Thousands rally in Yerevan ahead of Armenian-Azeri summit

4. Armenia
Opposition supporters rally in central Yerevan on April 5, 2022. (Photo: AFP)
YEREVAN — Several thousand opposition supporters rallied Tuesday in the Armenian capital Yerevan to denounce the government’s handling of a territorial dispute with arch-foe Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.اضافة اعلان

Long-contested between the Caucasus neighbors, Karabakh was at the center of an all-out war in 2020 that claimed more than 6,500 lives before it ended with a Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement.

The pact saw Armenia cede swathes of territories it had controlled for decades in what was seen in Armenia as a national humiliation, sparking weeks of mass anti-government protests.

Waving Armenian and Karabakh flags, protesters filled the capital’s central Freedom Square on Tuesday evening, with many shouting anti-government slogans.

They then marched through downtown Yerevan, vowing to block traffic in the streets later in the evening.

The rally was held on the eve of a summit in Brussels between Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.

“The government is ready to give away Karabakh to Azerbaijan,” Gegham Manukyan, a leader of opposition Dashnaktsutyun party told AFP at the rally.

“We have gathered here to draw red lines which no Armenian government must cross while dealing with Azerbaijan,” he added.

“Many in Armenia rule out an option of Karabakh being part of Azerbaijan.”

‘Fear of concessions’

One of the demonstrators, 58-year-old seamstress Marine Harutyunyan said: “We don’t expect anything positive from tomorrow’s meeting” between Pashinyan and Aliyev.

“We fear Pashinyan could yield to the pressure and make concessions which will lead to the loss of Karabakh and ultimately Armenia’s sovereignty,” she added.

During their talks on Wednesday — mediated by the European Council President Charles Michel — Aliyev and Pashinyan are expected to discuss the start of negotiations on a “comprehensive peace treaty.”

Their meeting comes after a flare-up in Karabakh on March 25 that saw Azerbaijan capture a strategic village in the area under the Russian peacekeepers’ responsibility, killing three Armenian separatist troops.

Moscow and Yerevan at the time accused Azerbaijan of a ceasefire violation, a charge Baku has rejected, insisting its troops are in Azerbaijan’s sovereign territory.

Yerevan also called on Baku to start peace talks “without delay”. Baku agreed, saying it had already put forward such a proposal a year ago.

Baku tabled in mid-March its set of framework proposals for the peace agreement that includes both sides’ mutual recognition of territorial integrity, meaning Yerevan should agree on Karabakh being part of Azerbaijan.

Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan sparked controversy at home when he said — commenting on the Azerbaijani proposal — that for Yerevan “the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is not a territorial issue, but a matter of rights” of the local ethnic-Armenian population.

Ethnic Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The ensuing conflicts claimed around 30,000 lives.

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