Karabakh truce spells turmoil for Armenian leader Pashinyan


YEREVAN, Nov 10, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s
agreement overnight Monday to end fighting with Azerbaijan over the
disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region sparked widespread anger from
Armenians that threatens to spiral into a full-blown political crisis.

Hundreds of demonstrators demanding Pashinyan’s resignation stormed
government buildings in Yerevan after he announced the
Russian-brokered ceasefire, which came after a series of stinging
battlefield defeats at the hands of a long-standing enemy.

Armenia’s loss of swathes of territory in Nagorno-Karabakh and its
agreement to end hostilities was described by Azerbaijani leader
Ilhman Aliyev as a “capitulation”.

The defeat after more than six weeks of fighting that left over
1,400 people dead including dozens of civilians has spurred a national
crisis in Armenia and gathered storm clouds around Pashinyan.

The leaders of two opposition parties, Gagik Tsarukyan and Edmon
Marukyan, called on the prime minister to explain the decision to end
fighting to parliament.

On Monday, before the agreement with Azerbaijan was even signed, 17
parties called for Pashinyan to step down — including that of former
leader Serzh Sarkisian who was ousted from power in protests led by
Pashinyan in 2018.

That call was echoed by the “hero” of Armenia’s first war with
Azerbaijan in the 1990s, Vitaly Balasanyan, who called on “all
political forces in Armenia” and Karabakh “to push the prime minister
to resign”.

– ‘Enormous pressure’ –

Karabakh, a mountainous and ethnic-Armenian province in Azerbaijan,
plays a central role in Armenia’s political life.

Two former presidents, including the influential Robert Kocharyan
who was in power from 1998 to 2008, come from the territory that
claimed independence from Baku nearly 30 years ago.

A foreign observer to the conflict said on condition of anonymity
that he feared soldiers who had fought on the frontlines would return
to Yerevan and demand to “settle scores”.

“Pashinyan is in a very bad position,” he said. “He will have to
deal with enormous pressure, with a strong potential for

President Armen Sarkisian, whose role is largely ceremonial, said
Tuesday he was initiating “political consultations to find a solution
to protecting national interests as soon as possible” and form a
national unity government “urgently.”

Yet Pashinyan still has the backing of several key political
players and explained that he only signed the truce agreement with the
blessing both of the army and separatist leaders in Karabakh.

He believes he has helped the separatist region survive, even if it
is diminished.

Chief of staff Onik Gasparyan met with opposition officials
overnight and urged calm, while the defence ministry called on
Armenians to “refrain from any actions that could undermine the
foundations of the state”.

“We do not need a civil war. We must remain united,” the leader of
Karabakh Arayik Harutyunyan said.

– ‘Fought with honour’ –

The announcement by Harutyunyan’s spokesman on Monday that
Azerbaijan had captured the key town of Shusha in Karabakh was a clear
catalyst, even as Pashinyan insisted the fight for the strategic city
was continuing.

The contradicting statements brought on several hours of
uncertainty ultimately ending in the announcement of the
Russian-brokered agreement.

Pashinyan, who swept to power with a promise of change,
spearheading a wave of peaceful protests in 2018, described the accord
as “unspeakably painful for me and for our people”.

He issued three separate live appeals on Facebook for the
population to accept the decision over Karabakh, a historical and
cultural cradle for Armenians.

“We fought against terrorists, against Azerbaijan and a NATO
member, Turkey,” he said, referring to accusations that Ankara
dispatched mercenaries from Syria to fight alongside Baku’s army.

“Our army fought with honour,” he said. He added that no one would
escape taking responsibility for their actions, vowing that in the
meantime, “I am in Armenia and I continue to serve as prime minister”.