YEREVAN – Crowds of protesters took to the streets of Armenia's capital Tuesday, demanding the resignation of the country’s prime minister over his handling of the conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Armenian opposition politicians and their supporters have been calling for Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to step down ever since he signed a peace deal that halted 44 days of deadly fighting over the separatist region, but called for territorial concessions to Azerbaijan.
On Saturday, opposition parties warned Pashinyan there would be civil disobedience across the country if he doesn't resign by noon on Tuesday. The prime minister has refused to step down, defending the peace agreement as a painful but necessary move that prevented Azerbaijan from overrunning the entire Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Protesters on Tuesday temporarily blocked traffic on different streets of Yerevan, Armenia's capital, and at one point blocked trains at one of the city's subway stations. The subway had to shut down as the result until further notice, spokeswoman of the Yerevan subway Tatev Khachatryan told The Associated Press.
Demonstrators chanted “Armenia without Nikol,” “Nikol, go away!”
Similar protests were held in other Armenian cities. Police detained 81 protesters in Yerevan and seven in the city of Ararat.
The Armenian Apostolic Church on Tuesday joined in on the opposition's calls for Pashinyan to step down. The head of the church, Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II, urged the prime minister to resign in a statement, saying that the move would “prevent upheavals in public life, as well as possible clashes and tragic consequences.”
Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a separatist war there ended in 1994. That war left Nagorno-Karabakh itself and substantial surrounding territory in Armenian hands.
The heavy fighting that erupted in late September marked the biggest escalation of a long-simmering conflict between the two ex-Soviet nations. Armenian authorities said that at least 2,718 Armenian servicemen and 55 civilians were killed in the fighting. Azerbaijan said 2,783 troops were killed and more than 100 were still missing. The government said 94 of its civilians also were killed and more than 400 were wounded.
A Russian-brokered peace deal took effect on Nov. 10, ending the violence. The agreement stipulated that Armenia hand over control to Azerbaijan of several regions it holds outside Nagorno-Karabakh’s borders. Azerbaijan also retained control over areas of Nagorno-Karabakh it has taken during the conflict.
Azerbaijan completed reclaiming those territories last week and celebrated the end of fighting as a national triumph. President Ilham Aliyev established a new Nov. 8 national holiday called Victory Day to commemorate the event.
Armenian opposition leaders hold Pashinyan responsible for failing to negotiate an earlier end to the hostilities at terms that could have been more beneficial for Armenia. They have emphasized, however, that the opposition wasn’t pushing for the annulment of the peace deal.
Associated Press writer Daria Litvinova contributed to this report from Moscow.