Armenian protests demand PM’s head over concessions to Azerbaijan

Mass protests against territorial concessions to Azerbaijan have rocked Yerevan.

Archbishop Bagrat Galstanyan greets his supporters during a protest against Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan
Archbishop Bagrat Galstanyan greets his supporters during a protest against Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in Yerevan, Armenia, June 9, 2024 [Vahram Baghdasaryan/Photolure via Reuters]

Large protests calling on Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to resign have extended into a second day following a demonstration over the weekend.

Following a rally featuring thousands on Sunday, and an overnight vigil in pouring rain, hundreds of protesters rallied in front of Armenia’s parliament in Yerevan on Monday.

The demonstrations have been called to protest against a decision last month to hand four deserted border villages to Baku to settle decades-old territorial disputes between the Caucasian neighbours. The territory, seized by Armenia in the 1990s, was returned last week.

The protests against Pashinyan, who has also led Armenia to cooled relations with Russia, are being headed by Bagrat Galstanyan, an archbishop who called over the weekend for “new dialogue” with Moscow.

Streets and squares

Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought two wars over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which Azerbaijan recaptured last year from Armenian separatists who had control over the enclave for three decades.

Opponents have called the return of the territory a betrayal. Pashinyan said it was a necessary step to avoid a further war.

On Sunday, Galstanyan, who has said he hopes to replace the premier, announced the start of four days of rallies to drive him from office.

“For four days, we will stay in the streets and squares, and with our determination and will, we will achieve victory,” said Galstanyan, who has called on parliament to hold an impeachment vote on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan attends a meeting of the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) countries in Almaty, Kazakhstan, February 2, 2024. Sputnik/Dmitry Astakhov/Pool via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY./File Photo
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in Almaty, Kazakhstan, February 2, 2024 [Dmitry Astakhov/Sputnik via Reuters]

Thousands gathered on Sunday outside the government headquarters before marching to parliament.

If the impeachment vote is successfully held, an interim government would need to be installed and early parliamentary elections held.

However, the effort seems unlikely to succeed as opposition lawmakers lack enough seats to push it through.

Still, Galstanyan has temporarily stepped down from his religious duties to run for prime minister. However, he is not eligible to hold office under Armenian law because he has a Canadian passport.

Richard Giragosian, director of the Regional Studies Center in Yerevan, told the Reuters news agency that Galstanyan’s move was borne out of desperation as protest numbers dwindled.

Giragosian said the archbishop’s campaign was affected by a lack of political experience and the absence of a clear strategy.

The protests, as of yet, “do not pose any real challenge to the government. The only danger of escalation is from a possible overreaction by the security forces,” Giragosian added.

Armenia’s relations with Russia have cooled as Yerevan feels Moscow has failed to support it in its confrontation with Azerbaijan.

Relations took another jolt on Monday as Russia hit out at the response of Pashinyan’s government to its invasion of Ukraine.

After Armenian officials visited the Ukrainian town of Bucha, Russia sent a protest note to Yerevan.

The visit to Bucha was a “frankly unfriendly step”, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on Telegram on Sunday evening.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies