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Armenian Opposition Resumes Anti-Government Protests


Armenia -- Opposition supporters demonstrate in Yerevan to demand Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian's resignation, February 2021.

Traffic was brought to a standstill in much of central Yerevan on Saturday as an alliance of more than a dozen Armenian opposition parties resumed street protests aimed at forcing Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian to resign.

The Homeland Salvation Movement alliance rallied several thousand supporters in the city’s Liberty Square in what its coordinator, Ishkhan Saghatelian, described as a “new start of our movement” sparked by the autumn war with Azerbaijan.

“As long as Nikol [Pashinian] is in power there will be no stability, peace and calm in our country,” Saghatelian told the crowd that gathered in the square amid a heavy snowfall. The opposition forces will continue “nonstop” civil disobedience actions in the days ahead, he said.

At the organizers’ urging, the protesters split and marched in four different directions after the rally, chanting “Armenia without Nikol!” and blocking major street intersections in the city center. Riot police did not attempt to disperse them and guarded key government buildings instead.

The opposition alliance blames Pashinian for Armenia’s defeat in the six-week war in Nagorno-Karabakh stopped by a Russian-brokered ceasefire on November 10. It staged a series of demonstrations later in November and December in a bid to force him to hand over power to an interim government.

Armenia -- The opposition Homeland Salvation Movement holds a rally at Liberty Square in Yerevan, February 20, 2021.
Armenia -- The opposition Homeland Salvation Movement holds a rally at Liberty Square in Yerevan, February 20, 2021.

Those protests did not attract large crowds, leading Pashinian to insist that he still has a popular mandate to govern the country.

The prime minister also expressed readiness on December 25 to hold snap parliamentary elections to end the political crisis in the country. Opposition leaders continued to insist on his resignation.

The ruling My Step bloc pointed to the opposition stance when it stated on February 7 that Pashinian and his allies see no need to dissolve the current parliament. It also claimed that most Armenians do not want snap elections. The Homeland Salvation Movement announced afterwards its decision to resume anti-government rallies.

“As long as there are upheavals there will be no development in our country. If they don’t resign things will get even worse,” Gagik Tsarukian, the leader of the movement’s largest party, Prosperous Armenia, said in a speech delivered during the Liberty Square rally.

“Armenia must boil. There must be daily rallies. The city must be paralyzed,” said Vazgen Manukian, another opposition leader whom the alliance wants to take over as a caretaker prime minister after Pashinian’s resignation.

Armenia -- Prosperous Armenia Party leader Gagik Tsarukian speaks at an opposition rally in Yerevan, February 20, 2021.
Armenia -- Prosperous Armenia Party leader Gagik Tsarukian speaks at an opposition rally in Yerevan, February 20, 2021.

Manukian also declared that the opposition should be prepared to mount an “uprising” if it fails to topple Pashinian with conventional street protests. “We will follow Plan A but must always be ready for Plan B,” he said.

Saghatelian, who is affiliated with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), backed the idea when he spoke with journalists after the rally. He said Armenians have a right to revolt against “this government of evil.” He stressed at the same time they must be patient and ready for a prolonged struggle against Pashinian’s administration.

While demanding Pashinian’s resignation, Tsarukian and another opposition leader, former National Security Service Director Artur Vanetsian, again made clear that their parties would participate in possible fresh elections organized by the current authorities. Other alliance leaders, notably Manukian, believe the opposition should boycott such a vote.

Saturday’s rally was timed to coincide with the 33rd anniversary of the start of a popular movement for Karabakh’s unification with Armenia.

Pashinian issued a statement on the anniversary. “I am sure that, like many peoples who have faced serious problems throughout their history, the Armenian people will soon heal the wounds of the past war and take even more decisive and firm steps into the future,” he said.

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