For Vazgen Narsesyan, the shame of the lost war between Armenia and Azerbaijan must be swept away by the resignation of the Prime Minister.
Last November, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan ceded control of large swathes of Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous region in neighboring Azerbaijan that had been controlled by ethnic Armenians since the 1990s, to Baku.
The move follows a 44-day war in which Azerbaijani forces dominated the battlefield.
The loss shocked Armenia, an impoverished and resource-poor nation of three million people, and the opposition blasted Pashinyan and called for his resignation.
On Thursday, the Armenian Armed Forces General Staff joined the opposition, urging Pashinyan to resign after sacking two senior generals. Protesters flocked to the center of Yerevan, the Armenian capital, to support the demand.
“He has to act like a man, admit his guilt and quit,” Narsesyan, a 52-year-old auto mechanic who arrived from the city of Dilijan in northern Armenia, told Al Jazeera.
Narsesyan added that he would stay in a tent next to the parliament building with other protesters, until Pashinyan, who came to power in 2018, resigns.
But so far things don’t look so bad for Pashinyan.
Opposition parties failed to muster a quorum of lawmakers to elect him, while Pashinyan, a former journalist, managed to rally thousands of supporters on Thursday.
Pashinyan led what was later dubbed the “Velvet Revolution” which toppled pro-Russian Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan and his clan of former Nagorno-Karabakh chiefs and commanders.
Up to 10,000 protesters rallied against Pashinyan in central Yerevan on Thursday, observers and media say, as the besieged prime minister rallied twice as many supporters – and told them their country was facing to an “attempted coup”.
Outside observers claim that the “coup” – which never turned into a full-blown armed rebellion – stems from Pashinyan’s desire to rid the army of generals whose careers date back to the Nagorno-Karabakh war from the 1990s.
“Pashinyan was going to purge the top ranks where many are from the so-called Karabakh clan,” Pavel Luzin, defense analyst at the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington, DC think tank, told Al Jazeera.
“Hence the attempts of the main generals to fight Pashinyan given the strength of the civil opposition to the current Armenian government,” he said.
Emil Mustafayev, a political analyst from the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, told Al Jazeera that the confrontation is “the result of Armenia’s total loss in the war with Azerbaijan and an attempt by the revengeful forces to return. to power by forcibly overthrowing Pashinyan ”.
“The situation is really complicated and it is difficult to predict whether the Prime Minister will leave or stay.”
Not surprisingly, some Armenians fear that the conflict will continue and turn violent.
“Things are very tense. I’m afraid there may be a civil war, ”Janna Melikyan, a freelance graphic designer in Yerevan, told Al Jazeera.
Many Armenians still see the lost war against Nagorno-Karabakh in apocalyptic terms.
For them, the triumph of Azerbaijan, a Turkish-speaking state of 10 million people with close historical and political ties with neighboring Turkey, is the continuation of a difficult history.
“All we did for centuries was try to survive. Pashinyan gave in, ”Arevik Dadayan, a retired accountant in Yerevan, told Al Jazeera. “He betrayed our nation, our faith.”
Economic difficulties aggravate the crisis.
Armenia remains in economic isolation as its border with Turkey is sealed, while the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the routes of migrant workers who travel to Russia each year.
Russia, Armenia’s biggest donor, ended the war despite a defense pact with Yerevan and the presence of a Russian military base in the western Armenian city of Gyumri.
Thousands of Russian peacekeepers have been deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh to guard the new border and clear thousands of hectares of land.
Ethnic Armenians have always made up the majority of the population of Nagorno-Karabakh, but it was incorporated into Soviet Azerbaijan in 1923.
When the perestroika reforms began in the last days of the USSR, they urged Moscow to make the enclave part of Armenia and held a referendum to cede Azerbaijan in 1991.
Baku never recognized the referendum and the ensuing conflict became the first open war between two former Soviet republics.
After a fragile peace agreement negotiated by Russia in 1994, Nagorno-Karabakh became de facto independent, although even Armenia never recognized it.
But Armenia’s military and economic support remains crucial.
In the 1990s, ethnic Armenians expelled hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijani civilians from seven adjacent districts, turning them into a sparsely populated no-man’s land. According to the ceasefire agreement negotiated on November 10, 2020 by Russia, Azerbaijan has recovered the districts.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev apparently gloated over the crisis in Yerevan – and blamed Pashinyan’s government for initiating it.
“Armenia has never been in such a pitiful state,” he told Azerbaijani media on Thursday. “It was their leadership that got them there.”