Armenia went along the edge of a knife when two rallies of Nikol Pashinyan’s supporters and opponents nearly clashed in Yerevan on March 1. The rally in support of the head of government moved only 500 meters from the rally of his political opponents. To avoid clashes, the police had to line up in a chain – closing the exit from Baghramyan Avenue. The degree of tension at the “wall” went off scale, the security forces had to drive a truck with three rolls of barbed wire. But it did not come to bloodshed – the aksakals of the protest movement took the people away from the police cordon, deciding not to provoke violence. And Nikol Pashinyan, meanwhile, apologized for his mistakes and announced a referendum in October, at which the republic will have to decide: whether it will continue to be parliamentary or become semi-presidential.
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It didn’t reach the wire
The police carefully remove the covers from the barbed wire, the young law enforcement officers do not seem to know how to approach the thorns – no one gave them gloves. Alarming commands are heard in the radio every now and then – to be ready to deploy the fence. The security officials wipe the sweat from their foreheads and convulsively adjust the masks on their faces – it is evident that they are excited and frightened no less than the passing townspeople.
At eight o’clock in the evening, a procession of supporters of the prime minister leaves Mashtots Avenue. In the hands – white flashlights of phones. They, at the call of Nikol Pashinyan, were lit in memory of those killed in Nagorno-Karabakh. At the same moment – it is not known whether it was agreed in advance or just coincided – one of the opposition leaders Gegham Manukyan called on all those gathered on Baghramyan Avenue to also light the lanterns. “Let’s show Pashinyan how many of us have gathered here,” shouts Manukyan from an impromptu stage in front of parliament. Judging by the lights lit in response, there are at least 8-10 thousand people on the avenue.
Meanwhile, Pashinyan’s procession, in which, according to TASS, no less than 10 thousand participants, is approaching the Opera House – from here to the opposition is less than 500 meters.
– It’s time! – chants the head of the police unit at the beginning of Baghramyan Avenue. And the security forces line up in three rows, in a matter of seconds, blocking the highway to the exit.
– What is it, let me in! – at the cordon, a congestion of participants in the opposition rally, who decided to leave the avenue, instantly forms. But the police explain: the exit is now closed, you can leave through the neighboring streets towards Matenadaran, but you can’t get to Freedom Square.
– Nikol Davajan! Nichol the traitor! – an elderly man shouts, folding his palms into a tube – trying to shout to the supporters of the prime minister passing by. But they go under their own noisy slogans, and obviously they do not hear.
By the way, Pashinyan’s procession is guarded much more seriously – at the beginning, at the end and along the entire human stream there are over a hundred policemen. Along the perimeter of the government house, there are rows of security officials in helmets and with shields. During the day, a number of telegram channels warned of possible provocations at the rally, and representatives of the Dashnaktsutyun party broke into several government buildings to urge officials not to attend the prime minister’s rally.
– Why are you standing here defending this Turk, this protege of Erdogan! Yes, I went through the entire Karabakh war in 1989, and I was in Martakert in October, – a man in his years actively gesticulates and tries to hand the police his crutch. Everyone around instantly takes out their phones and begins to take it off.
– Here, take my crutch, tell Nikol – he will need it more than me! – not hiding emotions, an elderly participant of the “jam” shouts, people around make way.
The policeman standing opposite smiles and says: “Yes, brother, I myself am from Artsakh (the self-name of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic), but now this is the case – you don’t need to face another rally. No offense”.
The old man agrees, nods to the policeman and with an imperious wave of his hand indicates to the oppositionists standing behind him – let’s go!
– Nikol wanted a provocation, it won’t work! We won’t give it to him! – the crowd agrees and proudly moves away from the police. Those sigh with relief. After 15 minutes, Pashinyan’s march safely leaves Freedom Square, the security forces part. The barbed wire never reached it, and the young policemen are covering it back with an awning.
Initially, the rallies were not supposed to intersect – the prime minister’s supporters gathered at 18:30 on Republic Square, and the opposition gathered at the parliament building. A gap of 2 km was left between the two points of attraction.
Such wisdom is explained by a bloody historical lesson – on March 1, 2008, during clashes between police and demonstrators after the presidential elections in Yerevan, 10 people, including two law enforcement officers, were killed. The investigation into this case is still ongoing. All those who are now so actively criticizing the prime minister’s policies are being accused: ex-president Robert Kocharian, ex-defense minister Mikael Harutyunyan, former CSTO secretary general Yuri Khachaturov and others.
Nikol Pashinyan began the rally with a minute of silence and apology.
– I thought a lot about where I went wrong. As prime minister, as head of state, I apologize for all the mistakes of the authorities of the third republic, – he addressed the audience.
Back on Saturday, the prime minister promised that during the demonstration he would discuss the resignation of the head of the General Staff Onik Gasparyan. He sent a corresponding decree on February 25 to the country’s President Armen Sarkissian, but on February 27 he rejected the demand, considering it not in accordance with the constitution. In response, Pashinyan stated that he considered the president’s refusal “unreasonable and illogical.”
During the rally, he confirmed his intention to fire Gasparyan. “Onik dzhan, you made a big mistake,” with these words, the prime minister accused the head of the General Staff of treason and collusion with ex-president Serzh Sargsyan. However, he clarified: the remaining 40 military leaders who demanded the prime minister’s resignation may continue their service.
Now the fate of “Onik Dzhan” does not depend on Pashinyan, but on the president of the republic – Armen Sarkisian still has time until March 3 inclusive to make a decision: either reject the prime minister again, or refer the case to the Constitutional Court.
In the morning on the day of the rally, a meeting of the Security Council of the republic began, headed by the prime minister. However, among those present there was neither the president – “for health reasons,” as explained in his office, nor the head of the General Staff.
67-year-old Armen Sargsyan was seriously ill with coronavirus in January and is still undergoing treatment. The absence of the president gave rise to telegram channels to rush to admit that the split between Sargsyan and Pashinyan has deepened. However, later it became known that the politicians held a personal meeting at which they discussed Gasparyan’s dismissal. The prime minister’s press service clarified: no agreement on the personnel issue has been reached.
Pashinyan also said that in October 2021, a referendum will be held in the country on changing the constitution and returning a semi-presidential form of government.
This idea itself is not new, it has been discussed in recent years after the country’s transition to a parliamentary model since April 2018, Armenian political scientist Johnny Melikyan explained to Izvestia.
Under certain conditions, such a referendum can play a role in stabilizing the situation in the republic, but so far the political confrontation continues in Yerevan with a serious polarization of society, which means it is not clear in what conditions the plebiscite will take place and whether it will take place.
– In any case, the parliamentary model was initially not very correct for Armenia. When the process of changing the constitution began under Serzh Sargsyan, risk management was not carried out very deeply and effectively. Over the past three years, the Armenian society has seen many crisis phenomena, which were caused precisely by the presence of the parliamentary model, the expert specified.
In confirmation of his words, he noted: the same president, being the guarantor of the constitution and security of the country in a broad sense, as well as the person who must balance the system, under the current basic law is actually deprived of real powers and practical mechanisms. In addition, after the secession from the USSR, the development of party traditions did not take place in the republic.
In addition to the referendum, the prime minister also announced that he was ready to hold early parliamentary elections. But this requires the opposition to sign a memorandum. Obviously, we are talking about the proposal of the head of the opposition parliamentary faction “Enlightened Armenia” Edmond Marukyan. He put forward an idea to the authorities: Nikol Pashinyan resigns, for 14 days the opposition does not nominate its candidate for the post of prime minister, which ultimately ends with the dissolution of parliament and leads to early elections.
Marukyan called the withdrawal of the decree on the dismissal of the head of the General Staff and the reinstatement of his deputy Tigran Khachatryan as a condition for this. The head of the ruling faction “My Step” Lilit Makunts stated that she accepts the opposition’s proposal for early elections and is ready to discuss it at any time. But the decision to dismiss the military leaders “is not discussed”, the politician said.
In an interview with Izvestia, Edmon Marukyan admitted that he was not satisfied with such a partial response from the alliance. According to him, his proposal would allow all parties to get out of the current situation.
“However, the ruling faction refused to accept our condition, they did not agree to withdraw the decree on the dismissal of Onik Gasparyan, that is, they still refuse to resolve the crisis by political means,” the politician said.
Pashinyan has not yet announced the date of the upcoming elections. The leaders of the opposition Movement for the Salvation of the Motherland have repeatedly stated that they would not agree to an early vote on the terms of the prime minister.
– Our condition: Pashinyan leaves, for the period before the elections comes an interim government headed by Vazgen Manukyan, which has no political ambitions. This is the interim prime minister for the government of national accord, ”ex-Minister of Agriculture of Armenia, member of the Dashnaktsutyun party Artur Khachatryan explained to Izvestia.
He noted: the main task of the interim government is to prepare and hold new parliamentary elections in a year. Pashinyan has political ambitions and administrative resources, so the opposition is not confident that the elections will be fair, the politician specified.
Corrected to believe
Apparently, Nikol Pashinyan does not intend to revise his decision on the resignation of the head of the General Staff. Although on the issue of the Iskander, which triggered the current round of the crisis, the prime minister showed flexibility and admitted that he was “misinformed.”
The “recognition” itself took place, as Pashinyan’s press secretary Mane Gevorgyan clarified, back on February 25 during a telephone conversation with Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin was satisfied with the statements from Yerevan. Press Secretary of the Russian President Dmitry Peskov noted: “It is very important that the truth in this matter has been restored.”
Pashinyan’s procession ended closer to nine in the evening, when no more than a hundred participants remained in it.
– I support the prime minister, because he brought us peace, brought peace to my grandchildren. Who else could have made peace for Armenia? – a participant in the rally in support of the head of the Cabinet of Ministers Ruzanna Ayvazyan told Izvestia.
An elderly woman walked along Abovyan Street arm in arm with her daughter, smiling at the policemen walking alongside. “Whoever stands on Baghramyan, they are the same Armenians as we are. Let them say what they want. The main thing is that there is no war, that there is no blood, ”sighed Ruzanna.