Dozens of people have been detained at an anti-Russia protest in Armenia’s second-largest city, Gyumri, the location of Russia’s military base in the country.
Several hundred people took part in the demonstration on Sunday, which was organised by the National Democratic Pole Party, a nationalist, anti-Russia opposition party formed with the merger of Sasna Tsrer and several other minor parties.
The group planned to march to the outskirts of the city, where the Russian 102nd Military Base is located, demanding that the base be removed.
The organisers of the protest travelled to Gyumri from Yerevan, planning to block the base’s entrances to symbolise the month-long blockade of the Lachin Corridor, the sole road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to the outside world.
They were also demanding that the Russian peacekeeping mission in Nagorno-Karabakh fulfil their obligations by opening the road.
Gagik Sarukhanyan, one of the organisers, called the Russian government a ‘terrorist regime’ that wages war in Ukraine but ‘also wants to destroy us along with Turkic forces’.
He accused Azerbaijan of cooperating with Russia while sending ‘a few generators’ to Ukraine in an attempt to ‘show the world they are siding with the civilised world’. He said Azerbaijan was trying to ‘capture’ Armenia while portraying the country internationally as being a partner to Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The police blocked the road ahead of the protesters, stopping them from approaching the base. After tensions escalated between the demonstrators and police, over six dozen people were detained.
Anti-Russia sentiments have seen a dramatic rise in Armenia since the September fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan in southern Armenia. Armenia’s appeals to Russia and the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), both of which are treaty-bound to defend Armenia in the event of an attack, remained unanswered.
Along with several other groups, the National Democratic Pole Party has held a number of anti-Russia protests in recent months demanding that Armenia leave the CSTO.
Criticism of Russia and the CSTO has also come from Armenian officials, though the authorities have remained silent about any possibility of Armenia leaving the alliance.
The National Democratic Pole Party was formed in 2020, primarily by the Sasna Tsrer Party. Sasna Tsrer itself registered as a political party only two years earlier, following the Velvet Revolution.
The party was established on the bases of a militant group that came to prominence in 2016, when armed members stormed a police station taking several hostages. Three police officers were killed in the ensuing siege.
Several party leaders who took part in the attack were sentenced to between 6 and 25 years in prison in early 2022.