YEREVAN – Thousands of demonstrators have demanded Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian's resignation, as they took to the streets in protest at a peace agreement ending more than six weeks of fighting with Azerbaijan over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The deal, announced early November 10, sparked a furious reaction in the Armenian capital, with protesters defying martial law, filling Yerevan’s central Liberty Square, and calling Pashinian a traitor.
The Russian-brokered deal is a major defeat for forces backed by Armenia, who have controlled Nagorno-Karabakh since a 1994 cease-fire ended all-out war.
The deal, which ends fighting that has killed more than 2,000 soldiers and civilians on both sides, stipulates that Azerbaijan will keep a sizable chunk of the small mountain region, along with the surrounding areas captured during the fighting.
It also calls for deploying Russian peacekeeping troops.
In Yerevan, on November 11, several hundred protesters marched to the National Assembly and shouted anti-Pashinian slogans as they stood outside the building. Scuffles took place as police tried to prevent the gathering, and several participants, including opposition leader Gagik Tsarukian were detained.
Representatives of 17 opposition parties called for Pashinian to step down, blaming him for what they described as heavy concessions.
Another opposition leader, Ishkhan Saghatelian, gave Pashinian until midnight to resign and demanded together with other opposition figures that parliament convene a special session. Otherwise, he said, further steps will be presented to "solve the Pashinian problem" until the end of the day on November 12.
However, the opposition failed to muster a quorum.
Ahead of the demonstration, the government warned the opposition against attempting a “coup” amid growing tensions. Earlier, police officials warned that rallies were banned in the country under martial law, which was declared after the Nagorno-Karabakh fighting erupted on September 27.
Speaking on state television, Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinian did not rule out that the current government could resign, but warned against any “coup” attempt.
Less than 24 hours after the peace deal was signed, more than 400 Russian troops, eight helicopters, and other military equipment had already deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh.
In Moscow, Colonel General Sergei Rudskoi, of the Russian joint chiefs of staff, told reporters that Russian forces had taken control of the Lachin Corridor -- a critical mountain road pass that links Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia.
Nearly 2,000 Russian troops will eventually be active in the region, with 90 armored personnel carriers as part of the peacekeeping mission, he said.
The peace deal came after Azerbaijani forces made major battlefield gains, including the strategic town of Shushi, known as Susa in Azeri.
Efforts to resolve the decades-old conflict by the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) -- co-chaired by Russia, France, and the United States -- have repeatedly failed, and three previous cease-fires signed since fighting broke out again in late September collapsed.
The peace deal, Pashinian said on November 10, was “the best possible solution for the current situation.”
The agreement will allow ethnic Armenians to “preserve” territory they previously controlled, he said.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, meanwhile, said the agreement amounted to a "capitulation" by Armenia.
There was continuing confusion about whether troops from Turkey, Azerbaijan's staunch ally, would also deploy to the region, along with Russian troops. Turkish officials insisted that was the case, but the text of the deal published by the Kremlin made no mention of it.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would work with Russia to establish a joint center to monitor the cease-fire.
Prior to the peace deal announcement, there was also growing concern that mercenary soldiers from Syria and elsewhere were being brought in on both sides of the conflict.
A United Nations working group issued a statement on November 11 calling on both sides to withdraw any mercenary groups from the region.
“In this context, it is even more worrisome that the Syrian fighters deployed to Azerbaijan are allegedly affiliated with armed groups and individuals that, in some cases, have been accused of war crimes and serious human rights abuses during the conflict in Syria, thus seemingly perpetuating a cycle of impunity and risking further abuses of international law,” the UN group said.