Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian rejected calls for his resignation on Sunday morning during a short and very tense meeting with opposition leader Nikol Pashinian which was aimed at ending ongoing anti-government protests in Armenia.
The two men spoke for only three minutes at a hotel in Yerevan in front of reporters after nine days of massive demonstrations organized by Pashinian in the capital and other parts of the country.
“I have come here to discuss the terms of your resignation and peaceful transfer of power,” Pashinian said at the start of the meeting.
“This is not a negotiation, this is not a dialogue,” Sarkisian responded, interrupting the 42-year-old politician. “This is an ultimatum, blackmail against legal authorities of the state. You do not realize the extent of your responsibility.”
“You have not learned lessons from March 1,” Sarkisian added, referring to the deadly 2008 post-election unrest that preceded his rise to power.
He then warned Pashinian to “come to the legal field.” “Or else, you will bear full responsibility [for further developments.] Make a choice,” he said.
Pashinian rejected “the tone of threats” and accused Sarkisian of failing to realize the extent of popular anger with his decision to hold on to power. “Power in Armenia has shifted to the people,” he said.
“A faction that got 7-8 percent of the vote [in the April 2017 parliamentary elections] cannot speak on behalf of the people, and I don’t want to talk to you anymore,” Sarkisian shot back before storming out of the room.
Speaking to the press, Pashinian said he will continue his daily rallies because the premier, who served as Armenia’s president from 2008-2018, has completely lost touch with reality. He urged Armenians to demonstrate against the government with even “greater vigor.”
Pashinian also insisted that he is undaunted by government threats to use force against him and his supporters. He again said that the protests do not violate an Armenian law on public gatherings.
Pashinian has repeatedly warned the authorities against arresting him, saying that would only accelerate their downfall. On Saturday, two prominent civic activists involved in his movement, Armen Grigorian and Davit Sanasarian, were arrested on suspicion of inciting “mass disturbances.”