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Police confront protesters as thousands take to the streets in Yerevan

2 May 2022
An opposition gathering on Yerevan’s France Square on 1 May 2022. Photo: Ani Avetisyan/OC Media.

Armenian Police have used force to prevent protesters from blocking streets in Yerevan, with over 200 detained so far.

Over 10,000 people gathered at the capital’s France Square on Sunday to demand Pashinyan’s resignation. The opposition Armenia Alliance and I Have Honour blocs have announced they will renew their demonstrations on Monday evening after the clashes earlier in the day.

The opposition have said they intend to oust Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan through protests and civil disobedience, including calls for a general strike, echoing the methods in which Pashinyan himself came to power.

Anger has grown following statements by Pashinyan in mid-April suggesting Armenia may ‘lower the bar’ on its position regarding the status of Nagorno-Karabakh during negotiations with Azerbaijan.

During Monday’s demonstrations, police used force to clear the streets. In one case, officers were caught on camera punching a protester in the face as he was dragged away by police officers.

Daniel Ioannisyan, a democracy activist, said the force used by police was, in some cases, disproportionate, though special measures such as tear gas and water cannons had not been deployed.

‘In almost all cases, police officers verbally told protesters to open the street, but unfortunately, there are instances where force is used without warning’, he added. 

Ishkhan Saghatelyan, a senior MP from the Armenia Alliance, stated that force was also used against several MPs taking part. 

A wave of protests

A wave of smaller opposition protests have been taking place since 17 April, when Artur Vanetsyan, an erstwhile ally of Pashinyan who previously headed the National Security Service, camped out alongside his supporters in Yerevan’s central Freedom Square demanding the Prime Minister resign.

During the two weeks of demonstrations, opposition supporters have held marches in several districts of the capital.

The Armenia Alliance has called for marches throughout the country, choosing what they say are ‘symbolic’ settlements where battles against the Ottoman empire took place in 1918.

While the opposition are calling for Pashinyan to be removed from power, Armenia Alliance MP Ishkhan Saghatelyan has said that they had ruled out taking part in elections while he remained PM. 

During snap elections in June 2021 widely hailed by observers as being free and fair, Pashinyan won in a landslide. The election was brought about by the political turmoil that followed Armenia’s defeat in the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War.

Two former presidents of Armenia, Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan, joined the protesters on Sunday evening.

Sargsyan, Armenia’s third president, recommended not to ‘pay attention’ to Pashinyan’s statements about possible concessions over Nagorno-Karabakh, claiming that ‘for ten years of [Sargsyan’s tenure], the international community has been saying that Artsakh must have self-determination’.

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