YEREVAN (Azatutyun.am)—Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan faced on Wednesday furious protesters blaming him for grave consequences of last year’s war in Nagorno-Karabakh during an impromptu visit to Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province.
Video reports showed local residents swearing at Pashinyan, branding him a “capitulator” and “traitor” and demanding that he leave their community as he walked through Agarak, a small town on the Armenian-Iranian border.
“You are the capitulators,” Pashinyan shouted back.
“We are going to sort this out as well. Dear people, I apologize to you for these types,” he said, appealing to other Agarak residents through a megaphone.
Pashinyan, who was surrounded by many bodyguards and other security officers, was confronted by dozens of other angry men when he arrived in the nearby town of Meghri later in the morning. Some of those protesters briefly scuffled with security forces.
Anti-government demonstrators also gathered in the industrial town of Kajaran. Pashinyan reportedly bypassed it on his way back to Syunik’s administrative center Kapan.
He was jeered by other protesters but greeted by a group of supporters outside the provincial administration building where he met with government and law-enforcement officials in the afternoon. He also visited an Armenian military base located in the area.
Speaking at the meeting, Pashinyan described the angry protests as a “violation of the law” and demanded that law-enforcement authorities respond to them “in an explicit and tough manner.”
“An atmosphere of impunity must not be allowed to exist in Armenia,” he told the heads of Armenia’s police and National Security Service.
Pashinyan’s press secretary, Mane Gevorgyan, said the incidents were organized by unnamed “known circles” and have “nothing to do with real people of Agarak and Meghri.” Gevorgian also posted on her Facebook page a short video of the prime minister shaking hands with several Kapan residents.
Syunik borders the Zangelan and Kubatli districts southwest of Karabakh which were mostly recaptured by Azerbaijan during the autumn war. As a result of a Russian-brokered ceasefire that stopped the war on November 10, Armenian army units and local militias completed in December their withdrawal from parts of those districts close to Kapan and other local communities.
Many Syunik residents have since been seriously concerned about their security as well as the safety of the main provincial highway running along the Soviet-era Armenian-Azerbaijani border. Hundreds of them blocked a section of the highway in late December to bar Pashinyan from visiting the mountainous region. The prime minister had to return to Yerevan.
The mayors of virtually all Syunik towns, including Kapan, issued statements at the time demanding Pashinyan’s resignation. Three of them were subsequently prosecuted on separate charges rejected by them as politically motivated.
Pashinyan did not meet with any of those elected officials on Wednesday, unlike President Armen Sarkissian, who visited Syunik earlier this week. Sarkissian was accompanied by Armenia’s human rights ombudsman, Arman Tatoyan.
Pashinyan’s latest trip to Syunik was not announced beforehand and few Yerevan-based media outlets were thus able to cover it. Shurnukh, a small border village, was the first stop of his tour which began late on Tuesday.
Hakob Arshakyan, the Shurnukh mayor also critical of the government, said on Wednesday that he learned about Pashinyan’s sudden arrival only after the latter left the village. “He found two open doors and went in,” Arshakian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
“Why [did he come] at night? So that Azerbaijanis don’t see him?” he asked.
Shurnukh was effectively divided into two parts as a result of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border delimitation that angered many Syunik residents. Twelve village houses ended up on what is now the Azerbaijani side of the frontier.
Their residents were evacuated before Azerbaijani forces entered that part of the village in December. The Armenian government has pledged to build new homes for them.