The several dozen deputies representing Armenia’s two main opposition groups headed to Karabakh after announcing a four-day boycott of sessions of the National Assembly.
One of them, Gegham Manukian, said Russian peacekeepers manning a checkpoint in the Lachin corridor connecting Armenia and Karabakh gave no explanations after checking their documents and not allowing them to proceed to Stepanakert.
Manukian blamed the Armenian authorities for the ban. He said that shortly before reaching the Lachin checkpoint the lawmakers were stopped by Armenian border guards and had their personal data collected by them. He suggested that it was immediately passed on to the Russians.
The authorities effectively denied this through a statement released by the Armenian Foreign Ministry. The statement criticized the peacekeepers’ actions, saying that they run counter to the terms of the Russian-brokered ceasefire that stopped the Armenian-Azerbaijani war in November 2020.
The Russian peacekeeping contingent has previously never stopped any Armenian politicians from travelling to Karabakh.
Manukian and other opposition figures claimed that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian engineered the unprecedented travel ban as part of his secret deals with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.
Aliyev and Pashinian agreed to start preparing for an Armenian-Azerbaijani “peace treaty” and to set up a bilateral commission tasked with demarcating the border between their countries when they met in Brussels on April 6 for talks hosted by European Council President Charles Michel.
Pashinian reiterated afterwards that Baku’s proposals on key elements of the treaty, including a mutual recognition of each other’s territorial integrity, are acceptable to Yerevan in principle. Armenian opposition leaders portrayed this as a further sign that he is ready to help Azerbaijan regain control over Karabakh.
The opposition Hayastan and Pativ Unem alliances rallied thousands of supporters in Yerevan on April 5 to warn Yerevan against making such concessions to Baku.
As he announced the opposition boycott on the parliament floor on Tuesday morning, Seyran Ohanian, Hayastan’s parliamentary leader and a former defense minister, accused the Armenian government of ignoring grave security challenges facing Armenia and Karabakh.
“We are leaving for Artsakh and Armenia’s border regions in order to continue directly communicating with our compatriots, to visit the sites of our country’s primary agenda,” he said before placing a Karabakh flag on the parliament rostrum.
Deputies representing Pashinian’s Civil Contract party dismissed the opposition move as populist. One of them, Vahagn Aleksanian, removed the small flag from the podium.
“With this step the parliamentary is not defending Artsakh but aggravating the security problems of Artsakh and the Armenians,” charged another pro-government parliamentarian, Hayk Konjorian. “The parliamentary opposition is using the Artsakh issue and our security problems to stage a coup and seize power in Armenia.”