YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Both opponents and supporters of Armenia’s prime minister rallied Saturday as the nation paid tribute to the thousands who died in fighting with Azerbaijan over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Critics demanded that the leader resign and tried to pelt him with eggs.
The Azerbaijani army pushed deep into Nagorno-Karabakh in six weeks of hostilities that ended with a Russia-brokered peace deal on Nov. 10 that saw Azerbaijan reclaim large parts of the separatist region and surrounding territories.
The loss of lands that had been controlled by ethnic Armenian forces for more than a quarter-century has traumatized Armenians, triggering weeks of protests demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
On Saturday, thousands of protesters rallied near the Yerablur military memorial cemetery on the outskirts of the Armenian capital of Yerevan as Pashinyan visited it to honor the soldiers killed in the latest fighting. The nation is observing a three-day mourning period for the dead.
The prime minister’s opponents, shouting “Nikol, you traitor!,” engaged in scuffles with his supporters and police. Police dispersed the protesters to clear the way for Pashinyan and his security guards covered him with shields and umbrellas as protesters attempted to hit him with eggs.
Later in the day, about 20,000 opposition supporters marched across Yerevan for a memorial church service for the victims of the conflict.
Also on Saturday, 14 retired military generals issued a statement calling for the resignation of the government over its handling of the latest fighting.
Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but was under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a separatist war there ended in 1994. That war left Nagorno-Karabakh itself and substantial surrounding territory in Armenian hands.
In 44 days of fighting that began in late September and left more than 5,600 people killed on both sides, the Azerbaijani army fought its way deep into Nagorno-Karabakh, forcing Armenia to accept last month’s peace deal.
Russia has deployed nearly 2,000 peacekeepers for at least five years to monitor the peace agreement and facilitate the return of refugees.