Tuesday, February 23, 2021 RFE/RL Journalists Attacked By Opposition Protesters February 23, 2021 • Artak Khulian Armenia- Opposition supporters protest outside the Armenian police headquarters in Yerevan , February 23, 2021. A correspondent and a cameraman of RFE/RL’s Armenian Service were assaulted while covering an opposition demonstration in Yerevan on Tuesday. Several participants of the demonstration kicked the journalists and shouted abuse at them. They also damaged the crew’s video camera. The incident took place as hundreds of supporters of the opposition Homeland Salvation Movement marched through the city center to demand Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s resignation. The crowd stopped by the main entrances to the headquarters of Armenia’s police and National Security Service to condemn what opposition leaders described as a government crackdown on Pashinian’s vocal critics. Envoy Confirms Russian Military Aid To Armenia February 23, 2021 Armenia - Russian Ambassador to Armenia Sergey Kopyrkin holds a news conference, June 11, 2019 The Russian ambassador in Yerevan, Sergei Kopyrkin, confirmed on Tuesday that Russia is helping Armenia restructure and modernize its armed forces following the recent war in Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenian Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian reported such assistance in an interview with the Russian RIA Novosti news agency published on Monday. He said concrete “recommendations” have already been made on how to rearm the Armenian army in the current circumstances but did not give any details. “Very intensive contacts are now underway between the defense ministries of Russia and Armenia in various directions,” Kopyrkin told reporters, commenting on Harutiunian’s remarks. Asked whether Moscow is indeed ready to provide such military aid to Yerevan, he said: “Russia is already doing that.” Kopyrkin did not go into details. Also, he did not deny or confirm Harutiunian’s assertion that the Russian military base in Armenia will be expanded in view of the post-war “military-political realities in the region.” The envoy said only that the two sides are now looking into ways of “strengthening cooperation between our countries and armed forces.” Yerevan announced plans to further deepen Russian-Armenian military ties shortly after the war with Azerbaijan stopped by a Russian-brokered ceasefire on November 10. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian stated on New Year’s Eve that his country now needs “new security guarantees.” Late last month, a delegation led by Colonel-General Sergei Istrakov, the deputy chief of the Russian military’s General Staff, visited Yerevan for nearly weeklong negotiations with the Armenian army’s top brass. According to Harutiunian, the talks were aimed at “assisting us in the reform and modernization of Armenia’s armed forces.” Dozens Detained At Anti-Government Protest In Yerevan February 23, 2021 • Artak Khulian Armenia -- Riot police detain an anti-government protester in Yerevan, February 23, 2021. Dozens of members and supporters of an Armenian opposition alliance were detained on Tuesday as they attempted to stop Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian from entering a government building in Yerevan. The Homeland Salvation Movement alliance had urged supporters to surround the building that houses several government ministers as part of its ongoing campaign of street protests aimed at forcing Pashinian to resign. The high-rise was cordoned off in the morning by scores of riot police that kept protesters at bay and enabled Pashinian to enter it and hold a meeting with senior officials from the Armenian Ministry of Environment. More than 50 protesters were detained on the spot. Gegham Manukian, a senior opposition figure, claimed that the police made more than 100 arrests. Manukian said security forces tried unsuccessfully to detain Ishkhan Saghatelian, who coordinates the opposition movement’s day-to-day activities. “We didn’t let them do that,” he told reporters. According to eyewitnesses, Saghatelian was injured in an apparent scuffle with the riot police. Armenia -- Riot police cordon off a government building during an opposition protest, Yerevan, February 23, 2021. Manukian insisted that the latest opposition protest was not a failure. He argued that Pashinian had to “bring in several thousand police officers to be able to walk 200 meters in the city.” The Homeland Salvation Movement, which comprises more than a dozen opposition parties, blames Pashinian for Armenia’s defeat in the autumn war in Nagorno-Karabakh and wants him to resign. The prime minister has rejected the opposition demands, leading the alliance to resume its anti-government protests on Saturday. Saghatelian and other opposition leaders have pledged to hold daily demonstrations this week in a bid to step up the pressure on Pashinian. They and their supporters were due to again march through the center of Yerevan later on Tuesday. Baku Again Accused Of Delaying Armenian Prisoner Release February 23, 2021 • Naira Nalbandian Armenia - Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazian. Armenia on Tuesday again accused Azerbaijan of “artificially” delaying the release of Armenian soldiers and civilians remaining in Azerbaijani captivity more than three months after a Russian-brokered ceasefire stopped the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. The ceasefire agreement calls for the unconditional release of all prisoners held by the conflicting sides. Russian peacekeeping forces deployed in Karabakh have arranged several prisoner swaps over the last two months. A total of 64 Armenian prisoners of war (POWs) and civilians have been freed to date. More than 100 others are believed to remain in Azerbaijani captivity. Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazian said Baku’s reluctance to free them constitutes a serious violation of the truce agreement and hampers the resumption of Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks. “We are committed to the resumption of the settlement process but there must first and foremost be formed an environment conducive to peace. Prerequisites for that are not yet visible on the Azerbaijani side,” he said at a meeting with members of a standing committee of the Armenian parliament. Speaking with reporters after the meeting, Ayvazian said that Baku is facing growing international pressure to release the remaining Armenian prisoners. “As expected, Azerbaijan’s policy of creating artificial obstacles to the return of prisoners is slowly becoming a headache for Azerbaijan,” he claimed. “We hope that Azerbaijan will abandon this policy of hostage taking and will immediately solve this important humanitarian issue.” Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian reportedly raised the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin when they last spoke by phone on February 17. The Russian ambassador to Armenia, Sergei Kopyrkin, insisted on Tuesday that Moscow keeps doing its best to secure the release of all Armenian captives. “The work is not easy but it continues to be carried out persistently,” Kopyrkin told journalists. Reprinted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL Copyright (c) 2021 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Inc. 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.