US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kara McDonald (center) at a meeting in Yerevan, June 9, 2022.

Armenian Opposition Rethinking Protest Tactics

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By Artak Khulian

YEREVAN (Azatutyun) — A leader of the Armenian opposition said on June 10 that it is rethinking the tactics of its “resistance movement” almost six weeks after starting regular demonstrations aimed at toppling Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

Ishkhan Saghatelyan insisted that the protests are not dying down and that the opposition has no plans to suspend or end them.

“Yes, we need a new tactic,” Saghatelyan told reporters. ”Therefore, there may be changes in our steps and actions. Right now we are engaged in active discussions and will change some steps and actions. “

He declined to say what those changes will be.

“The movement cannot die down because its collapse or suspension would mean a defeat for the Armenian people,” he said.

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Armenia’s main opposition groups represented in the parliament have rallied thousands of supporters on a virtually daily basis since setting up a tent camp in a central Yerevan square on May 1. They accuse Pashinyan of renouncing Armenian control of Nagorno-Karabakh and making other concessions to Azerbaijan that will jeopardize the very existence of Armenia.

Pashinyan and his political allies dismiss the demands for his resignation. They say that the opposition has failed to attract popular support for its “civil disobedience” campaign.

“There is no political crisis in Armenia,” Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan said on Thursday. Echoing statements by other Armenian officials, he said that Pashinyan’s political team won a popular mandate to run the country for the next five years in the 2021 general elections.

Saghatelyan, who has been the main speaker at the protests, dismissed that argument. He said that Pashinyan does not have such a mandate anymore because he broke his election campaign pledge to help the people of Nagorno-Karabakh exercise their right to self-determination.

Parliament vice-speaker Ishkhan Saghatelyan leads an opposition demonstration in Yerevan, May 18, 2022

“They are now talking about ‘lowering the bar’ [on Karabakh’s status] and leading the country to new concessions,” he said.

A senior US State Department official, Kara McDonald, the deputy assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, met with opposition leaders.

She had arrived on June 8 for talks with government officials, politicians and civil society members. The officials included Justice Minister Karen Andreasyan and Deputy Foreign Minister Vahe Gevorgyan.

The US Embassy in Armenia said that during the two-day trip McDonald’s “underscored the US commitment to continue helping the Armenian people build a future based on shared democratic values.”

It emerged on Friday that she held a separate meeting with representatives of the two opposition alliances represented in the Armenian parliament.

Gegham Manukyan, an opposition parliamentarian, said they discussed a wide range of issues, including “shameful practices” in the Armenian judiciary and police actions against participants of continuing opposition rallies aimed at toppling Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. McDonald took note of concerns voiced by the oppositionists, he said.

The US Embassy did not comment on that meeting. The embassy posted on its Twitter page photographs of McDonald’s meetings with other individuals, including leaders of four parties not represented in the Armenian parliament.

The parliament’s two opposition factions criticized the US ambassador to Armenia, Lynne Tracy, last month after she seemed to hail the outcome of last year’s parliamentary elections won by Pashinyan’s party.

Saghatelyan accused the United States and other Western powers of turning a blind eye to government pressure on the judiciary, the existence of “dozens of political prisoners” and other human rights abuses. He also said Armenians did not give Pashinyan a mandate to “cede” Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan.

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