Armenia’s main opposition groups say the rally scheduled for Saturday is meant to demonstrate that Pashinian has no mandate to make this or other major concessions to Azerbaijan. They accuse him of planning to help Baku regain full control of Karabakh.
Opposition leaders also want to show support for tens of thousands of Karabakh Armenians who rallied in Stepanakert on October 31 at the urging of local political groups. The latter issued a joint statement saying that the Armenian government must not unequivocally recognize Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity through a bilateral peace treaty.
Bishop Bagrat Galstanian said on Friday that he will deliver a speech at the Yerevan rally “with the blessing” of Catholicos Garegin II, the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
A vocal critic of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, Galstanian heads the church diocese in Armenia’s northern Tavush province.
“This is a supra-partisan rally,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “Even it was partisan, it’s a reaction to our Artsakh compatriot’s cry for help. That cry cannot go unanswered.”
“Artsakh’s right to self-determination is not a limited right, it’s about the dignity, honor and survival of all Armenians,” the outspoken bishop said, adding that Pashinian’s administration is reluctant to fight for it.
The Armenian Church’s Supreme Spiritual Council headed by Garegin also signaled concerns about the government’s Karabakh policy in a statement issued on Friday after a four-day session in Echmiadzin. It said that “the Artsakh people’s right to self-determination is non-negotiable.”
The statement urged the government to “eliminate the dividing lines in our national life, stop discriminatory approaches motivated by political beliefs, overcome the atmosphere of hatred and hostility and initiate a meaningful and healthy dialogue” in the country. This would pave the way for a “national consolidation” needed for confronting grave security challenges facing Karabakh and Armenia, it said.
Armenia’s former Presidents Levon Ter-Petrosian, Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian as well as two former Karabakh leaders discussed those challenges in September at a series of meetings hosted by Garegin. The ex-presidents failed to reach consensus.
The ancient church, to which the vast majority of Armenians nominally belong, enjoyed strong government support until the 2018 “velvet revolution” that brought Pashinian to power. The prime minister’s frosty relationship with Garegin has increasingly deteriorated since then. Pashinian openly attacked the church when he campaigned for the June 2021 parliamentary elections.