YEREVAN: Armenia has appointed a new defense minister as protests raged after it lost a weeks-long war with traditional foe Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The presidency said in a statement that the new defense minister was Vagharshak Harutunyan, an adviser to Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on defense issues, who previously served as defense minister from 1999-2000.
Pashinyan on Nov. 9 announced a Russian-brokered peace accord that ended a brutal six-week war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh that left thousands dead and tens of thousands displaced.
Armenia agreed to hand over swathes of disputed territory controlled by Armenian separatists since a post-Soviet war in the 1990s.
The accord sparked fury in Armenia, where thousands of protesters took to the streets and stormed government buildings in the capital Yerevan, calling Pashinyan a “traitor” and demanding his resignation.
Pashinyan on Monday dismissed his foreign minister but ruled out his own resignation.
David Tonoyan, who was replaced as defense minister on Friday, said in a statement that he hoped the move will help ease tensions.
“The current situation demands that tensions be de-escalated. I’d like my resignation to be viewed precisely in the context of this logic,” his statement said.
Protesters again on Friday blocked several central streets in Yerevan and demanded Pashinyan’s resignation.
UNESCO said that Director General Audrey Azoulay during a meeting with representatives of Armenia and Azerbaijan had proposed a preliminary field mission to the region to ensure the protection of cultural heritage sites.
Armenian President Armen Sarkisian on Friday also replaced the country’s labor and emergency situations ministers.
Meanwhile, UN cultural agency UNESCO has proposed a field mission to Nagorno-Karabakh to draw up an inventory of cultural assets.
The list would serve to ensure protection of the region’s most significant heritage, said UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay, after a historic cathedral in Nagorno-Karabakh was badly damaged by shelling last month.
Azoulay proposed the mission at meetings this week with representatives of Armenia and Azerbaijan, said a UNESCO statement.
Azoulay met representatives of the two countries this week, and on Friday reiterated that the international community had a duty to protect cultural heritage and preserve it for future generations “beyond the conflicts of the moment.”
She repeated a call “for the protection of heritage in this region and the absolute necessity of preventing any further damage.”
UNESCO experts have not been able to visit the affected zone, the organization said.
To this end, “UNESCO will work with all interested partners to create the conditions” for a technical mission to the region.
“UNESCO will work with all interested partners to create the conditions for such a mission. High-level consultations have begun with the States co-chairing the Minsk Group” mediating a solution to the conflict.