Anti-Government Protests Continue In Yerevan Amid Fury Over Karabakh Peace Deal

YEREVAN -- Armenian opposition groups are continuing their protests to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian over the terms he agreed to in a Russian-brokered accord with Azerbaijan that ended more than six weeks of fighting over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Several thousand protesters marched through the streets of Yerevan on November 12, shouting anti-Pashinian slogans such as "Traitor, go away!”

Separately, supporters of the opposition group Sasna Tsrer held a rally in the central Freedom Square but canceled a planned march in the city after police told them to disband, citing martial law, under which rallies are banned.

A number of demonstrators who refused to leave the area were detained by security forces.

The announcement of the truce deal early on November 10 sparked an immediate and furious reaction in the Armenian capital, where angry protesters stormed government buildings and parliament.

While ending fighting that has killed more than 2,000 soldiers and civilians on both sides, the deal has been rejected by many Armenians because it allows Azerbaijan to keep a sizable chunk of the small mountain region, along with the surrounding areas captured during the fighting.

The day after the agreement, thousands of demonstrators defied martial law and rallied in the center of the city, calling Pashinian a “traitor.”

The Special Investigation Service announced on November 12 the arrest of 10 prominent opposition figures accused of "organizing illegal violent mass disorder," a move denounced by the opposition as illegal.

Those arrested in the criminal case initiated by the Special Investigation Service included Gagik Tsarukian, leader of the Prosperous Armenia Party; Homeland party leader Arthur Vanetsian; Ishkhan Sagatelian and Gegham Manukian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutiun); as well as Eduard Sharmazanov of the former ruling Republican Party (HHK).

Vanetsian was later released, his assistant Vahagn Boiajian told RFE/RL.

Nearly two dozen opposition parties have demanded Pashinian’s resignation over the trilateral truce deal, viewed by them as an act of surrender.

In an address to the nation on November 12, Pashinian acknowledged that the document he signed was "bad for us" but "should not be presented as worse than it is."

The prime minister said it had prevented the collapse of Armenian defense lines and the encirclement of up to 25,000 soldiers.

He also called on Armenians to rally around his government, saying that its priority was the stability and security of the country.

The Russia-brokered deal is a major defeat for Yerevan-backed ethnic Armenian forces who have controlled Nagorno-Karabakh since a 1994 cease-fire ended all-out war.

Hundreds of Russian peacekeepers have already been deployed in the disputed area as part of a five-year mandate.

On November 12, a battalion of Russian peacekeepers entered Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh's largest city, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told reporters.

The peace deal came after Azerbaijani forces made major battlefield gains in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, including reports they were approaching the region’s main city, Stepanakert, after taking the nearby strategic town of Shushi, known as Susa in Azeri.

Nearly 2,000 Russian peacekeepers will eventually be active in the region, with 90 armored personnel carriers, as part of Russia’s peacekeeping mission.

There have been questions about whether troops from Turkey, Azerbaijan's staunch ally, would also deploy to the region.

Turkish officials have insisted that was the case, but the text of the deal published by the Kremlin made no mention of it.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted on November 12 that "no peacekeeping units of the Turkish Republic will be dispatched to Nagorno-Karabakh.”

Lavrov said the activity of Turkish observers would be restricted to the premises of a Russian-Turkish cease-fire control center being created in Azerbaijan.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said a Russian delegation was scheduled to visit Turkey on November 13 to discuss details of how the joint center would operate.

Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but the ethnic Armenians who make up most of the population reject Azerbaijani rule. They have been governing their own affairs, with support from Armenia, since Azerbaijan's troops and Azeri civilians were pushed out of the region in a war that ended in a cease-fire in 1994.

Efforts to resolve the conflict by the OSCE Minsk Group -- co-chaired by Russia, France, and the United States -- have not brought any results since 1992. Three previous cease-fires signed since fighting broke out again on September 27 have failed to hold.

With reporting by TASS and dpa