End of Nagorno-Karabakh War Marks Beginning of Political Turmoil in Armenia
Following the signing of a Russian-brokered agreement to end the recent conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh on November 10, Armenia was thrust into a domestic turmoil. Public discontent has been rife, with many Armenians claiming that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan gave up and surrendered large amounts of territory to Azerbaijan.
Armenia’s highest officials, accused the Prime Minister of signing the agreement without prior consent. Armenian President Armen Sarkissian released a statement which explained that he “learned about the conditions for ending the war from the press as well.” “Unfortunately, there had not been any consultation or discussion on this document with me as the President of the Republic [of Armenia],” he added.
As President Sarkissian called for national unity, many of Pashinyan’s allies instead began to issue their resignations from their government posts. Press Secretary of the Ministry of Defense of Armenia Artsrun Hovhannisyan issued his resignation on November 12. Hovhannisyan has been criticized for his statements to the public in which he expressed his confidence that Armenian forces would be victorious.
On November 16, Armenia’s Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan issued his resignation. Mnatsakanyan was a career diplomat, previously representing Armenia as Ambassador to the United Nations. He became the Foreign Minister in 2018 after Armenia’s Velvet Revolution, in which Nikol Pashinyan replaced Serzh Sargsyan.
Also within the Armenian Ministry of Defense, Defense Ministry Spokesperson Shushan Stepanyan and Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan both issued resignations on November 20. Defense Minister Tonoyan had held the position since May 2018 following Pashinyan’s rise to power. Spokesperson Stepanyan, born in Hadrut during Armenian occupation of Azerbaijani territory, announced via Facebook that she would be leaving her position. In her announcement, Stepanyan indicated that “at this difficult time…there is the need for officials who will not make decisions based on emotions, who will look at events professionally,” and added that “this is something I will not be able to do at this time.”
The most recent resignation came on November 24 with the announcement that Armenia’s Minister of Economy Tigran Khachatryan would be leaving his post. Appointed to the role in October 2018, Khachatryan served as Minister for only slightly more than two years.
Immediately after signing the trilateral agreement with Russia and Azerbaijan, the Armenian public and opposition leaders began calling for Pashinyan to step down. An anti-government rally, led by opposition parties, was held on November 11 in downtown Yerevan. Eduard Sharmazanov of the Republican Party, Garnik Isagulyan of the National Security Party, and Ruben Melikyan, the former human rights ombudsman of Nagorno-Karabakh, were all detained in Liberty Square. Ishkhan Sagateluyan of Dashnaktsutyun, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, addressed protesters and called for Pashinyan’s immediate removal, referring to the Prime Minister as “the evil of the nation.” Armenia’s National Security Service also arrested several other opposition leaders, accusing them of planning a coup.
Pashinyan came under further criticism after posting a controversial statement on his Facebook account, which many interpreted as a call for civil war and violence against his opponents. This statement initiated a wave of resignations within Pashinyan’s party, beginning with parliamentary representative Gayane Abrahamyan. Following Abrahamyan’s resignation, Varak Sisserian, the Chief of Staff for the Deputy Prime Minister, announced his intent to leave his post. Deputy Minister for the Environment Irina Ghaplanyan stepped down, and parliament member Taguhi Tovmasyan left Pashinyan’s political party, but remained in parliament.
Following the shakeup, it has been announced that Ara Ayvazyan will serve as Armenia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vagharshak Harutyunyan as the Minister of Defense, Mesrop Arakelyan as the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, and Vahram Dumanyan as the Minister of Education, Science, Culture, and Sports.
Prime Minister Pashinyan has continually affirmed that he is not considering resignation. Martial law continues to remain in effect in Armenia despite the end of warfare, which some critics believe is being used to stifle mass protests against the Prime Minister.