As people across the world took the streets to mark International Worker's Day on May 1, in Armenia’s capital Yerevan thousands of citizens organized an anti-government rally demanding the incumbent Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, resign.
The protests were triggered by potential government concessions over Karabakh — a long-disputed territory over which Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a 44-day war in 2020. According to local media, some 200 protesters were detained on May 2, as demonstrations continued and police resorted to violence to disperse the crowds. By some accounts, over 10,000 people attended the rally. According to Civilnet.am, an Armenian news outlet, “demonstrators, who have dubbed themselves the Resistance Movement, also announced Monday they would be setting up tents at France Square, a major intersection in central Yerevan, for an indefinite sit-in. In addition, they called on employees to strike and university students not to attend classes.”
🧵Opposition Protests: May 2
On May 1, opposition Armenia & I Have Honor alliances held large protest in Yerevan calling for resignation of PM Pashinyan after he said (April 13) the int'l community is asking Armenian side to lower benchmark on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh… pic.twitter.com/AmBWafB9v4
— EVN Report (@evn_report) May 2, 2022
🇦🇲 In the video – France Square in #Yerevan.
— JAMnews (@JAMnewsCaucasus) May 2, 2022
The anti-government protests began in April when Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan hinted at making concessions regarding the final status of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, after attending a meeting on April 6 in Brussels with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, facilitated by President of the European Council Charles Michel. During the meeting, the two leaders pledged to explore a “possible peace treaty,” to finally resolve the conflict.
Days after his visit to Brussels, Pashinyan said in his speech at the national parliament that the “international community was calling Armenia to lower the bars of the status of the disputed region.”
In response, the Nagorno-Karabakh Parliament adopted a resolution that said, “no government has a right to lower the negotiating bar for a status acceptable to Artsakth [Nagorno-Karabakh] and the internationally rebounded right to self-determination under the pretext of peace.”
Meanwhile, Parliament Vice-Speaker and opposition leader Ishkhan Sagatelyan said: “Any political status of Karabakh within Azerbaijan is unacceptable to us.” Sagatelyan also said, “a large scale campaign of civil disobedience to begin on Monday [May 2].”
Also, in early April, the de facto foreign minister of Karabakh, Davit Babayan said, “any attempt to incorporate Artsakh into Azerbaijan would lead to bloodshed and the destruction of Artsakh.” Babayan also told the Armenian Service of Radio Liberty that Prime Minister's statements caused a “wave of discontent in Nagorno-Karabakh.”
The protests had been brewing prior to Pashinyan’s trip to Brussels. According to OC Media, an independent outlet that covers the caucuses, “over ten thousand protesters rallied in Yerevan, led by Armenia’s parliamentary opposition parties. They called on the Pashinyan government to resign and not to make any concessions to Azerbaijan.”
Critics accused him of being willing to accept Baku’s assertion of control over Nagorno-Karabakh. Pashinyan defended himself, saying the recent negotiations with Azerbaijan in no way mean surrendering Karabakh. In a special session of parliament, Pashinyan said, “we are saying that the people of Karabakh must not leave Karabakh, the people of Karabakh must live in Karabakh, the people of Karabakh must have rights, freedoms, and a status.”
On April 21, Pashinyan traveled to Moscow where he met with President Putin. The two leaders “reached an agreement on a number of important issues, including the security of Nagorno-Karabakh, the unblocking of regional infrastructure and demarcation of Armenia and Azerbaijan’s borders,” reported OC Media.
The history of the Nagorno-Karabakh
Nagorno-Karabakh has been under the control of its ethnic Armenian population as a self-declared state since a war fought in the early 1990s, which ended with a 1994 ceasefire and Armenian military victory. In the aftermath of the first war, a new, internationally unrecognized, de facto Nagorno-Karabakh Republic was established. Seven adjacent regions were occupied by Armenian forces. As a result of that war, “more than a million people had been forced from their homes: Azerbaijanis fled Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and the adjacent territories, while Armenians left homes in Azerbaijan,” according to the International Crisis Group, an independent organization that works to prevent wars and shape policies.
Following the second Karabakh war in 2020, Azerbaijan regained control over much of the previously occupied seven regions. Azerbaijan also captured one-third of Karabakh itself as a result of the second war.
On Nov. 10, 2020, Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a ceasefire agreement brokered by Russia. Among several points of the agreement, Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to a presence of 1,960 Russian peacekeeping forces in those parts of Karabakh “not recaptured by Azerbaijan and a narrow corridor connecting with Armenia across the Azerbaijani district of Lachin.” There are 27 Russian peacekeeping posts inside Azerbaijan.
Meanwhile, the demonstrators vowed not to leave the area until Prime Minister Pashinyan and his cabinet resigned.