Thousands of protesters have gathered in the Armenian capital of Yerevan on Wednesday, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan over his handling of the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis.
Pashinyan has been accused of failing to protect the ethnic Armenian population in the breakaway region, which was forced to surrender to Azerbaijan after a 24-hour military offensive. Azerbaijan said it had restored its sovereignty over the territory and announced a ceasefire on Wednesday.
The protesters, who waved flags and posters, clashed with police in riot gear near a government building. Some threw rocks and bottles at Pashinyan’s office, while others were injured and covered in blood.
“Our authorities have renounced Artsakh,” opposition politician Avetik Chalabyan told the crowd, using the Armenian name for Karabakh. “The enemy is at our doorstep. We must change authorities to change national policy,” he added.
Another opposition leader, Ishkhan Saghatelyan, called on parliamentary opposition forces to launch an impeachment procedure against the prime minister.
Pashinyan took power in a 2018 revolution during which he addressed rallies on the same square. He has faced criticism for signing a Russia-brokered peace deal with Azerbaijan in November 2020, which ended 44 days of fierce fighting but also ceded large parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas to Azerbaijan.
On Tuesday, Azerbaijan’s military launched an “anti-terror” operation demanding that Karabakh’s forces surrender and disband their “illegal regime”. Unable to get any support from Armenia because a key road has been blocked by Azerbaijan since December, the ethnic Armenians soon gave in.
Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev said he had nothing against the ethnic Armenian population, only what he called their “criminal junta”. He said Azerbaijan wished to integrate Karabakh’s population and turn the region into “paradise”.
But there are serious concerns at what could happen to the ethnic Armenians still in Nagorno-Karabakh. Images posted on social media show thousands of Armenians gathered at the Russian-controlled airport in Stepanakert, the capital of Karabakh (known as Khankendi by Azeris), trying to leave the territory.
A separatist official said on Wednesday that more than 10,000 people have been evacuated from Armenian communities to other settlements in the region “where relative safety can be provided”. Another official stated that at least 200 people were killed in the fighting, including civilians – although the BBC has not been able to verify these numbers.
Azerbaijan’s presidency said officials would meet Karabakh’s Armenian representatives for talks on “issues of re-integration” in the Azerbaijani town of Yevlakh on Thursday.