After suffering an unexpectedly devastating military defeat in the war for Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia faced a serious political crisis, with opposition parties and protesters demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and calling for fresh elections. By the end of the 45-day war on November 10, Karabakh Armenian defenders lost control over sizable areas of Azerbaijan before losing the second-largest city in Karabakh to Azerbaijan. At the same time, a related renewed surge in COVID-19 cases and a continued economic downturn only added to the challenges facing the country.
Armenian Prime Minister Resists Calls to Resign, Promises Stability
In a heated televised address onNovember 27, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan angrily denounced his political opponents for seeking to “spread chaos” and attempting to “bring the war into Armenia and, using assault rifles and criminal groups, leave the country in a state of freefall in order to ensure their return.” Noting that the opposition to his government was driven by elements of the former government, Pashinyan rejected calls for his resignation and for early elections. However, the pressure on Pashinyan escalated, as Armenian President Armen Sarkissian joined on November 25 in calling for a change of government. In a partial response, Pashinyan dismissed six cabinet ministers, including the Defense and Foreign Ministers, and announced a “plan of action” that he argued would “establish stability” and strengthen the economy within six months.
Health Minister Reports Reduction in Coronavirus Cases
In a report on the coronavirus pandemic on November 26, Armenian Health Minister Arsen Torosyan noted that a recent reduction in infections down to roughly 1500 new cases per day, has greatly reduced the burden on hospitals struggling to manage the public health crisis. The improvement led to a controversial decision by the Ministry of Education on November 30 ordering secondary and high schools to reopen on December 7, after their closure since mid-October. Primary schools were earlier reopened on November 13. All schools must adhere to strict sanitary and hygienic rules, set by the Health Ministry. To date, Armenia has recorded 2,587 deaths from the coronavirus.
Parliament Rejects Opposition Move to Lift Martial Law
In a 56 to 36 vote the pro-government majority “My Step” bloc repelled a move by the parliamentary opposition that sought to end the martial law imposed in response to Azerbaijan’s attacks on September 27. Arguing that the martial law restrictions on the freedoms of speech and assembly were no longer necessary since the war ended on November 10, the opposition failed to garner sufficient support in the face of pro-government arguments that national security required the continuation of martial law.
Cabinet Reshuffle Continues
Resisting a combination of small but vocal protests and growing demands for his resignation, Prime Minister Pashinyan announced on November 23 the dismissal of Minister of Education, Science, Culture and Youth Affairs Arayik Harutiunyan. Although part of a larger cabinet reshuffle, with this dismissal following the earlier firings of the ministers of defense, emergency situations, foreign affairs, and labor, the 41-year-old Harutiunyan was a specific target of the opposition for his ambitious education reforms. Harutiunyan was replaced by Vahram Dumanian, the dean of the Computer Science and Applied Mathematics Department at Yerevan State University but was later appointed as a senior advisor to the prime minister.
Businessman Appointed New Economy Minister
As part of a sweeping cabinet reshuffle that saw the removal of six key ministers, Vahan Kerobyan, the founder and chief executive of an online food delivery company, was appointed on November 27 as the new Economy Minister. The 44-year-old Kerobyan has little if any experience with economic policy, however, and is widely seen as ill-prepared for the coming challenge to manage the economic downturn and need for recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.
The challenge of managing a lingering economic crisis follows a recent report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projecting an economic contraction of at least 7% in GDP for 2020, ending three years of consecutive growth. The government’s latest budget submission, from earlier in November, is more optimistic, with a baseline forecast of an economic recovery of some 4.8% for 2021, although the impact of the six-week war makes that estimate already outdated. In a rare display of good news, the All-Armenian Fund announced on November 27 that the charity had raised over $26 million in donations from the global diaspora, earmarked to assist the roughly 100,000 Karabakh Armenians forced to seek refuge in Armenia from the war.
Prime Minister Unveils New “Action Plan”
Seeking to counter calls for his resignation Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan unveiled a new “action plan” on November 18 that he promised would “establish stability and security” and restore economic growth. The 15-point action plan, set to last for six months, includes state policies to stimulate business activity, extend tax incentives, spur infrastructural investment and address social needs as part of a broader effort to overcome the coronavirus pandemic.
Armenia Accepts Russian-Imposed Agreement to End the War for Karabakh
In a difficult decision, Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan accepted on November 10 a Russian-crafted and Russian-imposed agreement that effectively ended the six-week war for Karabakh and triggered the immediate deployment of some 2000 Russian peacekeepers to Nagorno-Karabakh for an initial five-year mission. Although the agreement consolidated significant territorial gains by Azerbaijan and introduced a cessation of fighting, it only affirmed Armenia’s stunning defeat. And while the acceptance of the agreement saved lives and salvaged the remaining territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, the conflict remained unresolved with several outstanding questions, ranging from the status of Karabakh to the terms of the withdrawal and possible demobilization of the Karabakh armed forces, making further diplomatic negotiations essential to ensuring lasting security and stability. Given the lack of preparation for Armenian society for the scale of the losses from the war, the Pashinyan government faced an immediate and emotional series of protests, leading for calls for the prime minister to resign and culminating in violent attacks on the parliament and the prime minister’s office.
“An agreement effectively ended the six-week war for Karabakh and triggered the immediate deployment of some 2000 Russian peacekeepers to Nagorno-Karabakh for an initial five-year mission”
Seizure of the parliament building in Yerevan by protesters.
Photo: 24 channel