The situation came close to getting out of hand. Five minutes after leaving Place de la République, at the corner of Avenue Machtots, the procession of demonstrators clashed with the police on Friday morning. Squads without shields or riot gear, but vigilant. The sirens are screaming, the hubbub is infernal, demonstrators are arrested and immediately rushed into police vehicles.
The demonstration was organized by the National Committee, a structure established the day before by various personalities and small opposition groups, some loyal to former presidents Robert Kocharian and Serge Sargsyan. These opponents remain hated by the vast majority of 2.8 million Armenians, no one having forgotten their corruption when they were in power. But some are there without being affiliated with a political movement, like Tata, whose parents are in Karabakh, in the district of Martouni, and who would like “the government to move to repatriate ours, in case that goes badly with the Azeris.
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With their minds calmed, the procession resumes its march. “Miatseq” (“Join us”), the demonstrators chant at passers-by and people leaning on the balconies of their majestic pink stone buildings on Moskovian Street. Without success. The demonstration continues its march shouting: “Artsakh, Artsakh…” (the Armenian name for Nagorno-Karabakh) or “Pachinian, traitor”, the prime minister being designated as the main responsible for the loss of the Armenian enclave of Azerbaijan. We place trash cans across the streets, dreaming of paralyzing the country. But the buses operate, indifferent, the cars wait, some honking loudly to demonstrate their support for popular anger.
Here and there, the procession attacks passers-by, traders or motorists. Some respond harshly, accompanying the words with obscene gestures. Three young women sit-in for a few minutes on the asphalt at a red light, with the Karabakh flag on their shoulders. A standard which, in these days of national tragedy, arouses meditation and patience. Same encouragement in front of the medical university. “Students with us!” No white coats come out. Kerob, in the second year, who is swallowing a cheese puff pastry between two classes, quips: “Follow them? Because Kocharyan and Sarkissian resolved the Karabakh problem during the twenty years they were in charge?
Rafael, a supporter of Robert Kocharian, president of the Republic of Armenia from 1998 to 2008, is there because “the Armenian government is not only supporting this process (loss of Karabakh), it is helping Azerbaijan and the Turks . If you listen to the Prime Minister’s explanations yesterday, he says that everything is fine in Artsakh, that our fellow citizens are not in danger.” Didn’t the war of autumn 2020 demonstrate that the balance of military power between Armenia and Azerbaijan condemned the secession of Karabakh? “Yes, maybe the region has been lost since 2020, but I am sure that with Kocharian this would not have happened, maybe we should have had a more pro-Russian foreign policy,” Rafael wonders, beating the paved.
“It’s distressing to see people turn to Kocharian in these circumstances. Kocharian is the man of the hard line on the subject of Karabakh, of the absence of compromise. This is the line that led to defeat in 2020, with its final act we witness this week. Kocharian was the one who pushed for the resignation of President Levon Ter-Petrossian in February 1998, precisely because he proposed making concessions on Karabakh. Ter-Petrossian believed that it was necessary to do it while we were in a position of strength, before Azerbaijan, with its population three times larger than ours and its enormous hydrocarbon reserves, regained control,” said a close friend of the first head of state of independent Armenia.
Certainly, Robert Kocharian remains hated in the country. But he is extremely rich, supported by many civil servants, businessmen and opinion makers in the country. Powerful, too, thanks to its privileged links with the regime of Vladimir Putin. A regime whose propaganda organs have been working for several days to discredit the government of Nikol Pashinian. Thus, Margarita Simonian, the head of the Kremlin press organ RT, wrote: “The crowd chants: “Nikol is a traitor.” They woke up. (…) Russia will manage without Armenia. No Armenia without Russia.”