Protests in Armenia continue - what will happen next?
Anti-government protests in Armenia
The parliamentary opposition of Armenia continues a series of protests in the capital and regions demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. The reason for the start of an active street struggle of the opposition was the Prime Minister’s statement that the international community expects Armenia to “lower the bar on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh“. The opposition says that this means agreeing to the status of NK within Azerbaijan, and consequently, to the expulsion of all local Armenians.
After this statement, Nikol Pashinyan made assurances that he did not intend to agree on anything and would not sign any document without the consent of the society, “behind the backs of the Karabakh Armenians”. The leadership of the unrecognized republic confirmed the words of the Armenian prime minister, but the movement of the opposition to remove Pashinyan from the post of prime minister continues.
The protests are gaining momentum, sometimes involving more than tens of thousands of people, but so far the opposition movement is not gaining a critical number of supporters. Experts attribute this to the fact that behind both parliamentary factions, which call on the people to take to the streets, are politicians from the former government. These are ex-presidents of Armenia Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan, who are considered by society as politicians with a pro-Russian orientation.
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Return of opposition deputies from streets to parliament
On May 4, opposition deputies, who have not been participating in parliamentary sessions for a long time and took to the streets demanding the resignation of the prime minister, returned to their jobs. The National Assembly hosted the traditional “Government Hour”, during which deputies asked questions to the Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet.
The oppositionists came to demand the resignation of Pashinyan personally. They read out a text with accusations, claiming, in particular, that the prime minister:
- failed to protect Armenian interests in the negotiations on the Karabakh conflict,
- led to the country to war, and then lost in it,
- could have prevented the war and avoided thousands of victims, but did not,
- promised to return the prisoners from Azerbaijan within one or two months, but failed to do so and they remain in Azerbaijan to this day.
In his response, Pashinyan traditionally spoke about the “legacy” he received from the previous government, in particular, from ex-president Serzh Sargsyan. He still managed to promise a loud exposure, but the opposition did not wait for him and left the meeting room.
Later, the opposition explained their departure by the fact that they did not want to listen to “another batch of lies from the prime minister”.
“There is no revolutionary potential yet”
According to political scientist Suren Surenyants, the protests are well organized but lack political content.
“We don’t hear from the activists of the platform what they think, what ideas they have about solving the internal and external problems facing Armenia”, the political scientist told JAMnews.
He believes that the protests may lead to a deepening of the domestic political crisis, but they “do not yet have a revolutionary potential” – and the reason is the lack of alternative political content, as well as public consolidation:
“If the opposition can say an alternative political word, present a new political context, it can succeed, because people are extremely disappointed with the authorities. But if we listen to the same primitive slogans that have been voiced up to this point, then there will be no great social consolidation, the movement will not lead to a revolution. Another thing is that the government’s resources may run out”.
The political scientist does not exclude the possibility of the influence of external forces on the protest movement, but he is sure that without the consolidation of society around the opposition, this will not play a role and will not lead to success.
As for the role of Russia in the movement launched by the opposition, the expert does not believe that in the current situation, the Kremlin will make special efforts to change the government in Armenia:
“Russia is deeply convinced that the main political forces of Armenia do not question the Armenian-Russian strategic partnership. Therefore, whether it is the government of Pashinyan, Kocharyan or any other, this partnership will not be questioned. I do not think that Russia in this situation would make special efforts to bring about a change of power”.
“The only message of the protesters is that NK cannot be part of Azerbaijan”
According to political scientist Benyamin Poghosyan, the people who took to the streets have only one message:
“Most of the politically active society does not intend to agree to the signing of a peace treaty with Azerbaijan, in which Nagorno-Karabakh will be fixed as part of Azerbaijan – with any status.
If the danger of signing such an agreement goes from theory to reality, the number of people involved in protests will increase significantly. This will seriously destabilize the internal political situation in Armenia and may lead to a change of power”.
However, the political scientist does not predict “tectonic internal political changes” in the near future. According to him, the negotiations are a lengthy process, and it is unlikely that a peace agreement will be signed before the end of the year. Moreover, Russia, according to him, is also not interested in this scenario:
“The Russian Federation is in no way interested in signing a peace agreement if it fixes Artsakh as part of Azerbaijan, as it believes that this will open the way for the withdrawal of Russian troops from NK in November 2025 [the Russian peacekeeping contingent has been deployed in NK since November 2020 for a period of 5 years – JAMnews]. And the Russians want one thing – to stay in Artsakh as long as possible”.
According to the expert, elements of political struggle are obvious in the actions of the opposition, but not all protesters are members of one or another political team:
“I don’t think that all those who are protesting now just want a second or third president [Kocharyan is the second president of Armenia, Sargsyan is the third] or people associated with them. There are a significant number of people who send a signal to both the Armenian authorities and foreign partners that any scenario in which Artsakh will be part of Azerbaijan is unacceptable for them”.
“Return of the former authorities is unacceptable for society”
The processes taking place in Armenia may be connected with “different circles of the Russian elite”, political observer Hakob Badalyan believes. He says that relations within the elite are quite complicated due to the events in Ukraine and tough sanctions imposed on Russia:
“Even before the start of the active stage of the struggle in Armenia, I warned that the complex relationships and competitive motives within the Russian elite would also affect the internal political life of Armenia. What is happening on the street today is one of the manifestations of this process”.
The expert believes that the return of the former authorities is unacceptable for society. He says that people have good reasons for this, which are connected not only with the past, but also with the behavior of the former authorities after the change of power:
“Even after a difficult war, military defeat, human and territorial losses, the public did not consider such a political situation, the possibility of changing the status quo, seeing that this change would be taken advantage of by forces representing the former ruling system”.