Armenians angered by Azerbaijan ceasefire agreement; thousands demand prime minister resign

People protest during a rally against the country's agreement to end fighting with Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region outside the government headquarters in Yerevan, Armenia on Nov. 11, 2020. More than 2,000 demonstrators protested in the Armenian capital as anger mounted over Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan's decision to cede swathes of the disputed territory to Azerbaijan under a controversial peace deal.
People protest during a rally against the country's agreement to end fighting with Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region outside the government headquarters in Yerevan, Armenia on Nov. 11, 2020. More than 2,000 demonstrators protested in the Armenian capital as anger mounted over Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan's decision to cede swathes of the disputed territory to Azerbaijan under a controversial peace deal. | AFP via Getty Images/KAREN MINASYAN

Thousands of Armenians have called on Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian to resign after he agreed to what many believe to be a ceasefire agreement with Azerbaijan that is highly unfavorable to the Armenian side. 

After news broke this week that Russia had brokered a ceasefire agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia after weeks of renewed deadly fighting over the contested Nagorno-Karabakh district, thousands took to the streets of Armenia’s capital Yerevan on Wednesday to voice their opposition.

Some went as far as to chant that the prime minister was a “traitor” for agreeing to the deal, according to reports.

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The agreement, which comes after several earlier ceasefire agreements in recent weeks failed, will for now stop the advancement of the Azerbaijan military with the help of its ally and NATO member Turkey in the separatist-controlled region. The region is internationally recognized as a part of Muslim-majority Azerbaijan but has been controlled by ethnic Armenians, who are mostly Christians, for decades.

Armenians recognize the region as the Republic of Artsakh, which Armenians say is part of their ancestral homeland. While fighting has stopped, the agreement allows Azerbaijan to maintain control over the areas of Nagorno-Karabakh that it gained during the weeks of attacks on the self-proclaimed republic that was the focus of a liberation war that ended in a 1994 ceasefire.

“They lost not only lives but ancient land; this is Anatolia’s indigenous people. They lost a very important city, culturally and religiously in the city of Shushi,” said Robert Nicholson, the president of the Philos Project, a New York City-based nonprofit that raises up Christian leaders to advocate for a pluralistic Near East where religious communities can live beside each other in peace. 

“I think objectively it’s fair to say that this deal does nothing for Armenians but hurt them. They gained absolutely nothing but a cessation of violence that they did not initiate to begin with. I think Pashinian himself has expressed lots of regret and sadness. We can never know the factors that he has to weigh out and balance and no doubt he made what he thought was the best decision considering the circumstances. But the Armenian people are worse off because of it.”

Nicholson said he likes to think of Artsakh as being similar to Indian reservations in the United States, where there are pieces of land where a “remnant of an indigenous people is trying to survive in the aftermath of foreign invasion.”

“These landlocked territories are caught between these two powerful Turkic states that have teamed up to continue the conquest that has been going on for centuries,” he added. 

On Wednesday, Pashinian released a statement explaining why he did not consult with Armenians before signing the ceasefire document. 

“When talking to the people, I would have presented the objective situation, which meant providing the enemy with detailed information about the situation, moreover, presenting a detailed plan to block our 25,000 soldiers for hours, with all the ensuing consequences,” he said.

“Besides, I have promised to discuss with the people the options for the settlement of the Karabakh issue, and this document does not envisage a substantive solution to the issue: it only implies cessation of hostilities. The Karabakh issue was not resolved before the signing of the aforementioned statement, nor has it been settled after it. There is still much to be done in this respect.”

Pashinian also reasoned why the ceasefire agreement could not have been reached sooner. He said that for the violence to have stopped earlier, it would have required the concession of seven districts, including Shushi, without fighting. 

“The military situation instilled the hope that by involving new resources, we would be able to defy the challenge with superhuman efforts,” Pashinian said.

“That was the reason why the President of Artsakh and I kept making calls for people to enlist for the defense of the homeland, but we also tried to ensure that our message could not discourage the soldier fighting on the frontline, would not set despair and give the enemy unnecessary details about our problems.”

A day before the ceasefire was reached, the Philos Project published an open letter to the Trump administration calling on the U.S. government to condemn Azerbaijan and its ally Turkey for their aggression against Armenia and Artsakh. 

The nonprofit says that the recent offensives by Azerbaijan included attacks against civilians and churches. The letter calls on the U.S. government to draw upon “all available punitive measures, including targeted sanctions and arms embargoes.” 

“Just as you can’t understand the Israelis if you don’t understand the Holocaust, you can’t understand Armenians if you ignore the Turkish genocide that happened about 100 years ago,” Nicholson added.

“Now, Azeri Turks did not initiate the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians, but their alliance with the president of Turkey — who is this erratic demagogue who rules the state that did initiate the genocide and denies that it ever happened and is regularly invoking themes of jihad and Islamic conquest — makes this conflict existential.”

“We are talking about the indigenous people of Anatolia. We are talking about the first nation to convert to Christianity on mass,” he continued. “We are talking about an American ally — all three of these countries are technically in our good graces. These people have been shrinking both in numbers and in territory more or less for the last 1,000 years. This is just another scrape at the apple. They are now being pushed into an even smaller area. Unfortunately, the world, including the U.S. and global Christendom, is standing by and doing almost nothing.”

Nicholson said that the major problem Armenians have with the ceasefire agreement is that it gives up “ancient land that has belonged to Armenians since before Jesus’ time.”

According to The Associated Press, opposition leaders in Armenia called an emergency meeting to consider ousting Pashinian but not enough members of the legislature to initiate a quorum. 

“We need to save Armenia and Artsakh from Pashinian,” Ishkhan Saghatelyan, a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutyun political party, was quoted as saying at Wednesday’s rally in Yerevan.

Nicholson added that Armenians are questioning why international actors are not moving to protect them. 

“Put the governments aside; why isn’t the global Christian community saying anything?” he asked. “Why isn’t the Vatican churning out press releases all the time or American evangelicals?”

The Philos Project’s letter calling on the U.S. to condemn Turkey and Azerbaijan was “framed in a very particular way about the problem of Turkey these days,” Nicholson said. 

“This is just one front in the Turkey problem,” he added. “Turkey is active in Lybia, Syria and the Mediterranean, messing with Armenia, sponsoring terrorist groups like Hamas, engaging in anti-Western rhetoric. There is sort of a Turkey delusion that has taken hold at a high level in government circles. People need to wake up. This is really just a case study in a much bigger problem.” 

Nicholson acknowledges that Turkey and Azerbaijan are allied with the U.S. but insists the U.S. had a role to play, given its relations with all three countries.  

“I think we very much now dropped the ball. When you see two allies ganging up against one, silence and inaction on our part is the same as support,” he said. “We are not dealing with Iran here. We are dealing with an ally.” 

The Philos Project believes that the U.S. must reformulate its policy position with Turkey. 

“It is no longer 1998,” Nicholson said. “Turkey has evolved in a very different direction. It has destabilized the region. It has attacked our allies, not only in the Near East but in the Eastern Mediterranean and Africa and encouraged de-stability in Europe.”

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