MOSCOW (Reuters) – Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who was swept to power in pro-democracy protests in 2018, triggered an early election on Sunday to try overcome criticism over his handling of last year’s conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.
His resignation, which was expected, came a day after U.S. President Joe Biden said that massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 constituted genocide, a move welcomed by Armenians worldwide and condemned by Turkey.
Pashinyan told Biden the symbolic decision was a matter of security to Armenia after the six week conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, in which Turkey backed Armenia’s neighbour Azerbaijan, where the ethnic Armenian-populated enclave is located.
Pashinyan had been under pressure to resign since he agreed to a ceasefire after ethnic Armenians lost territory in the fighting with Azeri forces in and around Nagorno-Karabakh.
He had already named a June 20 date for an early election.
Announcing his resignation, he said on his Facebook page on Sunday that he was returning power received from citizens to them so they could decide the future of the government through free and fair elections.
He said he had been compelled to agree to the peace deal, which was brokered by Russia, to prevent greater human and territorial losses. The Armenian army called for his resignation and he then tried to sack the chief of staff, a decision blocked by the former Soviet republic’s president.
Pashinyan updated Russian President Vladimir Putin about the elections and the situation over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, where around 2,000 Russian peacekeepers have been deployed, in a phone call on Saturday, the Kremlin said.
The Armenian Prime Minister has complained before that some issues over the region, including the return of prisoners of war, have not been resolved yet.
According to the Sputnik media outlet, Pashinyan’s My Step ruling alliance led an opinion poll conducted by Gallup International Аssociation at the end of last month.
Its main rival is likely to be a grouping led by Robert Kocharyan, Armenia’s president from 1998-2008.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; editing by Philippa Fletcher)