Samvel Shahramanian, the exiled president of Nagorno-Karabakh, appeared to backtrack on his decision to dissolve the unrecognized republic as he was confronted by angry Karabakh refugees in Yerevan on Friday.
More than a hundred of them gathered outside Karabakh’s permanent representation to Armenia in the morning to demand answers on Azerbaijan’s September 19-20 military offensive that allowed Baku to regain control over the region and caused the mass exodus of its ethnic Armenian population.
The mainly male protests also sought explanations for Shahramanian’s September 28 decree which said that the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, set up in September 1991, will cease to exist on January 1.
“No document can dissolve the republic created by the people,” Shahramanian told the angry crowd when he emerged from the building. “I am going to publicly explain this soon.”
Shahramanian said he signed the decree to stop the hostilities and enable the Karabakh Armenians to safely flee their homeland.
“We saved the lives of our guys, we saved the lives of our civilian population which was in danger. Had the war been stopped an hour later, they would have entered the city [of Stepanakert] and slaughtered people,” the Karabakh leader added in his first public comments made since the Azerbaijani assault.
The protesters were unconvinced. Some of them broke into the building shortly afterwards, forcing Shahramanian to meet with them. The meeting did not satisfy them either.
Shahramanian again emerged from his office early in the afternoon, condemning the protesters’ “provocations” and urging them to disperse. The crowd did not heed the appeal, continuing to block an adjacent street.
Some protesters stopped and vandalized a car that drove out of the Karabakh mission’s compound later in the afternoon. They also brawled with people, presumably Karabakh officials, sitting in the black SUV.
The chief of Shahramanian’s staff was reportedly injured in the violence. A spokesman for the Armenian Interior Ministry said that four men were detained on the spot.
Some Armenian opposition figures were quick to accuse Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian of organizing the protest through other Karabakh leaders loyal to him. They said Pashinian, who faced mass protests in Yerevan late last month, is thus trying to deflect the blame for the fall of Karabakh. Pashinian’s political allies have openly blamed the region’s current leadership, backed by the Armenian opposition, for the Azerbaijani takeover of Karabakh and its almost full depopulation.
Shahramanian was elected president by Karabakh lawmakers mostly critical of Pashinian just ten days before the Azerbaijani offensive. His predecessor Arayik Harutiunian, who was arrested by Azerbaijan after the assault, was thought to be more loyal to Pashinian.
According to Armenian press reports, Shahramanian has tried in vain to meet with Pashinian since joining more than 100,000 Karabakh Armenians in taking refuge in Armenia.