Protesters led by Archbishop Bagrat Galstanyan march to Yerevan from Tavush province, May 4, 2024.

Armenian Border Protesters March to Yerevan from Tavush

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By Karine Simonian

YEREVAN (Azatutyun) — An outspoken archbishop and his supporters began marching on Saturday, May 4, to Yerevan from a border village in the northern Tavush province that has been the epicenter of two-week protests against the Armenian government’s territorial concessions to Azerbaijan.

Archbishop Bagrat Galstanyan, who has emerged as the top leader of the protests, said they are taking their campaign to the streets of the capital to try to scuttle the handover of border areas adjacent to the village of Kirants and nearby Tavush communities. Many local residents have been up in arms against it, citing grave security concerns.

“The Tavush for the Homeland movement has decided that the people must just go to Yerevan … to demand that this process be stopped here and elsewhere,” Galstanyan said in Kirants before staring at the 160-kilometer journey to Yerevan.

The decision was announced two days after police cracked down on Kirants protesters who tried to stop authorities from clearing an adjacent area of ​​landmines and make other preparations for its handover to Azerbaijan. The police presence in and around the village remained strong after the crackdown.

Police stand guard in Kirants village, May 4, 2024

Galstanyan, who heads the Tavush diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, said the protesters led by him planned to reach Yerevan on May 9. He gave no details of their actions planned there. His announcement drew statements of support from Yerevan-based opposition politicians and public figures who pledged to join the campaign.

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The marching protesters, among them at least two opposition parliamentarians, spent their first night in Tavush’s medieval Haghartsin monastery. They resumed their march to the capital after attending a Sunday mass there in the morning.

“This march is going to give us one thing: honor and a homeland,” Galstanyan told the crowd of more than 100 people right after the liturgy. He urged Armenia’s leaders to “behave well,” “repent” and “stay away from all kinds of sins.”

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s political allies and other supporters have verbally attacked and even insulted Galstanyan during the protests led by him. The latter was highly critical of Pashinyan and especially his handling of the conflict with Azerbaijan even before the protests.

Protesters led by Archbishop Bagrat Galstanyan march to Yerevan, May 4, 2024

During an April 30 session of the Armenian parliament, pro-government lawmakers branded Galstanyan a Russian spy, accused him of provoking another war with Azerbaijan and even called on Armenian border guards to forcibly draft the 52-year-old archbishop.

Opposition leaders have condemned what they see as a smear campaign orchestrated by Pashinyan. The Echmiadzin-based Mother See of the Armenian Apostolic Church has also stood by Galstanyan and denounced the planned land handover to Azerbaijan.

Pashinyan has said that the unilateral concessions are necessary for preventing Azerbaijani military aggression against Armenia. The Armenian opposition maintains that he is on the contrary encouraging Baku to demand more territory from Armenia and use force for that purpose.

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