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Thousands rally in Armenia against Azerbaijan land transfer 


Yerevan — Thousands of Armenians staged an anti-government protest on Sunday, demanding Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s resignation over territorial concessions to arch foe neighbor Azerbaijan.

Protests erupted in the Caucasus nation last month after the government agreed to hand over to Baku territory it had controlled since the 1990s.

The ceded area is strategically important for landlocked Armenia because it controls sections of a vital highway to Georgia.

Armenian residents of nearby settlements say the move cuts them off from the rest of the country and accuse Pashinyan of giving away territory without getting anything in return.

On Friday, in a key step toward normalizing ties between the rivals — who fought two wars over then-disputed Nagorno Karabakh region — Yerevan returned to Azerbaijan four border villages it seized decades ago.

An AFP reporter said several thousand people flooded Yerevan’s central Republic Square in a fresh protest spearheaded by charismatic archbishop Bagrat Galstanyan, a church leader from the Tavush region, where villages were handed over to Azerbaijan.

“Our people want to change the bitter reality which was imposed on us,” Galstanyan told the crowd, adding that fixing the volatile border with Azerbaijan “must only be carried out after a peace treaty is signed” with Baku.

One of the demonstrators, 67-year-old Artur Sargsyan, said: “We demand an immediate resignation of Nikol [Pashinyan].”

“I had fought in two wars with Azerbaijan and will not let him give away our lands.”

Pashinyan defended the territorial concessions as aimed at securing peace with Baku. But they sparked weeks of protests and demonstrators blocked major roads in an attempt to force him to change course.

In a televised statement on Friday evening, he said resolving border disputes with Azerbaijan “is a sole guarantee for the very existence of the Armenian republic within its internationally recognized and legitimate frontier.”

Galstanyan is seeking to launch an impeachment process against Pashinyan, a former journalist who was propelled to power in the wake of peaceful street protests he led in 2018.

The archbishop said on Sunday that he would renounce his clerical office to run for prime ministerial post, and called for snap parliamentary elections.

“My spiritual service is above all possible posts, but I am ready to sacrifice it for the sake of change in this country,” he told the cheering crowd.

He then called on protesters to march toward Pashinyan’s residence.

Opposition parties would require the support of at least one independent or ruling party MP to launch the impeachment process and success would then hinge on at least 18 lawmakers from Pashinyan’s own party voting to unseat the leader.

Last year, Azerbaijan recaptured Karabakh in a lightning offensive against Armenian separatists who had held sway over the mountainous enclave for three decades.

The region’s entire Armenian population — more than 100,000 people — fled to Armenia in the aftermath.