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Amid fury over Nagorno-Karabakh, could Armenia's government fall next?

Nabih Bulos, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Days after Azerbaijan defeated the ethnic Armenian authorities who have long ruled the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, speculation is swirling over whether another government could fall: that of Armenia itself.

As tens of thousands of Nagorno-Karabakh's residents flee, abandoning their homes amid fear of Azerbaijani rule, rage has filled the streets of Yerevan, Armenia's capital. Thousands of protesters have thronged Republic Square each day, attacking government buildings and facing off against riot police, their fury focused on Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and what they say is his inaction before the prospect of genocide in Nagorno-Karabakh, which Armenians call Artsakh.

"People want to punish the one who will hand over Artsakh to a foreign nation," said Hovhannes Ishkhanyan, a Yerevan-based documentary filmmaker.

"There is huge anger against Pashinyan, and that's how it should be."

That anger persisted Wednesday, with the total number of refugees leaving Nagorno-Karabakh and crossing the border into Armenia over the last few days well above 28,000, according to the Armenian government. (Estimates put Nagorno-Karabakh's ethnic Armenian population at 120,000; Azerbaijan officials insist the true figure is lower.)

They arrived crammed into whatever vehicles they could find, many of them with little more than a change of clothes. Behind them were tens of thousands of others crowding a mountain highway. The 25-mile drive from the region's capital, Stepanakert — Azerbaijan calls it Khankendi — to the Armenian border took some as long as 20 hours.


"Just a river of cars. We drove two meters, waited two hours," tweeted Marut Vanyan, a journalist who arrived in Armenia on Monday after leaving Stepanakert. That night, an explosion ripped through a gas station outside the capital, killing 68 people and injuring scores of others waiting in line for fuel.

The chaos at the border and Yerevan has only swelled the outrage at the Armenian government, especially Pashinyan, whom critics accuse of capitulating to Azerbaijan by failing to send troops to Nagorno-Karabakh to protect its ethnic Armenians. In Yerevan, protesters blocked roads, while authorities arrested demonstrating students at the American University of Armenia, adding to the hundreds of people detained by police over the last few days.

Rallies calling for Pashinyan's impeachment have filled Republic Square, the same public plaza where he addressed supporters during the 2018 revolution that brought him to power, ending the rule of what many believed to be a hopelessly corrupt political class.

Whether Pashinyan will step down or can be ousted without an election is unclear, and many of the alternative candidates, who are mostly associated with pre-2018 governments, seem to their compatriots as even less savory.


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