Thousands of Armenians took to the streets in the capital Yerevan on Tuesday to protest the agreement Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian signed with Azerbaijan and Russia to end the war over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Pashinian said the deal was "extremely painful" for him and the Armenian people. "The decision was the result of an in-depth analysis of the military situation and based on the assessment of the best experts in the field," he said in a Facebook post.
"I believe this is the best possible solution for the current situation," Pashinyan added.
"This is not a victory but there is not defeat until you consider yourself defeated. We will never consider ourselves defeated and this shall become a new start of an era of our national unity and rebirth," he said.
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 Russian peacekeepers.
Soon after the announcement, thousands of people streamed to the main square in the Armenian capital Yerevan to protest the agreement, many shouting, "We won't give up our land!"
Some of them broke into the main government building, saying they were searching for Pashinian, who apparently had already departed. A few hundred entered the building, ransacking offices and breaking windows, an AFP journalist said.
The Armenian PM's announcement came after Azerbaijan declared it had seized dozens of settlements in Nagorno-Karabakh. On Sunday, Azerbaijan said 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.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was cited by state media as saying: "Karabakh agreement will help iron out issue on fair basis and in the interests of Azerbaijani and Armenian people. Azerbaijani and Armenian forces in Karabakh will stay on positions they hold."
"A swap of prisoners of war and other detained persons and bodies is underway," the Russian leader said, speaking about a joint statement he had signed with the Azerbaijani president and the Armenian prime minister.
Putin also said Russian peace keepers will be deployed along the frontline in Nagorno-Karabakh, according to Russian news agency Interfax.
Armenian and Azerbaijani forces have been fighting for six weeks over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The region lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a war there ended in 1994. The latest outburst of hostilities began September 27 and has left hundreds — perhaps thousands — dead, marking the worst escalation of fighting since the war’s end.
Azerbaijan has relied on strong support from its ally Turkey, which has trained Azerbaijani military and provided it with strike drones and long-range rocket systems. Meanwhile, Russia has a defense pact with Armenia and a military base there.
- With AP, AFP