Crowds claim agreement with Azerbaijan to withdraw is a betrayal after six weeks of fierce fighting over disputed enclave
Jack Losh in Yerevan, and agencies – The Guardian
Armenians angry at the peace deal with Azerbaijan storm the parliament building in Yerevan, the capital, on Tuesday morning. Photograph: Dmitri Lovetsky/AP
Protesters have stormed government buildings in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, as anger erupted against a contentious peace deal to end the war with Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Hundreds of people took to the streets soon after Armernia’s prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, announced the “painful” deal early on Tuesday.
Windows were smashed and broken glass littered the lobby of Pashinyan’s official residence. Protesters ripped his nameplate off his office door as others chanted “Nikol has betrayed us.”
Police officers looked on as demonstrators – including some army veterans wearing military fatigues – filled the ornate, wood-panelled offices, shouting and delivering furious speeches.
Crowds also forced their way into the Armenian parliament as brawls broke out on the podium and objects were thrown. The parliament’s speaker, Ararat Mirzoyan, was caught up in the violence and beaten unconscious by an angry mob.
The anger was stirred by Pashinyan’s signing of a new peace deal that was brokered by Russia and hands Azerbaijan many of the concessions it has sought for decades.
Following weeks of heavy fighting that has displaced around 100,00 people and is believed to have killed thousands, Azeri officials proclaimed victory in the battle for the enclave’s strategically positioned second-largest city, Shusha, and on Monday said they had seized dozens of settlements.
The agreement calls for Armenian forces to turn over control of some areas it held outside the borders of Nagorno-Karabakh, including the eastern district of Agdam. That area carries strong symbolic weight for Azerbaijan because its main city, also called Agdam, was thoroughly pillaged, and the only building remaining intact is the city’s mosque.
Armenians will also turn over the Lachin region, which holds the main road leading from Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. The agreement calls for the road, the so-called Lachin corridor, to remain open and be protected by 1,960 Russian peacekeepers.
News footage showed the peacekeepers boarding military planes as they were dispatched to Nagorno-Karabakh to oversee the withdrawal of Armenian forces from a region they have held since a war between the neighbouring nations in the early 1990s.
“I personally made a very hard decision for myself and all of us,” Pashinyan said in a statement posted online, describing the ceasefire terms as “unbelievably painful for me and our people”.
Opposition parties are calling for his resignation and urging that power be transferred to a temporary governing body until the fighting ends.
Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, later confirmed the news in a televised online meeting with Vladimir Putin, president of Russia, which has a defence pact with Armenia and a military base there. Turkey has been supporting its ally Azerbaijan.
“The signed trilateral statement will become a [crucial] point in the settlement of the conflict,” Aliyev said.
Putin said in a statement on Tuesday that he hoped the deal “will set up necessary conditions for long-lasting and full-scale settlement of the crisis over Nagorno-Karabakh”.
Arayik Harutyunyan, the leader of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, said on Facebook that he gave agreement “to end the war as soon as possible”.
Earlier, Azerbaijan said that its forces shot down a Russian military helicopter as it flew over Armenia. The incident happened about 70km (45 miles) away from Nagorno-Karabakh, but Azerbaijan said the war there was a contributing factor.
Fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh broke out on 27 September. The region has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since 1994.
Azerbaijan said on Sunday it had captured Shusha, known by Armenians as Shushi, which sits on a mountaintop overlooking Stepanakert, the city regarded as the enclave’s capital by its ethnic Armenian administration.
Shushi’s position just 10km (six miles) from Stepanakert gives strategic advantage to whoever holds it. The city also lies along the main road connecting Stepanakert with Armenia. Long lines of vehicles jammed the territory’s main road on Sunday as Nagorno-Karabakh residents fled the fighting into Armenia.
“Unfortunately we are forced to admit that a series of failures still haunt us, and the city of Shushi is completely out of our control,” Vagram Pogosian, a spokesman for the president of the government in Nagorno-Karabakh, said in a statement on Facebook. “The enemy is on the outskirts of Stepanakert.”
Azerbaijan said it had retaken much of the land in and around Nagorno-Karabakh that it lost in a 1991-94 war over the territory which killed an estimated 30,000 people and forced many more from their homes. Armenia has denied the extent of Azerbaijan’s territorial gains.
Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report.