The office of Armenia’s prime minister has said that it will not allow the opposition to seize power by force, as heated protests have continued for a second day after the signing of a ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh seen as a capitulation.
Several thousand protesters defied martial law on Wednesday to gather in downtown Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, and call for the prime minister Nikol Pashinyan’s resignation. On Monday evening, he signed a Russian-brokered ceasefire that ceded territory to Azerbaijan that had been won in a bloody war in the 1990s. “Nikol is a traitor,” the protesters chanted.
Opposition parties – though only one in parliament – have issued an ultimatum for Pashinyan to step down by midnight. Pashinyan’s chief of staff shot back: “We won’t allow criminal elements to take power and will apply all the measures provided for by law to do this. Have no doubt.”
More than 400 Russian peacekeepers have already arrived in Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia said on Thursday, part of a nearly 2,000-strong deployment that will remain in the region for the next five years. Maps of the deployment published for the first time on Wednesday showed that Russia will maintain 16 observation posts, including many along the Lachin corridor, a key lifeline between Armenia and the city of Stepanakert.
But many questions remain about how the hastily-drafted ceasefire will be implemented, including the return of refugees to the region, the handover of territories not captured by Azerbaijan during the war, and the final status of the Armenian-backed government in Nagorno-Karabakh when the Russian peacekeeping mission ends.
And then there is Turkey, Azerbaijan’s main backer, which has claimed that it will also send peacekeepers to Nagorno-Karabakh despite repeated denials by Russia and Armenia that this is the case.
Turkey is not a party to the ceasefire, nor is it mentioned in the agreement that provides a mandate for the Russian peacekeeping mission.
However, the president of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Wednesday said he expected Turkish troops to monitor the ceasefire in Karabakh, citing a Memorandum of Understanding that he had signed with Russia. That document has not been made public by the Kremiln.
“Turkey will join the peacekeeping forces in the [Karabakh] region to monitor the implementation of the deal with Russia,” Erdogan said on Wednesday in remarks to his party in Ankara.
While Erdogan’s statements appear to be bluster and there is no basis for Turkey to send peacekeeping forces to Nagorno-Karabakh, a conflict between Turkey and Russia could possibly undermine the political future of the ceasefire deal.
Turkey’s diplomatic backing for Azerbaijan and provision of military technology, including drones, helped it quickly capture territory in the mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The ceasefire deal was hailed as a victory in both Baku and Ankara, where Erdogan called it the end of an “occupation”.
The deployment of Turkish troops to the region would inflame tensions in Armenia, where Ankara’s forces are rightly seen as partisan. Moscow pushed back again on Wednesday, saying that there was no agreement for Turkish forces to monitor a ceasefire between the two ex-Soviet countries.
“No, there was no talk about joint peacekeeping forces. This subject has never been discussed. The joint interaction area will be in Azerbaijan’s territory, this won’t be Karabakh, and we’re talking about a monitoring centre,” said Dmitri Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman.
On Wednesday evening, the head of the Nagorno-Karabakh administration, which is called Artsakh, urged local Armenians not to flee the region as Azerbaijan consolidated control over the surrounding region.
“We don’t have a final decision about what to do,” he said. “But I want to tell you that the roads will be safe. Do not move your property from Artsakh to Armenia. You will see that we will live in Artsakh.”