“Our task today is to prove that democracy can ensure the internal and external security of our country,” Pashinian told a “forum for democracy” in Yerevan attended by Armenian government officials, pro-government lawmakers, civic activists and Western diplomats.
“We have fought for the establishment of democracy in Armenia and we have accomplished our mission, even though we have not completed our mission,” he said in a speech. “In order to strengthen democracy, it is now very important to rally around another mission: we must bring peace to Armenia just like we have brought democracy to Armenia. One can hardly exist without the other.”
Pashinian alluded to his conciliatory policy on Azerbaijan and Turkey which triggered the opposition protests three weeks ago.
The prime minister said last month that the international community is pressing Armenia to “lower the bar” on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh and recognize Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. He signaled readiness to make such concessions, stoking opposition allegations that he has agreed to help Baku regain full control over Karabakh.
The forum took place in a Yerevan hotel guarded by scores of riot police and other security forces. Hundreds of people led by opposition parliamentarians rallied outside the building.
Some of those lawmakers tried to enter the hotel’s main conference room to take part in the forum but were stopped by Pashinian’s bodyguards. One of them, Agnes Khamoyan, said this made mockery of the declared purpose of the gathering.
Other lawmakers again hit out at the U.S. ambassador to Armenia, Lynne Tracy, who effectively welcomed earlier this week the outcome of last year’s parliamentary elections won by Pashinian’s party.
In an interview with the Armenpress news agency, Tracy said Armenians “recommitted themselves” to democratic values during the snap polls. Ishkhan Saghatelian, the main speaker at the ongoing opposition protests, responded by accusing the United States and other Western powers of turning a blind eye to government pressure on the Armenian judiciary, the existence of “dozens of political prisoners” and other human rights abuses in the country.
“With you silence, you are contributing to dictatorship in Armenia,” Saghatelian charged on Wednesday.
Speaking at Friday’s conference, Tracy expressed concern over what she described as disproportionate of use of force by the Armenian police against protesters. She suggested that Pashinian’s government is “taking heed of the need to investigate” the police actions.
The U.S. envoy said at the same time that the protests should be peaceful and not create “chaos” in the streets.
The police arrested hundreds of protesters in Yerevan earlier this week. Virtually all of them were set free a few hours later.
Still, law-enforcement authorities are pressing criminal charges against more than a dozen opposition activists and supporters arrested since the start of the “civil disobedience” campaign on May 1. Most of them are accused of assaulting police officers or government supporters. The opposition rejects the accusations as politically motivated.