Protesters in Yerevan call ceasefire agreement shameful surrender
Opposition parties in Armenia reacted with indignation to the ceasefire brokered by the Kremlin, aimed at ending the one and a half month hostilities with Azerbaijan over the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
On Wednesday, for the second day in a row, thousands of people, ignoring the pandemic-related ban on mass events, gathered for a rally in the capital, Yerevan, to protest the ceasefire, which they see as a shameful surrender. Under the new agreement, several areas are transferred to Azerbaijan, which has achieved decisive military success..
On Tuesday, protesters stormed and ransacked several government buildings in Yerevan to express their anger over the ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave that is an internationally recognized part of Azerbaijan but is ruled by ethnic Armenians with the support of Yerevan..
Police detain one of the protesters in Yerevan. November 11, 2020 After six weeks of fierce fighting, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced the truce on Tuesday on his Facebook page, calling it «painful» settlement.
«This is a great setback and disaster», – he said on tuesday.
Pashinyan said he was taking personal responsibility for the failures, but added that he entered into an agreement under pressure from the army command, which feared that otherwise Azerbaijan could capture the entire enclave..
This mountainous enclave has not seen such violent clashes since the early 1990s, when up to 30,000 people died in the war. Then the ceasefire and the freezing of the conflict was achieved thanks to the mediation of Russia with the support of the United States and France..
Subsequent negotiations to reach a lasting political settlement stalled for years to come, to growing frustration, mainly on the part of Azerbaijan. In the conflict zone, which lasted for several decades, there were periodic outbreaks of violence, and then a relative calm was established..
Last Tuesday, many protesters in Yerevan’s Freedom Square chanted: «Nichol is a traitor», condemning his consent to a deal that allows Azerbaijan to preserve the areas it has occupied.
According to local Armenian media reports, about 80 people were detained during the protests in Yerevan, including Gagik Tsarukyan, the leader of the «Prosperous Armenia», the country’s second largest party. Furious protesters beat parliamentary speaker Ararat Mirzoyan unconscious.
Pashinyan took office after spearheading the 2018 peaceful revolution in that post-Soviet republic. Some analysts and Western diplomats say he is likely to struggle to stay in power, a result that is unlikely to displease the Kremlin, depending on who replaces him..
Before the 2018 Velvet Revolution, Pashinyan criticized Armenia’s dependence on Russia, complaining that the Kremlin was using the country to its advantage. However, while in power, he took a cautious line, reassuring the Kremlin that Armenia remains a close geopolitical ally, while at the same time including in his government those who openly expressed pro-Western sympathies or previously worked for NGOs funded by the US and Europe..
Yulia Latynina, observer of the Russian «Novaya Gazeta», believes that Russia waited until Nagorno-Karabakh was on the brink of total military collapse before concluding a truce, because the Kremlin wanted to make the settlement as costly as possible for Pashinyan.
The Kremlin says the ceasefire agreement is «victory of the peoples of two countries, Azerbaijan and Armenia». When an angry crowd protested in the streets of the Armenian capital, celebrations unfolded in Azerbaijan. In his address to the country, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev called the ceasefire a military surrender of Armenia.
Russia as a mediator
Russia largely maintains a balance with its two troubled southern neighbors. Moscow signed a defense pact with Armenia and deployed an airbase there. But Moscow also maintains close ties with Baku. Russia supplied weapons to both Armenia and Azerbaijan. Such an impartial calculation is aimed at keeping both Baku and Yerevan in Moscow’s sphere of influence. According to analysts, the so-called "frozen conflict" served the purposes of Russia. Over the past six weeks, she has been able to avoid military intervention in the conflict..
The geopolitical balance created by Russia has been upset by the latest outbreak of violence in Nagorno-Karabakh, in part as a result of the intervention of Turkey, which supplied Azerbaijan with combat drones and other military equipment, adding new problems to the old feuds..
Russian pro-government media portray the ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh not only as a victory for Azerbaijan on the battlefield, but also as a diplomatic victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Many commentators say that the Kremlin managed to save the Armenian-ruled enclave from being captured by Azerbaijani forces, while at the same time putting pressure on Baku so that it could not realize its main military goal – the complete return of Nagorno-Karabakh under its control..
Michael Lambert of the Russian International Affairs Council, a Moscow-based research group funded by the Russian government, compares the current agreement with «Solomon’s judgment», in which King Solomon of Israel resolved a dispute between two women who claimed to be mothers of the same child.
Lambert added in the comments: «Solomon revealed their true feelings and attitude towards the child, proposing to cut the child in half so that each woman gets her half.».
«This is a disastrous defeat for Armenia and a great success for Azerbaijan.», – said Robert Cutler from the Canadian Institute for Global Relations, a research organization based in Calgary and Ottawa.
«Pashinyan led the country to disaster. When he first came to power, he met with Ilham Aliyev from Azerbaijan and said: «Give me time». But due to the internal politics of Armenia, he became more nationalistic.», – said Cutler. «Ultimately, I think it is difficult. Surprisingly, he managed to hold out [in office] on Tuesday», – added Cutler.
Cutler said Pashinyan relies on Araik Harutyunyan, the leader of the Nagorno-Karabakh government, to find support for his decision to conclude the current agreement with Azerbaijan..
The Armenian leader in Karabakh has so far supported the Armenian Prime Minister, stating that a mid-week ceasefire was necessary to prevent further losses of people and territories..
«If the hostilities continued, we would have lost all of Artsakh within a few days, and we would have had more casualties.», – he said. Artsakh is the Armenian name for Nagorno-Karabakh.
Anger and shock in Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire deal
«Now it will be necessary to see how events will develop.», – added Cutler.
Under the terms of the ceasefire, Russia is sending 2,000 troops as peacekeepers. Russian state media broadcast footage of the Russian military heading to Nagorno-Karabakh. The ceasefire provides for the exchange of prisoners and the transfer of the bodies of the dead. The agreement also requires Armenia to give up some of the disputed territories it held outside the separatist enclave..
Since Turkey-backed Azerbaijan launched an offensive in September, thousands of people, including civilians, have been killed and more than 100,000 displaced..
Some analysts say that while the ceasefire is likely to last and end the bloodshed in the long term, it will not bring about a resolution to the conflict. The big question is the future role of Turkey, which has invaded the region that Russia sees as its sphere of influence. According to military observers, the decisive role in the conflict was played by the drones supplied by Turkey, which allowed Azerbaijan to destroy the Armenian armored vehicles..
Moscow hastened to refute the statement by Azerbaijani President Aliyev that Turkey will also send peacekeepers to Nagorno-Karabakh as part of a joint peacekeeping mission.
«The stay of Turkish soldiers in Karabakh was not coordinated», – said on Tuesday the press secretary of the President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Peskov.
The text of the agreement published by the Kremlin does not mention the Turkish peacekeepers.
In his national message, Aliyev said that Turkish peacekeepers will play their role.
«There will be a joint peacekeeping mission of Russia and Turkey. This is a new format », – Aliyev said in his speech on Tuesday.
Alexander Rahr, Russian foreign policy expert, said «Nezavisimaya gazeta», that the ceasefire gives Russia the opportunity to forge closer relations with Turkey. But he admitted that Moscow «let Ankara into the Caucasus».
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