Armenia's Pashinyan holds last major pre-election rally

Armenia's Pashinyan holds last major pre-election rally
Pashinian addresses the thousands gathered in Yerevan's Republic Square.
By Neil Hauer in Yerevan June 18, 2021

Armenia’s acting PM Nikol Pashinian held his last major pre-election rally on June 17, gathering supporters in Yerevan’s Republic Square following an exhaustive tour of Armenia’s provinces.

Estimates placed the attendance at around 20,000 supporters.

On June 20, the small, impoverished South Caucasus country holds snap parliamentary polls called by Pashinian in an attempt to diffuse a political crisis that broke out after last autumn’s disastrous Nagorno-Karabakh war with Azerbaijan.

The moment of truth has arrived," declared Pashinian, who turned up at the rally in the capital's Republic Square with his wife and children.

"On June 20 we will come to the polls to stage a steel revolution," he added as the crowd cheered and chanted "Nikol!"

“Steel mandate”

During an aggressive campaign that sparked warnings from the country's rights ombudsman, Pashinian has urged voters to give him a "steel mandate" and brandished a hammer.

Many at June 17's rally said Pashinian should not be blamed for the mistakes of his predecessors and defended his track record.

"We do no not want the old regime to return," one supporter, Mikael Kirakosyan, told AFP.

The 60-year-old engineer-turned-businessman said that "anarchy and corruption" had reigned in the ex-Soviet country of nearly 3mn people before Pashinian came to power after a bloodless uprising in 2018.

Karine Harutyunyan, a 53-year-old homemaker, said Pashinian was an "honest" man.


"We trust him, we love him, we respect him!"

Pashinian, a former newspaper editor, swept to power in 2018, spearheading peaceful protests against corrupt elites who ruled after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

But many Armenians now feel betrayed, saying he led the country into a six-week war with arch-enemy Azerbaijan and signed an unpopular truce agreement last year that surrendered swathes of territory. The war over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave claimed more than 6,000 lives.

"I will not vote for Pashinian again," said Elya Martikyan, a 29-year-old nurse.

"He's good at making threats, at brandishing a hammer."

Fear of further polarisation

Many also fear that instead of bringing relief after the trauma of war, the election could further polarise the country.

Polls show that Pashinian's Civil Contract Party is neck-to-neck with ex-president Robert Kocharyan's electoral bloc.

Both politicians are also planning to hold multiple rallies after the election.

Pashinian has said he expects his party to win 60% of the vote, an estimate some pollsters call "fantastical".

US-based political observer Arthur Martirosyan said Pashinian would not go down without a fight and might mobilise his supporters if he loses.

"For him, it's a matter of life and death," Martirosyan, a senior consultant with conflict management firm CMPartners, told AFP. He said Pashinian could face an inquiry over his handling of the war if he loses power.

A poll last week showed Kocharyan's bloc leading with 24.1%, followed by Pashinian's party with 23.8% and ex-leader Serzh Sargsyan's bloc with 7.4 percent.

‘No one to exceed 30%’

Aram Navasardyan who directs the pollster that carried out the survey, Marketing Professional Group (MPG), predicted that no one would get more than 30% of the vote.

A record four electoral blocs and 22 parties are running in the elections and most have campaigned on a pro-Russian platform.

Russia, a long-standing strategic ally, helped broker the truce agreement with Azerbaijan and its peacekeepers have been deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh.

Only a handful of parties are expected to win seats in parliament.