Amidst reports of police brutality against protesters demanding the Armenian government’s resignation in the wake of Azerbaijan’s attack on Nagorno-Karabakh, government-affiliated media has maligned Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians taking part in the protests.
Thousands of people have joined protests in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, after the Azerbaijani offensive against Nagorno-Karabakh began on Tuesday.
Since Nagorno-Karabakh’s surrender on Wednesday, protesters are demanding that the Armenian government take action to ensure the safe evacuation of Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenian population, while also demanding the government’s resignation.
Addressing concerns regarding the safety of Nagorno-Karabakh’s population, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Thursday stated that at present, there was ‘no direct threat’ to Nagorno-Karabakh’s civilian population.
While talks between representatives of Nagorno-Karabakh and of Azerbaijan are ongoing, the fate of the region’s 120,000 Armenians remains unclear, with large numbers waiting for the opportunity to be evacuated to Armenia. Despite the region’s surrender on Tuesday, food, electricity, and connection shortages have continued, and many, including children, are still missing.
Sevada Ghazaryan, an Armenian journalist and fact-checker, noted on Thursday that Civic.am, a media outlet affiliated with the ruling Civil Contract party, had targeted Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians in its coverage of the protests. Screenshots shared by Ghazaryan referred to the protesters as ‘destroyers from Karabakh’, and stated that they had attacked cars in the city.
‘This is hate speech, this is a call for violence. This is how the foundations of civil war are laid’, wrote Ghazaryan. ‘And this is done by the personal blog of the Civil Contract party’.
Opposition members taking part in the protests have also been beaten by police.
On Friday, journalists released footage of Levon Kocharyan, the son of Armenia’s second president Robert Kocharyan, being beaten by police in a police car. His attorney later stated that Kocharyan was hospitalised after being ’severely beaten’. Kocharyan has taken part in anti-government protests in recent years, and was a candidate for the opposition Armenia Alliance in 2021.
Gegham Manukyan, an MP from Armenia’s opposition faction, was also reportedly beaten while taking part in protests. In a video published on his Facebook page, wearing a bandage over his nose and apparently recording from a hospital bed, he stated that he was beaten by police during a protest on Tuesday, and called on others to join the protests.
An opposition alliance to remove the government
Public protests began on Tuesday, initially just demanding the resignation of Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
On Wednesday, Ishkhan Saghatelyan from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation announced that Armenia’s opposition was creating a national committee in light of the situation resulting from Azerbaijan’s attack on Nagorno-Karabakh.
The members of the committee were announced on Thursday: Hayk Mamijanyan from the Republican party, Andranik Tevanyan, the former PM from the Armenia faction and an ally of former president Robert Kocharyan, Avetik Chalabyan, coordinator of the ‘Hayakve’ initiative which aimed to criminalise the recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan, Vazgen Manukyan from the National Democratic Union, and Ishkhan Saghatelyan from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.
Saghatelyan announced that they had developed an action plan to ensure the removal of the government, which would include the opposition starting impeachment proceedings in parliament.
The committee have held rallies and organised civil disobedience actions in Yerevan, including strikes and the closure of streets. Protesters also blocked the Sevan-Martuni highway in Gegharkunik region for around two hours on Friday.
On Friday, police detained and later released Tevanyan, who has been one of the protests’ leaders. Another 98 people were detained at protests and taken to police stations on the same day.
On the first day of protests, clashes took place near the government building in Yerevan as protesters attempted to break into the building. After protesters threw objects including rocks at the police, law enforcement officers used stun grenades against the protesters. At least 42 were injured as a result of the clashes, including 16 policemen and journalist Anush Mkrtchyan, of Hetq media factory, an educational programme run by the Hetq media outlet.
For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.