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The fires in Nagorno-Karabakh have caused anger towards Armenia’s leader.


In Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, a large group of demonstrators gathered in the central square on Wednesday evening. At first, they were in small groups, mingling with families who were enjoying ice cream on the benches. However, the crowd quickly grew into a vast sea of angry faces.

The government building was surrounded by heavily protected riot police, as the windows had been broken the previous night during a protest. The crowd chanted in solidarity with Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian region currently under attack by Azerbaijani troops. Some of the demonstrators, numbering in the thousands, also demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, blaming him for the recent loss and violence.

One of the main concerns is that a large number of the 100,000 Armenians living in the enclave could potentially be forced out through ethnic cleansing carried out by Azerbaijani forces.

Van, a 36-year-old resident of Yerevan, expressed his concerns, stating that the prime minister is not taking any action to protect human lives. He also accused Azerbaijan of committing genocide and avoiding responsibility for it.

In 2020, Pashinyan served as commander-in-chief during a violent 44-day battle between Armenia and Azerbaijan over a disputed area within Azerbaijan’s legally recognized borders. This area has been under the control of its ethnic Armenian inhabitants since a war that occurred after the collapse of the Soviet Union. As a result of the conflict, Armenian forces suffered significant territorial losses and had to rely on Russian peacekeepers to uphold the current state of affairs.

Despite being occupied with their invasion of Ukraine, Moscow, Azerbaijan has gained more control over Nagorno-Karabakh. This was achieved through a blockade of aid and a sudden attack with tanks, troops, and artillery. As a result, the leaders in the region were compelled to agree to a surrender deal brokered by Moscow.

One day war

This time, Pashinyan is determined to prevent the Armenian state from getting involved in the conflict, despite their strong backing for the Armenians in Karabakh. On Tuesday night, as the fighting resumed in the region, the prime minister stated that he will not permit any internal or external influences to involve the Republic of Armenia in military actions.

Armenia’s troops are overpowered and outnumbered by Azerbaijan’s forces, which have received support and training from allies Turkey and Israel. A potential war could have a severe impact on Armenia’s survival, especially as Azerbaijani troops have already gained control of key areas within its borders during a previous invasion in September.

However, for numerous Armenians, Pashinyan’s position is not satisfactory.

During Wednesday night’s protests, Aspram Krpeyan, an opposition member of parliament, declared this as a genocide warning. He emphasized the urgent need for a government solely focused on serving the interests of the Armenian people.

Although criticism is everywhere, there are not many alternatives available. Apart from resigning, few people can suggest what actions Pashinyan should take next.

In recent months, the Armenian government has sought to make a historic break with Russia in the midst of concerns it is no longer a reliable security guarantor. The country has sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine for the first time, invited U.S. soldiers to stage joint drills, and withdrawn its representative to the Moscow-led CSTO military bloc. In an interview with POLITICO just last week, Pashinyan said Moscow’s peacekeepers had “failed” in their duties.

Karen Minasyan/AFP via Getty Images

Currently, the Kremlin is seeking to assign responsibility for the recent escalation of conflict to Armenia’s leader, who has been moving towards a more Western-oriented stance.

According to a document obtained by the independent Russian news site Meduza on Wednesday, the country’s state media was directed to blame Pashinyan and his associates in the United States and European Union. At the same time, Armenia’s pro-Russian opposition parties are quickly advocating for a “temporary government” to manage the current situation.

Armenian politicians aligned with Russia are attempting to gain political advantage from the recent military defeat, but it is unlikely that Russia can offer any significant support at this time. Laurence Broers, a conflict expert at Chatham House, believes that even if there were attempts to overthrow the current government and install a more pro-Russian one, it would be difficult for them to maintain power due to the widespread disappointment in Moscow’s involvement in Nagorno-Karabakh. However, this does not mean that there will not be outbursts of anger and disappointment.

Let down

Even Pashinyan’s own foreign ministry, which has spent years building stronger relationships with Western capitals, couldn’t hide a sense of betrayal. Edmon Marukyan, Yerevan’s ambassador-at-large, posted a picture of the chaos unfolding in Nagorno-Karabakh, saying “this is tolerated by you” and naming top U.S. and EU leaders, including European Council President Charles Michel and Brussels’ top diplomat Josep Borrell.

The European Union is particularly careful when it comes to its involvement in the affairs of Armenia, as it considers the authoritarian government in Baku to be a crucial ally in diversifying gas supplies away from Russia.

Currently, concerns about ethnic cleansing are on the rise and Russia has stated that they have “removed” up to 2,000 Karabakh Armenians. However, it is unknown where they have been taken. In the capital of the region, Stepanakert, thousands of individuals have prepared for evacuation and have gone to the Russian peacekeepers’ base at an abandoned airport near the city. However, those still in the area have not received any food, water, or guidance on how to reach a safe location.

Azerbaijan denies any intention of causing a large-scale departure, but has not presented any plans for the peaceful integration of the Karabakh Armenians. Those who resided in the territories captured by Azerbaijani forces in 2020 were compelled to flee before the advancing armies. According to reports, some, like an elderly couple who remained, were executed and their bodies mutilated. This, coupled with President Ilham Aliyev’s declaration of having “expelled them from our lands like dogs,” has raised concerns about the feasibility of living in the mountainous region under his control.

Armenian authorities report that the current attack has resulted in a minimum of 200 fatalities and 400 injuries as of Thursday evening. Online platforms are flooded with individuals searching for their missing family members, particularly from remote areas of Nagorno-Karabakh where communication networks have been disrupted.

“I have joined the protests because my family is facing attack,” stated Daniella, a 20-year-old student from Stepanakert. “They are currently seeking refuge in basements without access to food or water. I do not believe the Armenians can offer any further assistance, as they have already done everything they can.”

She stated that in order to prevent a complete ethnic cleansing, other nations such as Russia, the United States, and EU countries must take action. However, she noted that they have not done anything so far, only speaking words without taking action.