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Armenia's Prime Minister Calls On Supporters To Rally Against A Possible Coup

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan speaking at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 2019.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan speaking at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 2019.

Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is warning of a coup after the army issued a scathing statement faulting his leadership and demanding he step down following a conflict last year with Azerbaijan that resulted in a significant loss of territory claimed by ethnic Armenians.

"The prime minister and the government are no longer able to make reasonable decisions in this critical and fatal situation for the Armenian people. Due to the current situation, the Armenian armed forces demand the resignation of the prime minister and the government," the army said in a statement Thursday carried by Russia's TASS news agency.

It wasn't clear if the military was prepared to use force to topple the prime minister, but in a Facebook livestream on Thursday, Pashinyan called on his followers to rally in the capital Yerevan to support his government.

"The most important problem now is to keep the power in the hands of the people, because I consider what is happening to be a military coup," he said.

Pashinyan, 45, said he had dismissed the head of the general staff of the armed forces, a move that would also require the president's signature.

The prime minister has faced calls to quit since November, when a six-week military conflict between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces ended in humiliation for Armenia.

The conflict was over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, an enclave within Azerbaijan which has been controlled by ethnic Armenians since a war of secession that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Since then, the breakaway region has been a continual source of tension between the two countries. In the latest fighting, support from Turkey helped the Azerbaijanis retake significant portions of Nagorno-Karabakh.

In November, Armenia's ally, Russia, which has a major military base in the country, stepped in to administer a cease-fire. On Thursday, the Kremlin again urged all sides to resolve the situation peacefully.

Reuters reports that Arayik Harutyunyan, president of the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, has offered to act as a mediator between Pashinyan and Armenia's military, saying, "We have already shed enough blood."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.