Thousands of people protest in Armenia against Karabakh concessions

YEREVAN: Thousands of opposition supporters rallied in the Armenian capital Yerevan on Sunday (May 1) to warn the government against concessions to archenemy Azerbaijan over the long-contested Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Opposition parties have accused Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan of plans to give away all of Karabakh to Azerbaijan after he told lawmakers last month that “the international community calls on Armenia to reduce demands on Karabakh.”

On Sunday, several thousand opposition supporters gathered in France Square in the center of the capital, blocking traffic throughout central Yerevan.

Demonstrators vociferously demanded Pashinyan’s resignation, with many carrying banners reading “Karabakh.”

Deputy Speaker of Parliament and Opposition Leader Ishkhan Sagatelyan said: “Any political status of Karabakh within Azerbaijan is unacceptable to us.”

“Pashinyan had betrayed the trust of the people and he must go,” he told reporters at the rally, adding that the protest movement “will lead to the overthrow of the government in the nearest future.”

Addressing the crowd, he announced “a large-scale campaign of civil disobedience that will begin on Monday.”

“I call on everyone to start strikes. I call on students not to attend classes. Traffic will be completely blocked in the center of Yerevan.”

“RIOT THREAT”

On Saturday, the Armenian National Security Service warned of “a real threat of mass unrest in the country.”

Yerevan and Baku had been locked in a territorial dispute since the 1990s over Azerbaijan’s mountainous region, predominantly populated by ethnic Armenians.

Karabakh was at the center of a six-week war in 2020 that claimed more than 6,500 lives before it ended with a Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement.

Under the deal, Armenia ceded swaths of territory it had controlled for decades and Russia deployed some 2,000 peacekeepers to oversee the truce.

In April, Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev met in Brussels for EU-mediated talks, after which they tasked their foreign ministers to “start preparatory work for peace talks.”

The meeting came after an outbreak in Karabakh on March 25 that saw Azerbaijan capture a strategic village in the area under the responsibility of Russian peacekeepers, killing three separatist soldiers.

Baku presented in mid-March its set of framework proposals for the peace agreement that includes mutual recognition of the territorial integrity of both parties, which means that Yerevan should accept that Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan.

Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan sparked controversy at home when he said, commenting on Azerbaijan’s proposal, that for Yerevan “the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is not a territorial issue, but a rights issue” of the local ethnic Armenian population.

Ethnic Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Subsequent conflicts claimed around 30,000 lives.

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