Armenian police on Tuesday detained more than 200 anti-government protesters as opposition parties stepped up pressure on Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan over his handling of a territorial dispute with Azerbaijan.
Protests erupted in Yerevan on Sunday with the opposition demanding Pashinyan’s resignation, accusing him of plotting to cede to Baku the entire disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region over which the two countries went to war in 2020.
New demonstrations broke out on Monday and on Tuesday police cracked down on protesters who blocked traffic in central Yerevan, sparking chaotic scenes and the worst protests in the country since last September’s elections.
The Interior Ministry said “206 protesters were detained” in Yerevan and several provincial cities.
The protests highlight bitterness over Pashinyan’s leadership since the six-week war in 2020 that claimed more than 6,500 lives before ending with a Russian-brokered ceasefire deal.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a decades-long dispute over Karabakh, the Armenian-populated region of Azerbaijan.
Armenia’s security service warned on Saturday of “a real threat of unrest in the country”, but Pashinyan’s ally and parliament speaker Alen Simonyan downplayed the risk of instability, insisting “there is no political crisis in the country”. Armenia”.
“The political forces, who lost the parliamentary elections in 2021, are aggressively trying to mount a wave of protests, but our citizens have already made their decision and will stay away from their attempts,” he told a news conference on Tuesday.
– ‘Symbol of defeat’ –
Opposition leader and deputy speaker of parliament Ishkhan Saghatelyan said: “Pashinyan is a traitor and the ongoing street protests, which are increasing, will force him to resign.”
He called for a protest rally on Tuesday afternoon in Yerevan’s central French Square, where thousands rallied against Pashinyan on Sunday and Monday.
“Nikol must go, he will go, because he is a symbol of defeat and Armenia has no future with such a leader,” said blacksmith Sergei Hovhannisyan, 57, one of the protesters.
“He is ready to hand over Karabakh for which we have shed our blood,” he told AFP.
Opposition parties accuse Pashinyan of plans to cede all of Karabakh to Azerbaijan after he told lawmakers last month that “the international community calls on Armenia to reduce demands on Karabakh.”
Under the Moscow-brokered deal, Armenia ceded swathes of territory it had controlled for decades, and Russia deployed some 2,000 peacekeepers to oversee the truce.
The pact was seen in Armenia as a national humiliation and sparked weeks of anti-government protests, prompting Pashinyan to call early parliamentary elections that his Civil Contract party won last September.
Ethnic Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Subsequent conflicts claimed around 30,000 lives.