Protest-Leading Armenian Archbishop Says He Will Challenge Pashinyan For Premiership


(RFE/RL) — Bagrat Galstanian, an outspoken archbishop who has led anti-government protests in Armenia over a controversial border deal with Azerbaijan, on May 26 announced his intention to challenge Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian for the premiership as he addressed tens of thousands of supporters who gathered in central Yerevan.

Galstanian, a 53-year-old head of the Tavush Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, said at the rally in the capital’s main Republic Square that he had asked Catholicos Karekin II to suspend his “spiritual service” so that he could challenge Pashinian.

Rally participants cheered and applauded Galstanian’s remarks that he was ready to accept the “nomination” as a candidate for prime minister in the opposition’s possible impeachment bid against Pashinian.

Under Armenia’s constitution, at least one-third of lawmakers can initiate a no-confidence vote against the prime minister in parliament, provided they also name a candidate who will replace him or her.

Earlier, Hayastan and Pativ Unem — opposition factions in parliament associated with the former presidents of Armenia, Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian — said they would support the bid.

They will need the support of the only nonaligned lawmaker to initiate the process, which, in order to succeed, will require a majority vote in the legislature dominated by Pashinian’s Civil Contract party.

Pashinian — who remains largely popular with the population despite some dissatisfaction with recent events — has rejected Galstanian’s resignation demand and his allies in parliament have ruled out that any of them would break ranks to support the protest leader’s possible bid.

The Armenian Constitution bars dual citizens from serving as prime minister. Galstanian, who is a dual citizen of Armenia and Canada, said he would not violate the constitution but did not explain how he was going to surmount the legal obstacle.

Earlier, his supporters did not rule out that it would have to require an amendment to the constitution.

At the end of the rally, Galstanian told participants he would go to Pashinian’s residence to meet him and press his resignation demand.

But after waiting for some time near the prime minister’s residence with no response, Galstanian told supports he would return to Republic Square to discuss plans for the start of “civil disobedience” actions to begin on the morning of May 27.

“We will make the government reckon with the demand of the people,” he said.

Pashinian was out of Yerevan during the afternoon hours, visiting the Lori and Tavush regions, where at least three people had been killed in severe flooding.

Armenian police urged protesters to preserve public order during the day.

The anti-government movement started in the northeastern province of Tavush in April as Armenia and Azerbaijan began the demarcation process of their heavily militarized border following an agreement announced by Yerevan and Baku on April 19.

The demarcation, which was formally completed on May 15, alters the boundary in a way that affects the infrastructure of a number of Armenian border villages.

Local populations have expressed fears of possible further Azerbaijani attacks after the Armenian military withdrawal from four abandoned villages that used to be part of Soviet Azerbaijan but have been controlled by Armenia since the first Armenian-Azerbaijani war in the early 1990s.

The Pashinian government has pledged to solve infrastructure-related problems of the border villages within a few months, including the construction of a new road and payment of compensations to those who are losing property and land as a result of the demarcation.

The prime minister has also stressed that having a demarcated and recognized border with Azerbaijan is in itself assurance against Azerbaijan’s possible aggression.

Both the United States and the European Union have hailed the border demarcation between the two bitter Caucasus rivals.


RFE/RL journalists report the news in 21 countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established.

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