Turmoil in Armenia: A First Take – Toni Michel

With reports of scores of soldiers joining protesters in Yerevan earlier today, there seemed to be a distinct possibility of RegimeCollapse in Armenia.

This comes after the government was moving to arrest protest leaders over the weekend which did nothing to disperse the demonstrations.

PM Serzh Sargsyan then had the choice either to crack down hard – risking to de-legitimise himself and broaden the protest base – or tolerate significant popular defiance – thus opening himself up to challenges from his own elite in the mid-term. He “escaped” the dilemma through his resignation two hours ago.

What comes next is unclear, but some distinct risks are emerging:

First, both governments in Baku and #Yerevan now have excellent incentives to escalate the Karabakh conflict: the former, to achieve “rallying around the flag” and legitimise a new leadership; the latter, to militarily take advantage of an adversary in turmoil.

Secondly, a whole new set of scenarios is opened up if Russia perceives the situation as an attempt (foreign or domestic) to break Armenia out of the EurasianUnion. Given, though, that the demonstrations have in no sense been “pro-Western”, the risk might just be smaller.

Third, what happens domestically if there are early elections? Given that party systems in the PostSovietSpace are usually not very ideologically institutionalised and that Armenian parties were further margnialised by the long-standing semi-presidential system, there is a possiblity of a collapse of the existing party system. With Azerbaijan and Karabakh looming, a mobilisation of hawkish and nationalist forces is a realistic scenario.

All eyes on the Caucasus.

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