move. The Armenian people have endured arduous times. After the Armenian Genocide, we built a state, and I believe that now we must stand up and save the homeland.”
Haykush is a mother of three from Shushi. Her youngest daughter was born on November 9, 2020, the last day of the 44-day war. Haykush says her daughter was born on the day when they decided to hand over her house to the enemy. “I’m here because I don’t want to lose this small part of the motherland saved by the blood of our sons. My decision to participate is also aimed at the international community, which is openly revealing indifference, pretending to be deaf and dumb, as if they don’t want to notice Azerbaijan’s aggression,” she said.
Ania is a 78-year-old woman from Hadrut. Her husband was killed during the first war. Her grandson was serving on the frontlines of these latest attacks. “We left everything. I watered my garden and left, confident that I would return. Now the Azerbaijanis have demolished my son’s house and built a road right over the house. I came here with the hope of peace, with the hope of going back to our house.”
Artsiv Lalayan is an artist from Hadrut, who left his brush during the 2nd Artsakh War and defended the motherland on the front line. Now, he is protesting in Renaissance Square because not only a small part of Artsakh, but Armenia itself, is at risk. “This rally is for our self-determination, and if Nikol Pashinyan is going to question our right to self-determination, then this is also a fight against him,” said Lalayan. “Today the borders of Artsakh are threatened, and I cannot trust Azerbaijan. I cannot think that it is possible to live with them. I will believe only if they leave all our occupied lands and if I can go back to my home. I trust only 10 million Armenians.”
Lalayan’s friend Mher Arakelyan is a repatriate. He used to live in Kovsakan, but after it was occupied during the 2020 war, he moved to Askeran and the village of Hovtashen. He was brought to Renaissance Square by the inspiration prevailing here, the idea of unity and the will of the people of Artsakh to live in their homeland. “There is an Artsakh citizen; there is an Artsakh. There is no Artsakh citizen; there will be no Artsakh. Today, there are no Armenians living in Nakhichevan. That’s why we lost. The decisive factor is not even victory or defeat. We have to create it by all means with economic privileges, social justice and legitimate power, but the main thing is to instill will in the people,” explained Arakelyan. In order to do all that, Arakelyan continued, “every Armenian should start with himself and stay in his homeland, regardless of who is in power, even if we have to live with the enemy. You will also have a homeland.”
In the evening, Stepanakert’s Holy Mother of God Cathedral was filled with the faithful. The people of Artsakh shared in a united prayer for the martyred and for the defenders of the motherland. Reverend Matevos Dravyants joined the rally with his congregation after the service. He mentioned that they hold mass twice a week, worship service and united prayer because there is an ever-increasing need for it. “God’s power works in unity, Satan’s in division,” said the reverend. “The church is among the people. The people are in the church. We are united, and I am with my people.” he added.