YEREVAN, Armenia — Armenians are voting Sunday in a national election after months of tensions over last year’s defeat in fighting against Azerbaijan over the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The snap parliamentary election was called by Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in a bid to resolve public anger over the peace deal he signed in November that triggered months of protests demanding his resignation. He stepped down from the premiership as required by law to allow the election to take place but remains the country’s leader.
The Moscow-brokered agreement ended six weeks of fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces, but saw Azerbaijan reclaim control over large parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas that had been held by Armenian forces for more than a quarter-century.
Thousands of Armenians took to the streets in the capital Yerevan to protest the deal as a betrayal of their national interests.
Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but was under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by the government in Yerevan since a separatist war ended in 1994, leaving the region and substantial surrounding territory in Armenian hands.
Hostilities flared in late September 2020, and the Azerbaijani military pushed deep into Nagorno-Karabakh and nearby areas in six weeks of fighting involving heavy artillery and drones that killed more than 6,000 people.
Pashinyan, who came to power after leading large street protests in 2018 that ousted his predecessor, has defended the deal as a painful but necessary move that prevented Azerbaijan from overrunning the entire Nagorno-Karabakh region.
In Sunday’s election, more than 2,000 polling stations will open across Armenia, with nearly 2.6 million people eligible to vote. The ballot includes 21 political parties and four electoral blocs, but two political forces are seen as the main contenders: the ruling Civic Contract party led by Pashinyan and the Armenia alliance, led by former President Robert Kocharyan.
Recent media reports cite polls showing Pashinyan’s party and Kocharyan’s bloc in a close race and it’s unclear if either will be able to win 54% of parliament seats necessary to form a government.