New Challenges to Political Stability in Run-up to Armenian Elections
Photo by Turan.az
In recent years, Armenia’s domestic political situation has experienced a high level of volatility. Many Armenians came together in April and May 2018 during the country’s ‘Velvet Revolution’ in which Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan and members of his Republican Party controlled government were forced to step down in favor of Nikol Pashinyan.
During the first two years of Pashinyan’s leadership, there were a small number of political flare-ups and controversies, but the country was lauded internationally for its improvements in democracy ranking systems. In 2018, The Economist praised Armenia for its gains in government accountability and transparency following the revolution, naming Armenia the annual Country of the Year.
The country has entered a new political reality following the signing of the ceasefire agreement ending the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war. In Armenian society, many considered Pashinyan to have ‘sold out’ the people of Armenia by capitulating to Azerbaijan without discussing the decision with other officials. Armenian President Armen Sarkissian notably stated that he was not involved in the signing of an agreement learned about the signing of a peace deal through the news.
By February 2021, Pashinyan faced expanded protests. After Pashinyan stated that Russian-supplied Iskander missiles used during the war ‘underperformed’ he came into conflict with the country’s military officials. Pashinyan fired Armenian Chief of General Staff Onik Gasparyan, a decision which was previously blocked by President Armen Sarkissian, which led to dozens of top military officials to demand Pashinyan’s resignation.
With civilians and opposition parties questioning his authorities, opposition parties signed off on Pashinyan’s announcement that the country would hold early elections. On April 25, Pashinyan announced his resignation as Prime Minister, remaining in the position in a ‘caretaker capacity’ until the June elections.
Considering a backdrop of a series of recent escalations of border tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan, several high-ranking officials have exited Armenia’s government with elections only weeks away. As of the time of writing, Armenia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Foreign Minister, and the Foreign Ministry’s Press Secretary have all issued their resignations.
The resignations were kicked off by a meeting in which acting Prime Minister Pashinyan proposed a plan for de-escalating the tensions that have emerged on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border, part of which have been caused by the lack of a border.
Pashinyan’s proposal, which called for the withdrawal of Armenian and Azerbaijani troops from areas near the countries’ borders and the deployment of international observers from Russia, France, or the United States, was welcomes by Western nations, European Union member countries, and the OSCE. Many Armenians, however, expressed disapproval of this proposal. In recent weeks, the Armenian public has experienced reports of Azerbaijani soldiers entering Armenian territory and most recently, reports of the arrest of 6 Armenian soldiers by Azerbaijani forces. The conflict is very much active in the minds of civilians, and Pashinyan’s proposals for mediation seem unattractive at the least.
Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazyan announced his resignation on May 27 following a National Security Council meeting. On May 31, he provided additional details, stating that he resigned to ‘ensure [that] there is never any question that our ministry can take steps or agree to any ideas or initiatives that go against our…national and state interests.”
Following Ayvazyan’s resignation, Deputy Minister Gagik Galachyan and Press Secretary Anna Naghdalyan both issued their resignations. In her resignation announcement, Naghdalyan noted that it was an honor for her to work with Ayvazyan and his predecessor, Zohrab Mnatsakanyan. Mnatsakanyan resigned over disagreements with Pashinyan, and it has been reported that this is the same reason for Ayvazyan’s resignation.
Ayvazyan’s resignation was likely triggered by another case of Pashinyan’s decision to go rogue and make national decisions independently. Mikael Minasyan, the son-in-law of Serzh Sargsyan, leaked a ‘secret document’ on social networks in which Armenia would sign over a number of villages to Azerbaijan. Pashinyan acknowledged the authenticity of the document on May 20, and Minasyan added that Foreign Minister Ayvazyan is ‘categorically against’ the signing the agreement.
With these issues simmering in Armenia, caretaker Prime Minister Pashinyan began a diplomatic tour to France and Belgium on June 1. According to Armenian news outlet Armenpress, Pashinyan will meet with members of the French National Assembly, French President Emmanuel Macron, and representatives of the Armenian community of France. Pashinyan’s agenda includes discussions on Armenian-French bilateral relations, opportunities for resolving the current border situation, and a long-term settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Parliamentary elections are scheduled for Sunday, June 20, leaving Pashinyan with less than three weeks to shore up domestic support to maintain his party’s majority or risk losing to opposition candidates that have blamed Pashinyan for Armenia’s 2020 defeat.