Nikol Pashinyan greets his supporters during a gathering in Yerevan. Reuters
Armenia's prime minister accused top military officers on Thursday of attempting a coup after they demanded he step down, adding fuel to months of protests calling for his resignation following the country's defeat in a conflict with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has faced opposition calls to step down ever since he signed a Nov. 10 peace deal that saw Azerbaijan reclaim control over large parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas that had been held by Armenian forces for more than a quarter-century.
The opposition protests gathered pace this week, and the feud with his top military commanders has weakened Pashinyan's position, raising concerns about stability in the strategic South Caucasus region, where shipments of Azerbaijan’s Caspian crude oil pass through on their way to Western markets.
The immediate trigger for the latest tensions was Pashinyan’s decision earlier this week to oust the first deputy chief of the military's General Staff that includes the armed forces' top officers.
In response, the General Staff called for Pashinyan's resignation, but he doubled down and ordered that the chief of the General Staff be dismissed.
After denouncing the military’s statement as a "coup attempt,” Pashinyan led his supporters at a rally in the capital, and he addressed them in a dramatic speech in which he said he had considered — but rejected — calls to resign.
"I became the prime minister not on my own will, but because people decided so,” he shouted to the crowd of more than 20,000 people in Republic Square. "Let people demand my resignation or shoot me in the square.”
He warned that the latest developments have led to an "explosive situation, which is fraught with unpredictable consequences.”
In nearby Freedom Square, over 20,000 opposition supporters held a parallel rally, and some vowed to stay there until Pashinyan stepped down. Demonstrators paralyzed traffic all around Yerevan, chanting "Nikol, you traitor!” and "Nikol, resign!”
There were sporadic scuffles in the streets between the sides, but the rival demonstrations led by Pashinyan and his foes later in the day went on in different parts of the capital. As the evening fell, some opposition supporters built barricades on the central avenue to step up pressure on Pashinyan.
The crisis has its roots in Armenia's humiliating defeat in heavy fighting with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh that erupted in late September and lasted 44 days. A Russia-brokered agreement ended the conflict in which the Azerbaijani army routed Armenian forces - but only after more than 6,000 people died on both sides.
A crowd of Armenian protesters forced their way into a government building in the capital Yerevan on Monday to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, the RIA news agency reported.
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Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has formally asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to begin “urgent” consultations on providing security amid a conflict with Azerbaijan, the foreign ministry said on Saturday.
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