The 29-year-old mayor, Arush Arushanian, was among the elected heads of more than a dozen communities in Syunik province who demanded Pashinian’s resignation earlier this month. They held him responsible for the Armenian side’s defeat in the recent war in Nagorno-Karabakh and accused him of putting Syunik’s security at grave risk with Armenian troop withdrawals completed over the weekend.
Pashinian planned to visit the region on Monday in a bid to reassure its population.
Arushanian urged Goris residents late on Sunday to join a convoy of vehicles which he said will block the main regional highway to stop Pashinian from entering Syunik.
“This is not a political orientation or a partisan initiative,” he wrote on Facebook. “This is a fight for the dignity, security and physical existence of the people of Syunik,” he wrote on Facebook.
Arushanian was arrested and taken to Yerevan a few hours later. Armenia’s Investigative Committee said on Monday afternoon that he is suspected of organizing an illegal gathering.
Goris’s Deputy Mayor Irina Yolian and other Arushanian supporters condemned the arrest as politically motivated. Several dozen opposition activists gathered outside the Investigative Committee headquarters in Yerevan to demand the mayor’s release.
Arushanian’s lawyer, Armen Melkonian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service earlier in the day that he is being illegally denied access to his client.
Despite Arushanian’s arrest, a highway section near Goris was blocked by several hundred protesters, forcing Pashinian to cut short his trip to Syunik.
The prime minister was able to visit only one provincial town, Sisian. Addressing several hundred supporters who gathered there, he condemned the road blockade and said its organizers want to prevent similar gatherings in Goris, the provincial capital Kapan and other communities which he said would expose continuing popular support for him.
Pashinian is facing growing pressure to resign from the Armenian opposition and many public figures. He has rejected the opposition demands backed by President Armen Sarkissian and the Armenian Apostolic Church.