June 10, 2024 - 12:33 AMT
Armenia: Protesters march to parliament, some spend the night on street

Thousands of protesters marched to the Armenian parliament late on Sunday, June 9 as their leader, Archbishop Bagrat Galstanyan, tried to step up his month-long campaign for Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s resignation, RFE/RL’s Armenian service reports.

Riot police did not allow them to get close to the parliament building from Bagramyan Avenue, sparking bitter verbal exchanges between Galstanyan and senior police officers at the scene. Although the tensions eased afterwards, the standoff continued, with the protest leader and most of the demonstrators trying to approach the building from another direction shortly after midnight. There too they were stopped by lines of police officers.

Several opposition parliamentarians accompanying Galstanyan also failed to get through the police cordon. Some of them argued and jostled with security forces, accusing the latter of illegally denying them entry to their parliamentary offices. Security forces reluctantly allowed them to enter the building an hour later. At least three other protesters were reportedly detained on the spot during the brief scuffle.

“We will stand here as long as necessary,” Galstanyan said after condemning the “illegal” police actions.

The protesters did not disperse despite heavy rain that began at around 2 a.m. local time. Many of them spent the night on Marshal Bagramyan Avenue, with organizers of the action pitching tents there. They remained camped out on the street on Monday morning.

The protesters began the march from the city’s central Republic Square where Galstanyan held another massive rally earlier on Sunday. Addressing supporters rallying there, he announced a “decisive” four-day push for a parliamentary vote of no confidence in Pashinyan’s government.

The outspoken archbishop backed by the Armenian opposition demanded that the pro-government leadership of the parliament convene an emergency session for that purpose on Tuesday. He said the ruling Civil Contract party, which controls the National Assembly, must “obey the will of the people.”

“With our presence, we will not allow them to make yet another anti-state mistake,” he said.

“I want to be sure that this crowd standing here commits to enduring various difficulties for the next four days with persistent efforts, an unwavering will and a conviction that we are just few steps away from victory,” added Galstanyan.

While insisting on Pashinyan’s resignation and the formation of an interim government, Galstanyan made clear that he is also open to discussing other “possible variants of political solutions.” Speaking to reporters during the ensuing march to the parliament, he did not deny that snap elections are one such solution. He did not comment further.

Galstanyan already demanded a no-confidence vote in the government when he held his first rally in Yerevan on May 9 after leading weeks of protests in the northern Tavush province against Pashinyan’s decision to cede several local border areas to Azerbaijan. The two opposition alliances represented in the parliament pledged to try to engineer a motion of censure. But they lack a single vote to force a formal parliament debate on the measure.

Opposition leaders and Galstanyan hope the missing vote will come from Ishkhan Zakaryan, a nominally independent deputy who left the opposition Pativ Unem bloc in 2022. Even if Zakaryan joins the initiative, the opposition will have to win over at least 18 of the 71 Civil Contract lawmakers. Pashinyan’s political allies have expressed confidence that none of the pro-government deputies will break ranks to back Galstanyan’s bid to oust the prime minister.