With each trying to gauge its strength, the two sides called for rallies at 6:00 p.m. local time at two separate locations in the capital Yerevan. For the opposition, the objective is to obtain the departure of the head of government Nikol Pachinian, accused of treason. The latter for his part called on his supporters to show “the disposition of the people to support the democratic and constitutional order”.
The Armenian prime minister said Monday he was ready for early parliamentary elections to end the political crisis.
“If the parliamentary opposition agrees with early elections, we will also agree,” said Mr. Pachinian, whose party currently has a majority in Parliament, in front of around 10,000 supporters gathered on the Republic Square. “Let’s go to the elections to see who the people are calling for to resign,” he said.
A poor country in the Caucasus, Armenia has been close to chaos since Nikol Pashinian accepted in November, under pressure, a peace agreement confirming a humiliating defeat against the sworn enemy, Azerbaijan, in the independence region of Nagorny Karabakh . The opposition has since called for his departure and the confrontation, which had been simmering for months, was dramatically revived Thursday by the general staff’s call for the resignation of Nikol Pachinian.
Weakened but not defeated, the Prime Minister immediately denounced an attempted military coup, ordered the dismissal of the head of the army and gathered 20,000 supporters in the street the same day. For its part, the opposition has also mobilized with three consecutive days of demonstrations, from Thursday to Saturday.
Further aggravating the situation, President Armen Sarkissian, a political opponent of Nikol Pachinian, refused on Saturday to validate the dismissal of the army chief. He argued that the crisis “cannot be resolved by frequent changes of officials”.
“The political struggle must not go beyond the legal framework and lead to shocks, to instability”, added Mr. Sarkissan on Monday in a press release, calling for “tolerance and solidarity”. Stubborn Nikol Pachinian retorted that he would return the order to dismiss the army chief as president.
A hero turned “traitor”
On Monday, the supporters of Nikol Pachinian planned to converge on a memorial to the victims of the unrest following the presidential elections of March 2008. Denouncing a biased ballot, the opposition, of which Mr. Pachinian was then one of the rising figures , had been repressed and clashes with the police had left 10 dead and hundreds injured.
Imprisoned for two years for participating in these demonstrations, Mr. Pachinian took his revenge in the spring of 2018, rising to power in a peaceful revolution that overthrew former President Serge Sarkissian. Very popular and promising to rid Armenia of the old corrupt elites, Nikol Pachinian however lost some of his credit with the war in Nagorno Karabakh against Azerbaijan.
Faced with the risk of debacle, the Armenian army asked the head of government in November, after six weeks of fighting, to accept a ceasefire negotiated by Russian President Vladimir Putin and which involved significant territorial losses.
While most of the Armenian breakaway region of Nagorno Karabakh has survived, Armenia has lost the symbolic city of Shusha, as well as a glacis of Azerbaijani territory surrounding the region. In six weeks, the war claimed an estimated 6,000 lives.
The military has so far supported the prime minister but let go last week after the dismissal of a senior official who criticized Mr Pachinian’s claims that the defeat was in part due to the ineffectiveness of a Russian weapon system, the Iskander missile launchers.
The Armenian general staff then demanded the resignation of Mr. Pachinian, judging that he was “no longer in a position to take the necessary decisions”. The opposition considers him as a “traitor” who sold the country.