‘Our hearts are broken’: shock in Yerevan after loss of Karabakh
Thousands of dismayed Armenians took to the streets of the capital on Thursday calling for the government to step down after Azerbaijan’s lightning victory in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The demonstrators in Yerevan were shocked, angry and worried after Azerbaijan claimed to have regained control over the breakaway region following a 24-hour military offensive.
The protesters showed their support for Nagorno-Karabakh, chanting the name of the region at the centre of decades of conflict, which has a majority ethnic Armenian population.
On a small stage, opposition leaders called for the removal of Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and urged demonstrators to block roads, as they had the previous day.
There was desperation on Republic Square, the traditional setting for protests in Yerevan.
“Our hearts are broken. It’s possible to open a (humanitarian) corridor, to help people, at least to evacuate the children. It’s possible,” said Victoria, a 26-year-old dentist who only gave her first name.
“We ask our government to help its people,” she said, clutching a Nagorno-Karabakh flag.
She accused Pashinyan, who refused to send his army to help the separatists in the face of a better armed and wealthier enemy, of being a “traitor”.
That view was shared by other demonstrators, many of them young people who had brought the reformist prime minister to power in 2018 following a peaceful revolution.
Azerbaijan and Armenian separatists from Nagorno-Karabakh held their first direct peace talks on Thursday, after the separatists agreed to lay down their arms as part of a Russian-brokered ceasefire plan.
Baku’s negotiators presented a blueprint for the “reintegration” of the disputed territory’s Armenian population into Azerbaijan.
The region is estimated to hold up to 120,000 ethnic Armenians, and their fate was a chief concern for the demonstrators in Yerevan.
- ‘On our own’ –
“They are hungry, they have no running water, no light, they don’t have roofs over their heads. They are Armenians, we are one people and we must be together,” said David Vartanian, a 32-year-old cook.
In a months-long crisis, Azerbaijan blocked the sole road linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh for cargo deliveries, causing food shortages.
Vartanian said that if the prime minister is removed, “we’ll be able to fight”.
But many accept that a military victory over Azerbaijan, which has the backing of Turkey, is not realistic.
Demonstrators in Yerevan blamed Russia, the ally whose help did not arrive, and the European Union, which has relied on Azerbaijan for gas supplies since the war in Ukraine.
“We have no friends. Nobody wants to save us, we don’t have a strong enough army, we have no support. We’re on our own, everyone has let us down,” said lawyer Angela Adamian.
“We’re scared. We’re afraid that this means the end of our nation, because we know Azerbaijan won’t want to stop here.”
by Thibault MARCHAND
©️ Agence France-Presse