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The Republic of Armenia is back in the news after months of relative silence following the signing of a ceasefire with Azerbaijan on 10 November last year. On that occasion, the country, or at least part of it, had already become inflamed when it burst into the General Assembly in Yerevan and demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol P’ashinyan, who has remained in office until now despite everything.
In recent days, tensions have risen again after the Prime Minister himself forced the resignation of the First Deputy Chief of Staff, Tiran Khach’atryan, on 24 February, following an altercation with the government over the effectiveness of certain weapons in the recent conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. The army’s reaction came in the form of a letter, signed by forty senior officers of the armed forces, demanding the prime minister’s resignation as they no longer considered him capable of governing the country properly. P’ashinyan was quick to condemn this act as an attempted coup, while at the same time calling on his supporters to gather in the capital to protest against the positions held by the military. At the same time, the President of the Republic of Armenia, Armen Sargsyan, refused to call for the resignation of the army chief of staff over this act of insubordination.
Last night’s large demonstration was opposed in recent days by that part of the population that holds P’ashinyan responsible, if not for the defeat, at least for an ill-advised and prolonged continuation of the conflict. The various protests against the Prime Minister this weekend resulted, once again, in an assault on a government building. The tension continues to rise in a country that, in addition to defeat, now also has to deal with serious internal divisions. At this point, many believe that the most appropriate way forward, and one that the Prime Minister seems ready to resort to, would be early elections so that the people can decide once and for all who they want to govern the country in the near future.
This was a series of anti-government protests against the then pro-Russian and notoriously corrupt political class that had ruled the country continuously since the dissolution of the USSR. The protests, led by P’ashinyan himself, culminated in his arrest and release, followed by the resignation of then-Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan (no relation of the current President) and new elections in which the former won a landslide victory. In addition to launching various democratic and anti-corruption reforms, the new Prime Minister’s wish was also to detach the country from the suffocating economic and military influence of Vladimir Putin’s Russian Federation.
The painful defeat in Nagorno-Karabakh, however, has demonstrated to the nation how Armenia remains a shard between powerful Turkey and a rich Azerbaijan that increasingly meets with the favour of a Christian West, but with a great desire for fossil fuels. Russia certainly did not give the same support in 2020 as it did in 1991 during the first conflict with the Azeris, and now, after the humiliating ceasefire imposed by Putin after more than a month of strenuous but futile struggle, the Armenian people find themselves at a crossroads: return to the Russian orbit, a steel armour that limits the movements of those wearing it, or continue on the path taken far from Moscow, but at the near mercy of their attackers.
The hope, in either case, is that the decision will be taken democratically and without further interference from the military apparatus.