Thousands of Armenians have marched through the capital Yerevan to commemorate the soldiers killed in a six-week conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region in which Azerbaijan made significant territorial gains.
The conflict and the deaths on the Armenian side have increased pressure on Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, whom the opposition accuses of mishandling the conflict by accepting a Russian-brokered ceasefire last month, to resign.
Keep readinglist of 3 items
Pashinyan led Saturday’s march, held on the first of the three days of mourning, driving up to the Yerablur military cemetery to light incense on the graves of fallen soldiers along with other senior officials.
“The entire nation has been through and is going through a nightmare,” Pashinyan said in a video address before the memorial march.
“Sometimes it seems that all of our dreams have been dashed and our optimism destroyed,” he said.
Still, the prime minister’s opponents seemed unsatisfied with his address, with many of them shouting “Nikol, you traitor!” and engaging in scuffles with his supporters and police.
Police dispersed the protesters to clear the way for Pashinyan and his security guards covered him with shields and umbrellas as protesters attempted to hit him with eggs.
Later in the day, about 20,000 opposition supporters marched across Yerevan for a memorial church service for the victims of the conflict.
Also on Saturday, 14 retired military generals issued a statement calling for the resignation of the government over its handling of the latest fighting.
“He must not desecrate the graves of our children,” Misak Avetisyan, who lost a son in the war, told reporters.
The grief-stricken father said the prime minister should get down on his knees and “beg for forgiveness”.
“This war did not have to happen,” said former Prime Minister Vazgen Manukyan who the opposition says should replace Pashinyan.
He said Armenia under Pashinyan had lost “all allies”.
Pashinyan’s critics have called on supporters to stage a national strike from December 22.
A member of the Pashinyan-led procession said the prime minister should not be blamed for the mistakes of previous leaders.
“He is not guilty of anything,” said Karo Sargsyan.
Pashinyan, a former newspaper editor, was propelled to power in 2018 after he channelled widespread desire for change into a broad protest movement against corrupt post-Soviet elites.
But after the war with Azerbaijan, many now say Pashinyan has betrayed Armenia’s interests.
Numerous public figures including the influential head of Armenia’s Apostolic Church, Catholicos Garegin, have called for Pashinyan’s resignation.
As part of the peace deal, Russia deployed nearly 2,000 peacekeeping troops to Karabakh.
More than 5,000 people including civilians were killed during the fighting between the ex-Soviet rivals, who also fought a war in the 1990s over the mountainous region.