Pashinian again sought to reassure Syunik’s population amid continuing street protests in Yerevan staged by opposition parties demanding his resignation.
Syunik borders the Zangelan and Kubatli districts southwest of Karabakh which were mostly recaptured by Azerbaijan during the recent war. Armenian army units and local militias completed late last week their withdrawal from parts of the districts close to the provincial capital Kapan and many other communities.
Many local residents are now seriously concerned about their security as well as the safety of the main provincial highway running along a 20-kilometer stretch of the Soviet-era Armenian-Azerbaijani border. Hundreds of them blocked another section of the highway on Monday to bar Pashinian from visiting the mountainous region. The prime minister cut short his visit as a result.
Speaking at a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan, Pashinian reiterated that “not a single inch” of Armenia’s internationally recognized territory has been ceded to Azerbaijan.
“What is happening at this stage is a geolocation of some border sections the operational purpose of which is to ensure security … Our position is that with these actions we are enhancing security guarantees for Syunik and creating a new security system of Armenia,” he said.
Pashinian admitted at the same time that this process could result in “painful situations” for two Syunik villages. He implied that some of their houses and agricultural lands could end up under Azerbaijani control.
As Pashinian addressed his ministers several hundred opposition supporters demonstrated outside the main government building and tried to disrupt the weekly cabinet meeting. Some of them clashed with security forces deployed in and around the building. Several protesters were detained on the spot.
“Our country will be increasingly unprotected as long as Nikol Pashinian remains prime minister,” Gegham Manukian, a leader of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), told the angry crowd.
Dashnaktsutyun is a key member of a coalition of more than a dozen opposition groups holding demonstrations in a bid to force Pashinian to resign. They blame him for the Armenian side’s defeat in the war with Azerbaijan and want him to hand over power to an interim government that would hold snap parliamentary elections within a year. Pashinian and his political allies reject these demands.