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“The man who lost the war”: in Armenia, the shaken prestige of the prime minister



“I made an extremely difficult decision, for me and for all of us” : On November 10, 2020, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian announced with these words the signing of a humiliating ceasefire which confirmed, after 44 days of war, the crushing defeat of Armenia against Azerbaijan. The declaration then seems to sound the political death sentence of this former journalist, charismatic leader of the Armenian opposition who came to power following a peaceful revolution in 2018. Against all expectations, Nikol Pashinian is still one year later still at the head of the country. Better still: his party, “Contrat Civil”, won a large victory in early parliamentary elections in June, with a majority in parliament.

→ READ. In Armenia, the final victory of Prime Minister Nikol Pachinian

However, it is impossible to minimize the trauma represented for Armenia by the loss of a major part of Nagorno-Karabakh, this mountainous region of Azerbaijan populated by Armenians and controlled since the 1990s by Armenian separatists. “It is the most devastating event in the period of independent Armenia”, assures Karen Harutyunyan, editor in chief of the Armenian media “CivilNet”.

Part of society continues to see him as a traitor

The calls to leave quickly followed the news of the cease-fire, and culminated in February with a request for resignation launched by nearly 40 staff officers. Nikol Pashinian then denounced a “Coup attempt”. A year later, parts of the opposition and Armenian society continue to denounce the November 9 ceasefire agreement, and to regard the prime minister as a traitor.

Behind the extraordinary political survival of the head of government lies a deep disillusion. “Pashinian’s victory [aux élections législatives, NDLR] was less support for the power in place than the rejection of the opposition “, notes analyst Richard Giragosian, director of the “Regional Studies Center” from Yerevan. An opposition ejected from power in 2018, and still widely seen as corrupt by Armenian society, which proved unable to capitalize on the historic defeat of November 2020. Faced with this discredited elite, Nikol Pashinian is still seen as a bulwark by a significant part of Armenian society.

But if it didn’t bring down Nikol Pashinian, the “44 day war” deeply shaken the prestige of the reformer hero of the 2018 revolution. “He became the man who lost the war”, asserts Karen Harutyunyan. For this journalist, the shock of defeat has also transformed the way the Prime Minister exercises power. “He used to meet regularly with journalists, but he shut himself up after the war”, he judges. “His circle of advisers and trusted people has shrunk, confirms Richard Giragosian, it now favors loyalty over competence. “

Focused on negotiating a peace agreement

The former journalist who, in 2018, surveyed the country on foot, megaphone in hand, to criticize the corruption of power, has isolated himself in the face of the polarization of Armenian society. Rather than economic or anti-corruption reforms, the prime minister is now focusing on negotiating a genuine peace agreement with Azerbaijan.

→ REPORT. Nagorno-Karabakh: one year after the war, stay or go?

As a prelude, the two countries could, according to several local media, agree in the coming weeks on the course of their common border – never officially defined since the fall of the USSR – as well as on the return to the country of the last prisoners of war held by Azerbaijan. “There will be no defeat as long as we do not admit defeat”, assured Nikol Pashinian on November 10, 2020. The management of the consequences of the defeat could however represent the main part of the legacy of the former revolutionary.

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