Political crisis in Armenia: What to look forward to?

Author : Carnegie Think tank

Source : Carnegie Moscow Center

If you look at the situation in Armenia with an unprepared look, the question arises: why is Nikol Pashinyan still in power, if back in November, after the defeat in the Karabakh war, it seemed that he was politically doomed? How does he manage to stay at the head of the government, despite the protests, mass discontent, and the reputation of the person who deprived Armenia of most of Karabakh and destroyed the illusion about the country's military power?
08:40, 1 March 2021


If you look at the situation in Armenia with an unprepared look, the question arises: why is Nikol Pashinyan still in power, if back in November, after the defeat in the Karabakh war, it seemed that he was politically doomed? How does he manage to stay at the head of the government, despite the protests, mass discontent, and the reputation of the person who deprived Armenia of most of Karabakh and destroyed the illusion about the country's military power?

Revolution components

They say that protests are fruitless when their core is not the people, but the "well-fed intelligentsia." But this does not apply to today's Armenia. Most of all, Pashinyan is hated by those whose lives were directly changed by the lost war. And these are the very people – the relatives of the dead soldiers and residents of the Syunik region, which six months ago bordered on safe Karabakh, and now – on Azerbaijan.

They say that protests fade away when the opposition starts dividing portfolios in advance, while the authorities, on the contrary, demonstrate unity and solidarity. But this is not about today's Armenia. Here the leaders of 17 opposition parties have successfully united and have nominated a single leader - Vazgen Manukyan. He is one of the veterans of the Karabakh movement since 1988 and was the Minister of Defense of Armenia during the first, victorious Karabakh war of 1992-1994.

Related: Pashinyan reports military coup attempt in Armenia after army demanded his resign

Under the command of Manukyan, the Armenian troops occupied everything that had to be surrendered under the command of Pashinyan. Its only drawback is age, it is not so easy to make a revolution at 75 years old. But here the younger and more active ex-president Robert Kocharian comes to his aid - who was bored in his time, but who did not allow such shameful failures.

They say that the revolution will definitely not happen if the security forces defending the power are satisfied with everything. But that this is not the case in Armenia, everyone was convinced the day before, when almost the entire Armenian generals signed a letter for Pashinyan's resignation, interceding for a colleague whom the prime minister wanted to dismiss.

From the point of view of the military, Pashinyan did not allow them to reveal their potential in battle, although there were opportunities for this. One of the most discussed topics in the country is a 17-minute video in which the Armenian military monitors from a drone the pulling of Azerbaijani troops to Shusha, but does nothing to prevent them.

Finally, protests can be suppressed by force: to jail the top of the opposition, to clog all police stations with protesters, to not hesitate to use special means. But in Armenia, there is no such thing and it is close - it is incomparably safer to go to a rally here than in Moscow or Minsk. There are no arrests of everyone in a row with high fines, and even criminal cases against opposition politicians are more a symbolic gesture than a real threat.

Even before the Karabakh war, Pashinyan tried to jail oligarch Gagik Tsarukyan, accusing him of rigging the 2017 elections. But nothing came of it. Most likely, nothing will come of the criminal case against opposition leader Vazgen Manukyan, which was brought up for "calls to seize power." Manukyan still calmly walks to the rallies and does not fear arrest.

Related: Crisis in Armenia: Bitterness toward power vs. weak opposition

Scarcity of results

Nevertheless, for several months the Armenian opposition has been powerless against Pashinyan. Even the "appeal" of Manukyan, which the law enforcement officers seized upon, looked like an admission of their own impotence. "It doesn't matter how many people gather in the square, Nikol Pashinyan will not resign voluntarily," Manukyan said at the February 20 rally. And he announced two plans of the opposition: first – multiple perpetual actions to lure into our side the deputies and security officials loyal to Pashinyan, the second – "lightning uprising" for which you need to be constantly prepared.

Since the November defeat in the war, the Armenian protest has already experienced several “fateful” moments. In early December last year, the united opposition presented an ultimatum to Pashinyan's government, which he simply ignored. And nothing happened.

Then there was a long preparation for the grand protest rally on February 20. It took place, but only 13 to 20 thousand people came. The failure was attributed to unpleasant weather – wet snow.

Finally, after several small evening processions, it seemed to be X-day. On February 25, the military said their word - they signed a collective letter for Pashinyan's resignation. But it didn’t sound very convincing either.

Even after that, Pashinyan managed to gather supporters for the rally, who were no less than oppositionists. Hated by many, the prime minister, "traitor" and "Turk" led the march through the central streets of Yerevan, where he was actively defended by the police. When Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan was overthrown in the summer of 2018, he could not afford this: the security forces pretended they could not hold back the protesters, and parted.

Related: Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia to start regional interconnectivity projects

As a result, the only result of the next "fateful" day was that in the center of Yerevan there appeared several opposition tents and stoves-bourgeois, in which potatoes are baked. It doesn't work to call it a Maidan – there are few people who want to spend the night on the street, although no one bothers them.

The question of why, given all the conditions, there is no change of power, as in 2018, is also asked in Armenia itself. But the answer is not yet very convincing. "It is difficult to get out of this shock. Many are opposed to Pashinyan, but so far they do not find the strength to protest," a participant in the evening procession quoted a local newspaper as saying.

The politicians who were overthrown in due time by Pashinyan explain the weakness of the protest in the spirit of Russian propaganda: in 2018 the West and "representatives of various sects" were on the side of the opposition (it is popularly believed that Pashinyan is allegedly a Protestant, and not a parishioner of the Armenian Apostolic Church), and now Washington is playing on the side of the government.

Russian trace?

The last high-profile speech against Pashinyan – an "attempted military coup" on February 25, as the prime minister called it, occurred through his own negligence. In an interview with, he said that during last year's war, the Russian Iskander missiles "either did not explode at all or exploded only by 10%."

What exactly this phrase means is known only to one Pashinyan. Either out of 10 missiles, only one fired, or one missile failed to fire most of the submunitions.

Most likely, in reality, there was neither one nor the other: the Azerbaijani side did not report on the use of Iskander missiles, although they spoke a lot about other missiles. And in response to criticism of Russian weapons, the RF Ministry of Defense declared: we have not recorded any Iskander launches, and all the missiles are in Armenian warehouses.

Related: The South Caucasus: New realities after the Armenia-Azerbaijan war (Part Three)

The journalists asked the Deputy Chief of the General Staff of Armenia to clarify Pashinyan's statement, but he simply laughed in response, for which the Prime Minister immediately dismissed him. Then the Armenian military started a "mutiny," which ended up being limited to one collective letter. Pashinyan's attempt to fire the head of the General Staff also did not bring success - Armenian President Armen Sargsyan used his right not to sign the order of dismissal for three days.

Neither side was able to move further from this point. The opposition tried to convene an extraordinary session of parliament to lift martial law and dismiss Pashinyan, but nothing came of it. Pashinyan's supporters in parliament are still in the majority, without them it is impossible to collect a quorum.

In Armenia, a version is now popular that the army opposed Pashinyan because it received the go-ahead from Moscow. There, they say, they were outraged by his criticism of Russian weapons. But this is hardly true - then the military would have gone much further than just a collective letter. In addition, on the same evening, Vladimir Putin spoke with Pashinyan, who called for "maintaining order and tranquility" and "resolving the situation within the framework of the law."

Related: The South Caucasus: New realities after the Armenia-Azerbaijan war (Part Two)

It was clear from all Moscow's statements that the Kremlin is ready to move away from the Armenian crisis if the basic principle is observed: the ceasefire agreement in Karabakh of November 9, 2020 remains in force. However, it cannot be otherwise: the joint monitoring center with the Turks in Azerbaijan will not be dismissed and the peacekeepers will not be expelled from Karabakh.

Thus, in the eyes of the Kremlin, Armenia falls into the same category as Kyrgyzstan and Abkhazia. It is constantly restless there, but there is no chance that politicians unacceptable to Moscow will come to power.

My interlocutors both in Moscow and in Yerevan make it clear that Moscow recognizes Pashinyan as the most popular politician in Armenia at the moment, which means let everything remain as it is.

Discontent or apathy

The continuing support for Pashinyan in Armenia is also confirmed by opinion polls. They show that, despite the difficult atmosphere, there is no total hatred of the current government in Armenian society. Rather, apathy reigns there.

Even in November, when emotions from defeat were at their peak, about 30% of the population supported Pashinyan. A recent poll by the same company (MPG, Armenian office of the Gallup International Association) is even more interesting. When people were asked to rate politicians on a five-point scale, Pashinyan scored 2.8, Kocharyan 2, another ex-president Serzh Sargsyan 1.7, and the leader of the united opposition Vazgen Manukyan 1.6.

In other words, no matter how bad Pashinyan is, his opponents look even weaker in the eyes of Armenian voters. One of the main reasons for this is that they are not ready to offer society a fundamentally different course.

Even if the opposition is able to achieve Pashinyan's resignation, it still will not be able to change something in the results of the second Karabakh war. And not only because of geopolitical circumstances but also because the Armenian society no longer wants to fight. Back in November last year, rallies began near the military registration and enlistment offices demanding that they no longer send conscripts to Karabakh – and they quietly satisfied him.

Related: The South Caucasus: New realities after the Armenia-Azerbaijan war (Part One)

Now, according to polls, only 31% of the residents of Armenia are in favor of trying to reclaim the territories lost in the war. Another third (28%) agree to "stabilize the situation within the existing borders." Another 3% are even ready to give up even Stepanakert, just to end the conflict.

Hence the opposition's indifference to the proposal to hold early elections. Immediately after the defeat, they seemed to be something inevitable and self-evident. But opposition politicians were not enthusiastic about the idea. After all, even if the team of Kocharyan and Manukyan replaces Pashinyan in power, they will still be forced to do the same as he did.

And this is a very unpleasant job: to draw a new border with Azerbaijan through the villages that six months ago were 70 km from the Azerbaijani positions; coordinate transport routes to Nakhichevan and Turkey through Armenia; to make compromises on the remnants of Karabakh in order to preserve at least something Armenian there.

In such times, it is much more profitable to be an oppositionist than to ruin your rating in government offices forever. Therefore, it is more convenient for the opposition for Pashinyan to finish his not at all honorable work and retire, like a Moor from an idiom.

Related: What’s next for Armenia’s military after devastating Nagorno-Karabakh defeat?

This despair is probably felt by ordinary people, and therefore the rallies, which are presented as a decisive moment in the history of Armenia, gather relatively few participants. To bring people out to the square, they must have an idea of ​​a wonderful future in their heads: where there is no corruption, the authorities listen to the people, and the enemies are defeated.

Pashinyan himself promised "Armenia of the future" in 2018, but did not live up to expectations. It is impossible to believe that the "former" who were thrown off two years ago will be able to build paradise. “Yes, they stole, but at least they didn’t sell their homeland and will not sell it,” is the only possible argument in their favor. But you don't want to go outside for such people - especially in winter.

Kirill Krivesheev

Read the original text here.

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