Updated: Jul 6, 2021
(RFE/RL) – Hundreds of Armenians have demonstrated in Yerevan against Russian weapon sales to Azerbaijan, claiming the sales led to the outbreak of fighting on April 2 in and around Azerbaijan’s breakaway region of Nagorno Karabakh.
The protesters, mostly young activists, marched to the Russian Embassy in Yerevan chanting “Shame!” and “Free, independent Armenia!” Some threw eggs at the embassy, sparking scuffles with riot police.
A petition read out by a protest organizer demanded an immediate end to all deliveries of Russian weapons to Azerbaijan. The petition also called for Moscow to “fulfill the obligations” stemming from its military alliance with Armenia. Russia has sold tanks, combat helicopters, artillery, and other offensive weapons valued at a total of $4 billion to Azerbaijan under contracts signed from 2009 to 2011.
Armenia’s government publicly complained about those deliveries to Baku after fighting broke out along Nagorno Karabakh’s Line of Contact front line on April 2. At least 65 Armenian soldiers were killed in the fighting, which continued until Russia mediated a cease-fire agreement on April 5.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev defended the deals with Azerbaijan after visiting Yerevan last week, saying they boost “the military balance” in the conflict zone. Medvedev said both warring sides would buy even deadlier weapons from other countries if Moscow stopped its arms deals with them.
Earlier this week, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin denounced Yerevan’s criticism of Moscow’s weapons sale to Azerbaijan as “demagogy.”
Russia has also been the main source of weapons delivered to Armenia’s armed forces.
In 2015, Moscow extended a $200 million loan to Yerevan for the purpose of buying more Russian arms at discounted prices. But Yerevan-based political analyst Styopa Safarian says Armenian critics of the Russian-Azerbaijani weapons deals are angry because Armenia is a member of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization and Azerbaijan is not. Speaking to RFE/RL at the Yerevan demonstration on April 13, Safarian said that “Russia is a nominal strategic partner” of Armenia, but Armenians see from the latest outbreak of fighting that “when we need military assistance [from Russia] then Russia is a peacekeeper” and “ an arms supplier” to both sides in the conflict, or takes on the role of a mediator as a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk group.
Armenian critics also argue that Russia’s weapons deals with Azerbaijan emboldened Baku to launch military operations in and around Nagorno Karabakh early in April.