Armenia lifted martial law on Wednesday, five months after the end of its brutal war with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The decision to lift the order came as part of a deal between Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and the opposition to defuse a political crisis sparked by Armenia’s crushing defeat in the six-week conflict.
Pashinyan’s critics have staged regular protests calling on him to resign for his handling of the war since November when he agreed a ceasefire and ceded swathes of territory to Azerbaijan.
Armenian law says a sitting prime minister cannot be removed during martial law and the move to lift it came after Pashinyan agreed with the opposition to hold fresh parliamentary elections in June to end the protests.
Parliament, which is controlled by Pashinyan’s allies voted Wednesday 118 to 1 with one abstention to lift martial law, which was declared Sept. 27, the day clashes erupted in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Parliament speaker and Pashinyan ally Ararat Mirzoyan said Tuesday that the ruling party would back the move “since a deal has been reached between political forces on defusing the internal political situation through snap polls.”
Armenia’s simmering territorial conflict with Azerbaijan ignited in September into an all-out war that left more than 6,000 people dead.
The ceasefire brokered by Russia saw Pashinyan hand over large parts of Azerbaijan that had been controlled for several decades by Armenian separatists.
They had controlled the ethnic-Armenian region since they broke away from Baku during a war in the early 1990s.
Armenia Not Ready for Russia-Mediated Peace Talks With Azerbaijan
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Wednesday said peace talks with Azerbaijan under Russian mediation would be inappropriate, as fighting over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region entered a fourth day.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have defied international calls for a ceasefire over Karabakh — an ethnic-Armenian region that broke away from Azerbaijan in the 1990s — and are both claiming to have inflicted heavy losses on opposing forces.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked for decades in a territorial dispute over Karabakh and have blamed each other for sparking fierce clashes on Sunday.
“It isn’t very appropriate to speak of a summit between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia at a time of intensive hostilities,” Pashinyan told Russia’s Interfax news agency. “A suitable atmosphere and conditions are needed for negotiations.”
He said Armenia “at this point” is not planning to ask for intervention in the conflict by a Russia-led military alliance, the Organization of the Collective Security Treaty that comprises several former Soviet republics including Armenia.
There have been 98 confirmed deaths in the fighting: 81 Armenian separatists and 17 civilians on both sides, including women and children.
Azerbaijan’s defense ministry said that “intense fighting was continuing” on Wednesday, claiming that its forces have killed 2,300 separatist troops since hostilities broke out on Sunday.
The ministry said its troops had “destroyed 130 tanks, 200 artillery units, 25 anti-aircraft units, five ammunition depots, 50 anti-tank units, 55 military vehicles” as well as Armenia’s Russian-produced S-300 long-range surface-to-air missile system.
It said the separatists had “shelled the city of Terter, targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure.”
Karabakh’s defense ministry, on its part, said Azerbaijani forces “continued artillery shelling” of separatist positions along Karabakh’s 180-kilometer frontline” on Wednesday morning.