Hundreds of people rallied in Yerevan on Wednesday to condemn Russia’s large-scale arms sales to Azerbaijan which they believe made possible the April 2 outbreak of deadly fighting around Nagorno-Karabakh.
The protesters, most of them young activists, marched to the Russian Embassy in the Armenian capital, chanting “Shame!” and “Free, independent Armenia!” Some of them threw eggs towards the embassy building, sparking a brief scuffle with riot police.
“If Russia had not sold the weapons, Azerbaijan would have long come to terms with the loss of Karabakh and opted for negotiations,” Daniel Ioannisian, a civic activist and one of the organizers of the protest, told the crowd through a megaphone.
A petition read out by another activist demanded an immediate end to Russian arms deliveries to Azerbaijan. It also said that Moscow must “fulfill the obligations” stemming from its military alliance with Armenia.
Russia has reportedly sold an estimated $4 billion worth of tanks, combat helicopters, artillery systems and other offensive weapons to Azerbaijan in accordance with defense contracts signed in 2009-2011.
Armenia’s government publicly complained about those deliveries after fierce clashes broke out along the Armenian-Azerbaijani “line of contact” around Karabakh on April 2. At least 69 Armenian soldiers were killed in the fighting stopped by a Russian-mediated ceasefire on April 5.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev defended the arms deals with Azerbaijan after visiting Yerevan last week, saying that they sustain “the military balance” in the conflict zone. He said that both warring sides would buy even deadlier weapons from other countries should Moscow stop its arms dealings with them.
Earlier this week, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin denounced the Armenian outcry as “demagogy.”
Russia has also been the main source of weapons delivered to the Armenian military. Last year, for example, it allocated a $200 million loan which Yerevan will spend on buying more Russian weapons at discounted prices.
Armenian critics of the Russian-Azerbaijani arms deals argue that unlike Azerbaijan, Armenia is a member of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).
“As we have seen, those unions do not contribute to our security in any way,” charged Ioannisian. Armenia should therefore terminate its membership in both organizations, he said.
Two leading members of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage), Armen Martirosian and Zaruhi Postanjian, called for Armenian withdrawal from the CSTO and the EEU earlier in the day. They too pointed to Moscow’s reluctance to openly side with the Armenians in the Karabakh conflict.
Eduard Sharmazanov, the spokesman for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), dismissed those calls. “In this region, there are two [big] armies: the Turkish and Russian armies,” he said. “The only alternative to Russian army military presence is Turkey.”
“And we saw what happened here when the Turkish army was alone in the region,” Sharmazanov added in reference to the Ottoman invasion of the South Caucasus during the First World War.
Other major Armenian opposition parties are also bound to disagree with Zharangutyun. The latter was the only parliamentary force that openly opposed Armenia’s accession to the EEU in 2014.