Pashinian caused uproar on Wednesday when he expressed readiness to sign an unpopular peace treaty with Azerbaijan “as a result of which many people will criticize, curse and declare us traitors.” He said he is ready to recognize Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity through such a treaty if Baku withdraws its troops from Armenian border regions occupied by it.
Speaking in the parliament on the second day of heavy fighting on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, Pashinian said nothing about the status of Nagorno-Karabakh or the security of its ethnic Armenian population.
His statement fueled rumors that the Armenian government will unconditionally accept Baku’s terms of the treaty, including recognition of Azerbaijani sovereignty over Karabakh.
Thousands of angry people rallied outside the parliament building in Yerevan in the following hours to demand Pashinian’s removal from power. They were not placated by the prime minister’s ensuing assurances that his comments were misunderstood and that “no document has is about to be signed.”
Speakers at the spontaneous protest, who did not represent the mainstream opposition, said Pashinian should be ousted through a parliamentary vote of no confidence. The two opposition blocs represented in the National Assembly swiftly agreed to try to force such a vote.
The Hayastan and Pativ Unem blocs control only 35 seats in the 107-member parliament. They do not even have enough votes to file a no-confidence motion against the government.
In a speech delivered on the parliament floor on Thursday, Gegham Manukian, an opposition lawmaker, urged his pro-government colleagues to back the motion and help topple Pashinian. He warned that they too will be branded traitors if they stick with their leader.
“It’s not the time to save Nikol, it’s time to save the homeland,” said Manukian. “The situation is critical. You must at last understand that the only way out of the situation is a new government, a new prime minister.”
Manukian’s speech was accompanied by angry cries and verbal abuse shouted by deputies from the ruling Civil Contract party. One of them, Vahagn Aleksanian, swore at the oppositionist. Deputy speaker Hakob Arshakian interrupted the session for 20 minutes after reprimanding Manukian and urging the Civil Contract deputies to “calm down.”
Manukian claimed afterwards that the opposition still hopes to win over some of the pro-government deputies and muster sufficient support for the no-confidence vote. Parliament majority leaders ruled out such a possibility, saying that they will not even discuss government change.
“The 10-member board of Civil Contract cannot decide who will be Armenia’s prime minister because Armenia’s citizens already elected Nikol Pashinian prime minister,” parliament speaker Alen Simonian told reporters.
Protesters again gathered outside the parliament compound later in the day.
Pashinian’s statement also raised concerns and sparked protests in Karabakh. Local political leaders said they cannot accept any settlement that would restore Azerbaijani control over the territory.
In what appeared to be a related development, Arayik Harutiunian, the Karabakh president, attended on Thursday a meeting of Armenia’s Security Council chaired by Pashinian. According to an Armenian government statement, the council discussed Azerbaijan’s latest “aggression” against Armenia and “the current state of the Nagorno-Karabakh negotiating process.”
In a Facebook post, Harutiunian said that he conveyed the Karabakh Armenians’ concerns to Armenia’s leadership.
“The Armenian authorities reaffirmed that they will not sign any document relating to Artsakh (Karabakh) without discussing it with the Artsakh authorities and taking into account the opinion of our people,” he wrote.