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State minister and security chiefs resign after protests in Nagorno-Karabakh

7 June 2018
From left to right: Kamo Aghajanyan, Arayik Harutyunyan, Arshavir Gharamyan

Nagorno-Karabakh’s state minister, director and deputy director of the National Security Service, and chief of police have resigned, in the wake of protests in the capital Stepanakert over the weekend. Protests were triggered by reports that police stood by as members of the security services beat up two civilians.

State Minister Arayik Harutyunyan, National Security Service head Arshavir Gharamyan and his deputy Gagik Sargsyan, and police chief Kamo Aghajanyan all resigned on Wednesday.

The government shake-up followed four days of street protests over the weekend, which ended only after the intervention of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

Davit Simonyan, one of the leaders of the protest, confirmed to OC Media that Pashinyan’s intervention had influenced the resolution of the crisis, and said that the protesters’ demands had now been satisfied. Simonyan added that he and other protest leaders had no plans to form any kind of social or political movement.

Protesters were initially demanding the alleged attackers be prosecuted, but organisers eventually outlined specific demands: the dismissals of the National Security Service director, chief of police, and Chief Prosecutor Artur Mosiyan.

During the protests, other demands were also voiced, including the freeing of political prisoners in Armenia and uniting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia. Chants of ‘Nikol, Nikol’ were also occasionally heard, referring to Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan, who was swept to power on the back of mass protests a month ago.

After protest leaders met with President Bako Sahakyan on Sunday, on Monday, Pashinyan addressed rally participants in Stepanakert via a Facebook live video, urging them to stop protesting and to give the authorities time to deliver on their promises. Protest leaders called off the demonstration after Pashinyan’s address.

The resignation of the State Minister, the second most senior position in Nagorno-Karabakh’s government after the president, was something protesters had not demanded. At a press-conference, outgoing State Minister Arayik Harutyunyan insisted his resignation was not related to the protests but later referred to ‘popular demands for change’ and a ‘new wave of reforms’ in recent months, which he said were inspired by the ‘velvet revolution’ in Armenia.

On Tuesday, Nagorno-Karabakh’s authorities announced they had arrested four individuals over the initial incident, including two from the National Security Service, and charged them with misdemeanor. According to Armenpress, one of the two officers was the son of former director of the National Security Service Arshavir Gharamyan.

On Wednesday, President Sahakyan appointed former finance minister Grigori Martirosyan as State Minister; he was replaced at his old post by Artur Harutyunyan. Samvel Shahramanyan took over as Director of National Security Service and Igor Grigoryan as chief of police.

Four days of protests

Protesters in Stepanakert (Artsakh Press)

Protests began last Friday after reports emerged that 15 members of the National Security Service beat up two civilians, reportedly a result of a personal dispute. Armenian media reported that police stood by at the scene as the attack took place, arresting the victims of the assault and not the attackers.

Police later claimed to have arrested 15 people as a result of the incident.

[Read more: Protests hit Nagorno-Karabakh after security forces ‘beat up two’]

Authorities released a video on Sunday purporting to show the two men who were beaten up instigating the fight.

Nagorno-Karabakh’s Ombudsman Ruben Melikyan told OC Media the recording showed ‘two citizens beating a serviceman, after which some colleagues of the serviceman arrived and began to beat the two civilians’.

Hundreds came to the streets over the next three days, blocking Stepanakert’s central Freedom Fighters Avenue.

After organisers met with President Sahakyan on Sunday, protest leader Davit Simonyan, said the president had promised to ‘undertake systemic improvements’ in terms of policies but was hesitant about dismissals.

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.

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