Riots and unrest in Armenia over upcoming peace deal

A multi-day blockade of a major traffic artery, an attempt to storm parliament, police violence including the use of flash grenades, 98 arrests and more than a hundred injured. This is the result of a week of rising tensions in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, between the government and protesters. They demand that Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan resign immediately.

Unrest began in mid-April in the northeastern province of Tavush, after Armenia and Azerbaijan reached an agreement to demarcate their shared border in this area. As part of that agreement, Yerevan ceded control of four uninhabited villages in the Tavush region to Baku on May 15. The villages were part of Azerbaijan during the Soviet Union, but had been under Armenian authority since the early 1990s.

“The border agreement is an instinctive reaction”

According to protest leader and Archbishop Bagrat Galstanian, the agreement is a shame. He stresses that this is not an exchange, but a unilateral “gift” that does not benefit Armenia. As far as he is concerned, the border agreement is a knee-jerk act for Azerbaijan, opening the door to Baku’s other territorial claims.

On Wednesday it became clear that many Armenians share his concerns. Pashinyan then announced that the peace deal with Azerbaijan was almost finalized and immediately sparked riots.

The prime minister also announced Wednesday that he wants to withdraw Armenia from the CSTO, a military alliance led by Russia. According to Pashinyan, Moscow has never been able to guarantee Armenia’s security in recent years, although the country has faced Azerbaijani aggression on several occasions. In early May it was announced that several hundred Russian soldiers who were supposed to protect the border with Armenia would leave the country.

Fear of climbing

The political opposition sees the break with Moscow as a huge risk. She believes that the termination of CSTO membership and the withdrawal of Russian soldiers creates a security vacuum that may tempt Azerbaijan into new military violence.

The fear of a military escalation is deep. This is not surprising: Armenia and Azerbaijan fought two large-scale wars in the 1990s and in the fall of 2020 that cost the lives of tens of thousands of people.

However, the Yerevan government believes there is no other option. Pashinyan and his associates point out that the border agreement actually nips further escalation in the bud. By handing over the villages to Baku, Yerevan said it was preventing Azerbaijan from using new military force against Armenia to meet its demands. According to the government, a clearly demarcated border is a guarantee for reaching a lasting peace agreement.

Therefore, Pashinyan and his cabinet refuse to resign for the moment. Furthermore, the ruling Civil Contract party has a comfortable two-thirds majority in parliament and there are still no cracks within the party. A motion of no confidence, which protest leader Galstanian has alluded to several times, also appears to have little chance of success for now.

jubilant mood

Meanwhile, on the other side of the border there is an atmosphere of joy. After Baku regained full control of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region in September last year after more than three decades of Armenian occupation following a lightning military offensive, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev is full of self-confidence. same.

For Aliyev, the reconquest of the area that belongs to Baku according to international law, but which historically was largely populated by Armenians, is the jewel in the crown of his more than twenty years of government. Last Wednesday it was also announced that the last Russian “peace troops”, tasked with monitoring stability in the region since the end of 2020, had left Nagorno-Karabakh.

Reconstruction

At the end of May, Aliyev proudly announced that starting in September, Baku will begin the “resettlement” of people to Chankendi, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, known as Stepanakert in Armenian. He also announced that Karabakh University will open its doors later that month to an expected 1,200 students who will be able to receive free education, including a laptop, room and board, at the new educational institute.

It’s all part of the ‘Great Return Program’ that Aliyev announced in November 2022. Under that plan, more than 140,000 former Nagorno-Karabakh refugees should have returned to their homeland they abandoned years ago by 2026. To achieve this, Baku is injecting almost six billion dollars this year alone for the reconstruction of the region.

Also read:

Riots in Yerevan after Armenia ‘gifts’ four villages to archenemy Azerbaijan

In Armenia, calls for Prime Minister Pashinyan’s resignation are increasing. Critics want him to leave after a deal with Azerbaijan to cede four villages to the archenemy.

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