Armenia Faces The First Postwar Elections With a Society Polarized By The Defeat In Nagorno Karabakh

Two days after the start of the Nagorno Karabakh war, without saying anything to his family, Norik set out for the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh. This 36-year-old decided to enlist in the Armenian army and fight for the territory he considered his land, disputed by Armenia and Azerbaijan. At that time, large posters with the slogan “We are going to win” occupied the main streets of the Armenian capital and the citizens were united in support of the armed forces and those displaced from the conflict.

Today, seven months after a ceasefire that led to the loss of much of the Nagorno Karabakh territory, the 36-year-old soldier lives without mobility from the waist down due to a shot received during the last days of the Azeri offensive. He wonders if it was worth it: “The decisions of this government have harmed our homeland.”

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“The technological superiority of Azerbaijan, mainly due to the support of Turkey, did not allow us to face them equally, they attacked with drones from the air, even the drivers were afraid to go out on the road,” says Norik sadly in the center where he recovers from his injuries.

After 44 days of a war marked by the clear Azeri military advantage and started at the end of September 2020, the Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinian, signed an agreement with Azerbaijan, in which he ceded much of the territory of Nagorno Karabakh, located within from the Azeri borders but until then populated and controlled by ethnic Armenian citizens. The ceasefire was greeted with misunderstanding by its population and displaced by the conflict, who were betrayed by the Armenian government and disappointed in the international community.

The decision caused great social discontent that will be measured for the first time at the polls this Sunday, after the Armenian Government was forced to call early elections last March after conducting a series of consultations with the President of the Republic of Armenia, Armenia Sarkisián and the three parties that make up the Parliament of Armenia.

For part of the country’s population, the signing of the agreement that ended 44 days of conflict was a betrayal of the country. Many citizens consider in vain the death of around 3,900 compatriots, plus approximately 11,000 wounded. Much of these wounded recover, as Norik does, in the Rehabilitation Center for Defenders of the Fatherland in Yerevan. Before the war, it was dedicated to the manufacture of furniture. Now he’s looking for a way to reinvent himself and start a new life through 3D training or opening a carving business.

Seven months after the end of the conflict, 27,501 families of the 90,640 people who had to flee from Nagorno Karabakh to Armenia to protect themselves from the bombs have still not been able to return to their homes. Eleta is one of the war displaced who is still waiting for the moment to be able to return. In a sewing workshop run by the NGO Bari Mama, where she receives professional training to get ahead, the woman recounts her last years in Nagorno Karabakh.

“In 2018 I bought a flat in Hadrut and in 2019 I moved from Tug, my hometown. When the war started, we fled. They promised we could go back for our things, but the reality was not like that, the Azeris have taken everything from us. me and my two daughters, “he says between the looms of the workshop located in Jrvezh, near the Armenian capital.

She already had some notion of sewing but, through this project, she has had the opportunity to train professionally and rely on her colleagues, in addition to obtaining a salary that allows her to live with dignity.

Along with Eveta is Venera also comes from Tug (Nagorno Karabakh) and worked there as a teacher. On October 5, he fled his village with his 25-year-old daughter. His other 30-year-old daughter and the rest of his family live in Stepanakert, the capital of the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh, which remains under Armenian control. “At the beginning of the war I thought it would be a matter of three days and everything would return to normal, as on other occasions. Now I have nothing left.”

Marine lived in Arakel and worked in a kindergarten. He recounts with terror the moment when they climbed to the top of the town when the war began, from where he had to flee to Armenia five days later. A friend left her a house in a town near the capital and in February she began training as a seamstress in this project. He is afraid of what may happen in the elections given the polarization that emerged after the escalation of the conflict in Nagorno Karabakh: “We may have a civil war”, he predicts with fear.

The protests against the government’s management were the keynote after the signing of the agreement with Azerbaijan and the defeat in the war. The situation for the Republic of Armenia worsened even more last May, when the government accused the Azerbaijani army of trying to exceed the territorial limit imposed in the ceasefire agreement in the Syunik and Gegharkunik regions.

This situation has not favored Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian either in the parliamentary elections. The division of society has become increasingly acute in the last month among Pashinian supporters and those who are betting on a change of government. The strongest alternative to the pro-European Civil Contract party, of the current acting prime minister, is the party of pro-Russian influence Alianza Armenia, of Robert Kocharyan, who was president of the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh between 1994-1997 and later president of the Republic. of Armenia from 1998 to 2008.

Robert Kocharyan was the protagonist in one of the black pages of the history of Armenia. In February 2008, Nikol Pashinian led the protests, known as the Velvet Revolution, on the occasion of the results of the presidential elections in which Serzh Sargsyan, whom Kocharyan supported, was proclaimed the winner with 52% of the votes.

On March 1, 2008, Robert Kocharyan, who was president at the time, ordered the repression of violent protests that ended with the death of eight opponents and two policemen. Subsequently, it established a state of emergency in which opponents were arrested, demonstrations were prohibited, and censored part of the press. Kocharyan was detained and investigated for these events, until in April 2021 he was acquitted by the General Jurisdiction Court of the city of Yerevan.

The pre-election campaign in Armenia, like all the months after the war in the Karabakh, has been characterized by heated discussions between the government and the opposition, accusing each other of the circumstances that led to the defeat in the conflict with Azerbaijan. , reports Efe.

The failure in the war and the criticisms of the decisions made then by Pashinian have catapulted Kocharyan, who is also looked down upon by part of society, for his dark past. The poll carried out by MPG Gallup on June 10 gives the Armenian Alliance the winner with 24.1% of the votes, very close to Nikol Pashinian’s party, Civil Contract, with 23.8% of the votes.

Nikol Pashinian has already called for post-election demonstrations and Kocharyan says he will respond with protests if the authorities rig the elections. Next Sunday, June 20, the Armenian people decide whether to continue approaching Europe or to return to the pro-Russian path, a very uncertain future in a vulnerable context for Armenian society and with Azerbaijan lurking at all times.

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