Armenia: Protesters storm gov’t building amid political crisis

Days after rival rallies in Yerevan, anti-gov’t demonstrators enter building to demand PM Pashinyan quits.

Protests against Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan arose in November after he signed a cease-fire ending a six-week war with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region [File: Artem Mikryukov/Reuters]

Protesters stormed a government building in the Armenian capital on Monday, escalating a months-long political crisis over Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s handling of the recent Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Demonstrators forced their way into the building in Yerevan to demand Pashinyan quits, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported.

Social media footage showed a few protesters in the building, one with a megaphone, as police watched on.

The demonstrators left shortly after without violence, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Monday’s drama came after thousands participated in rival demonstrations in Yerevan on Thursday; anti-government crowds had called for the premier to resign, while Pashinyan managed to rally many supporters behind him on the streets.

The street protests followed what Pashinyan described as an attempted coup after the army also called for his resignation.

Anger is boiling as critics lament Pashinyan’s management of the bloody six-week conflict with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which killed thousands on both sides and saw swathes of territory ceded to Azerbaijan.

It was ended in November when both sides signed a Russian-brokered peace deal.

Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, even by Armenia, but has been dominated by ethnic Armenians since the early 1990s.

In response to the military’s demand, Pashinyan dismissed Onik Gasparyan, chief of the army’s General Staff, on Thursday.

Armenian President Armen Sarkissian on Saturday refused to formally approve Gasparyan’s sacking. Sarkissian said the move was unconstitutional and that the army should be kept out of politics.

Pashinyan retorted, saying on Facebook that the president’s decision “doesn’t contribute to the solution of the current situation at all”.

On Saturday, about 15,000 people rallied again in Yerevan seeking Pashinyan’s resignation.

The demonstrations against the 45-year-old had gone dormant for a spell in the depth of Armenia’s winter.

Further rival rallies were expected in Yerevan on Monday.

Pashinyan, who came to power spearheading peaceful protests in 2018, has urged his supporters to gather in the capital’s Republic Square.

The opposition has called its own rally in another area of the city.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies