Armenian President Calls For Snap Elections As Government Faces Mounting Pressure Over Karabakh Deal

President Armen Sarkisian has called for holding early parliamentary elections in Armenia, saying that they are needed to resolve a political crisis sparked by the war in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The elections would “save the country from upheaval” in the wake of the six-week conflict that resulted in Armenian territorial losses in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, Sarkisian said in a televised address to the nation late on November 16.

He urged Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s government and My Step alliance to come up with a “road map” for the snap elections. They should be held by a new, interim “government of national accord,” Sarkisian added.

"Taking into account the current situation, taking into account public demands, it is obvious that in order to avoid internal political upheavals, the holding of early parliamentary elections is inevitable," Sarkisian said after meeting with members of various political groups.

Sarkisian, who has largely ceremonial powers, said that his proposals reflect the dominant view of political party leaders and public figures with whom he has held consultations in recent days.

Some of those parties have been holding demonstrations in Yerevan to condemn Pashinian’s handling of the war. The prime minister has rejected their demands. He has yet to publicly clarify whether he could agree to snap general elections demanded by his political opponents.

Pashinian on November 16 dismissed his foreign minister in a cabinet reshuffle as he came under mounting pressure from Sarkisian and the opposition to resign over the peace deal with Azerbaijan.

The Russia-brokered November 10 peace deal, which came after Azerbaijani forces made major battlefield gains to regain territory lost to Armenian separatists nearly three decades ago, allows Azerbaijan to keep a sizable chunk of the mountainous region, as well as much of the area ringing the enclave.

Thousands of angry protesters continued to rally in Yerevan on November 16, backing calls from 17 opposition groups demanding that Pashinian resign.

Armenian authorities say that the opposition protests are illegal, citing martial law declared following the outbreak of war on September 27.

The biggest opposition bloc in parliament, Prosperous Armenia; the former ruling Republican Party; the Hayrenik (Fatherland) party; and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation party are among 17 opposition groups that launched the protests starting on November 10. The leaders of these parties have been arrested and released several times since the start of the protests. 

Pashinian’s My Step faction still holds a wide majority in the 132-seat parliament to avoid a no-confidence vote.

Pashinian has rebuffed calls to resign or hold snap elections, but on November 16 he sacked Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanian.

Addressing a meeting of parliament boycotted by the opposition, he gave no clear reason why he had fired his foreign minister of two years but said the government will see several reshuffles.

He also reiterated that the peace accord was Armenia's only option and that it ensured Nagorno-Karabakh's survival, even if the territory’s second city, Shushi (known as Susa in Azeri), was lost.

Around 2,000 Russia peacekeepers will be deployed to maintain security in the territory for a period of five years. They will also stand guard on the strategic Lachin Corridor, the sole road linking the region and Armenia.

Pashinian said the road through the Lachin region would be reopened on November 16 and that many displaced residents of the enclave were returning to their homes. Between 75,000 and 90,000 of the region's 150,000 inhabitants fled the fighting.

Meanwhile, an exodus of ethnic Armenians from the territories that will be handed over to Azerbaijan are expected to create economic, social, and political pressure in Armenia.

The districts of Aghdam and Lachin must be handed over to Azerbaijan starting on November 20 and December 1, respectively. Baku captured four other districts during the six-week conflict.

Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but the ethnic Armenians who make up most of the population reject Azerbaijani rule.

They have been governing their own affairs, with support from Armenia, since Azerbaijan's troops and ethnic Azeri civilians were pushed out of the region in a war that ended in a cease-fire in 1994.

Fighting broke out again in and around Nagorno-Karabakh on September 27, killing more than 2,000 soldiers and civilians on both sides over the ensuing weeks. Azerbaijan has not provided a figure for its military casualties.

With reporting by AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters, and RFE/RL's Armenian and Azerbaijan services