Armenian foreign minister resigns amid turmoil over Nagorno-Karabakh truce

Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan attends a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, Russia.

Russian Foreign Ministry press service via AP

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Armenia’s foreign minister tendered his resignation on Monday amid political unrest that engulfed the country following a ceasefire agreement for the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh that calls for ceding territory to long-time adversary Azerbaijan.

The Moscow-brokered truce ended fighting that has killed hundreds, if not thousands, in six weeks, but stipulated that Armenia cede control of certain areas it holds outside the borders of Upper Karabakh to Azerbaijan.

Nagorno-Karabakh is in Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since the end of a separatist war in 1994. This war left not only Nagorno-Karabakh itself, but a territory substantial surroundings in the hands of the Armenians.

The deal was celebrated in Azerbaijan but sparked mass protests in Armenia as thousands took to the streets and demanded that the country’s prime minister, Nikol Pashinian, resign and the deal be invalidated.

Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan’s resignation was announced by his spokesperson on Monday. Anna Nagdhalyan posted her handwritten resignation letter on Facebook shortly after Pashinian told parliament he had decided to dismiss him. Earlier Monday, the ministry publicly disagreed with Pashinian over the Nagorno-Karabakh peace talks.

Pashinian told an online press conference earlier Monday that there had been offers to hand over Armenian-controlled Azerbaijani regions around Nagorno-Karabakh and the city of Shusha, which is strategically located near the capital of the territory, Stepanakert.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Naghdalyan quickly retorted on Facebook that abandoning Shusha had never been on the agenda “at any stage” of the peace talks.

The exchange and subsequent resignation of Mnatsakanyan, who has held the post since May 2018, may indicate that the political crisis in Armenia is deepening. It comes as 17 opposition parties and their supporters continue to demand Pashinian’s ouster, with thousands regularly taking to the streets of the Armenian capital. On Monday, crowds gathered in Yerevan for another rally.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh for decades. Heavy fighting that erupted on September 27 marked the biggest escalation in more than a quarter century, killing hundreds, if not thousands.

A Russian-brokered truce last week ended the violence after several failed attempts to establish a lasting ceasefire. The deal came two days after Azerbaijan, which had made significant progress, announced it had seized Shusha.

Russian peacekeepers have started to deploy to the region – a total of 1,960 of them are to be sent under a five-year term. The Russian Defense Ministry reported on Monday that peacekeepers had accompanied around 1,200 people returning from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh since Saturday.

At the same time, many ethnic Armenians left territories that will be handed over to Azerbaijan, some burning down their homes in a bitter farewell and digging up the graves of loved ones in order to rebury their remains in Armenia.

Gerald R. Schneider