There are thick clouds again in the sky over Yerevan, the Armenian capital. There was hope that Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan stepping down could lead to an orderly transition of power after 10 years of corrupt and patronage regime — but that hope is fading.
It did not go very well since Tuesday morning. Acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan and opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan bumped into each other, but did not talk to each other, at the event commemorating the 1915 Ottoman genocide that killed over a million and a half Armenians. In the afternoon, Pashinyan requested again to be appointed prime minister and to dissolve Parliament — but his demands were rejected by the Republican Party.
The Republican Party’s renewed resistance to the opposition’s requests arrived after its Parliamentary Group had proved to be united: not one of the 58 MPs left the party, which therefore still has the absolute majority in Parliament. Nobody would have bet on such solidity a day before.
Pashinyan appealed to the people, calling for a general mobilization the following day. “They sacrificed PM Sargsyan so that they could avoid changing anything else,” he said. “The struggle is not over.” Wednesday there were rallies and demonstrations. Demonstrators huddled around Parliament and blocked the highways leading to Georgia and to the airport.
The clash is about the country’s balance of power as much as it is about its international stance. Pashinyan never hid his desire to bring Armenia closer to the West, and Wednesday he met EU representatives and received encouraging words from the US Department of State.
At the end of the meeting and after a few set phrases, Pashinyan described his foreign policy agenda. “We have a few problems with Russia,” he said, with the manner of someone who is already prime minister. “And that’s not only because it keeps selling weapons to Azerbaijan.”
The opposition leader said it did not take issue with Russian military bases in Armenia (according to 2010 agreements, the Russian army is authorized to stay in Armenia until 2044), but Moscow would have to clarify its ties with Turkey. Pashinyan’s approach creates some difficulty for the Kremlin, since Russia has an excellent diplomatic and commercial relationship with Ankara recently.
Russia maintains the same cautious stance it has had since the beginning of the Armenian crisis. Putin’s official spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he hopes “the country remains stable and orderly, and to be able to understand its new political setting in the very near future.” Peskov also said he does not draw any parallel between the current Armenian crisis and the one that occurred in Ukraine four years ago.
However, someone is pacing up and down in Moscow. Wednesday, a Duma MP said he was convinced that Pashinyan is untrustworthy: “He is two-faced: for now he wants to continue receiving our oil, but he also wants to side up with the West.”
The fear isn’t sheer paranoia. In a press conference, Pashinyan said he would like to leave the Eurasian Economic Union led by Russia, even though he admitted that he would call a referendum on the matter.
All of this is happening against the backdrop of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. The region is contested by Azerbaijan and Armenia, and a conflict stemmed from the dispute between 1992 and 1994. Today, the region is a de facto Republic, but negotiations to settle the conflict never started. On Monday, the Azeri Foreign Minister ordered Armenia “not to take advantage of the political situation to annex the region” and rejected Armenia’s claim that it is gathering troops at the border.
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