In Change Of Tactics, Armenian Opposition Scales Back Protests

YEREVAN -- More than six weeks after the start of their "resistance movement," Armenia’s main opposition groups have announced they will scale back almost daily demonstrations aimed at toppling Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and instead focus on weekly rallies to build larger crowds of protesters upset over the government's handling of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute with Azerbaijan.

Ishkhan Saghatelian, one of the opposition leaders, said late on June 14 that many Armenians who were unhappy with Pashinian’s government have avoided participating in the protests, so a change of tactics was needed.

“We have not yet managed to get all those people to the streets and bring them to this square. There are still people who think this is a fight for power, for the return of former rulers to power,” Saghatelian told thousands of supporters rallying in Yerevan’s France Square, the site of the opposition tent camp.

The two opposition alliances represented in the Armenian parliament launched their campaign to oust the prime minister on May 1, two weeks after Pashinian signaled his readiness to recognize Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and “lower the bar” on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh acceptable to the Armenian side. 

They accused Pashinian of helping Baku regain full control of Nagorno-Karabakh after Armenia lost control over parts of the Azerbaijani breakaway region in a 2020 war that ended with a Moscow-brokered cease-fire monitored by Russian troops.

Opposition supporters have since regularly marched through the city center, blocking access to roads and the entrances to government buildings while repeatedly clashing with riot police.

The most serious of those clashes, which broke out on June 3, left dozens of protesters and police officers seriously injured.

Pashinian and his political allies have dismissed the opposition demands for his resignation saying the opposition has failed to attract popular support for regime change. 

Saghatelian, who has been the main speaker at the protests, said that while the goal of unseating the prime minister has yet to be reached, the opposition has managed to “awaken society” and scuttle a “new capitulation agreement” with Azerbaijan. The protests have shown Pashinian lacks a popular “mandate to lead Armenia to vital concessions” to Baku, he said.

“We will definitely oust Nikol, but we will do that bloodlessly,” Saghatelian told the crowd.

The opposition, he added, has to “change the structure and tactic of our resistance movement in a way that will allow us to give it new impetus.”

They will now hold major rallies on a weekly basis and set up, in the meantime, new structures inside and outside Yerevan, he said.

Saghatelian said they will also keep fighting for the release of more than three dozen opposition activists and supporters arrested during the protest movement.

The vast majority of them were charged with assaulting police officers or government loyalists. Opposition leaders reject the accusations as politically motivated.

Nagorno-Karabakh, which had been under ethnic Armenian control for nearly three decades, is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.

Pashinian, who said he had agreed to the 2020 cease-fire to avoid further losses, said he would not sign any peace deal with Azerbaijan without consulting ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.