Nikol Pashinyan has previously faced protests and calls to quit over what his opponents say was his mishandling of a six-week conflict last year.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and his supporters march during a rally in Yerevan, Armenia February 25, 2021.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and his supporters march during a rally in Yerevan, Armenia February 25, 2021. (Reuters)

Armenian leader Nikol Pashinyan has accused the military of an attempted coup and urged supporters to take to the streets, after months of tensions over his handling of last year's war with Azerbaijan.

The country's top military brass had earlier Thursday demanded the prime minister resign, setting off a potential power struggle in the Caucasus nation.

Pashinyan denounced the statement as a coup attempt and called on supporters to demonstrate.

"I consider the statement of the General Staff of the Armed Forces an attempted military coup. I invite all of our supporters to Republic Square right now," he wrote on Facebook, referring to a central square in the capital Yerevan.

Pashinyan also fired the head of the general staff Onik Gasparyan, whose office had released the statement following the prime minister's sacking of deputy armed forces chief of staff Tigran Khachatryan on Wednesday.

Khachatryan had ridiculed claims by Pashinyan that Iskander missiles supplied by Russia , Armenia's main military ally, had failed to hit targets during the war with Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The general staff statement said the firing was made "exclusively on the basis of the personal feelings and ambitions" of Pashinyan.

Pashinyan and his government "are not capable of taking adequate decisions," the statement said, denouncing "attacks by the authorities aimed at discrediting the Armed Forces."

READ MORE: Development pact inked as Russia hosts Azerbaijan, Armenia for talks 

International reactions

Turkey's foreign minister strongly condemned what he called a coup attempt against Pashinyan and said it was unacceptable that the military had called for the resignation of a democratically elected leader.

"We are against any coup d'etat or coup attempt, no matter where it takes place in the world. We strongly condemn the coup attempt in Armenia," Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a news conference in Budapest.

Reminding the normalisation process and the ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Cavusoglu noted: “There is an important opportunity for the stability of the region, and this needs to be evaluated well.”

Stressing the significance of trilateral format meetings with the regional countries, he added: “But it is also crucial to keep the stability in the region for all relevant countries, and such attempts like military coups have a destabilizing impact”.

The Kremlin also said on Thursday it was concerned by growing political tensions in Armenia that looked like an attempted coup.

Speaking to reporters on a conference call, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called on both sides to resolve their differences peacefully and within the framework of the constitution.

Armenia, where Moscow has a military base, is a close Russian ally.

READ MORE: Azerbaijan and Armenia swap prisoners after peace deal

National humiliation 

Pashinyan has been under pressure since he signed a peace deal brokered by Russia that ended the conflict over Karabakh.

Relations between the former Soviet republics have been tense since 1991, when the Armenian military occupied Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Upper Karabakh, a territory recognised as part of Azerbaijan, and seven adjacent regions.

The unrest follows the end of a military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan last fall widely seen as a victory for the latter.

After six weeks of clashes and bombardment that claimed some 6,000 lives, a ceasefire deal was signed that handed over swathes of territory to Azerbaijan and allowed for the deployment of Russian peacekeepers.

The agreement was seen as a national humiliation for many in Armenia, though Pashinyan has said he had no choice but to agree or suffer even bigger losses.

It was met with protests in the capital Yerevan, where demonstrators stormed government offices on the night it was signed and have continued to regularly gather.

Pashinyan has rejected calls to resign and for early elections despite the building pressure.

The 45-year-old former newspaper editor came to power spearheading peaceful protests in 2018 and initially brought a wave of optimism to Armenia, a deeply impoverished ex-Soviet state that also borders Iran, Georgia and Turkey.

But his handling of the war has provoked fierce criticism from Pashinyan's political opponents including former leader Serzh Sarkisian who was forced to resign in 2018.

READ MORE: Armenia's prime minister offers to discuss early election

Source: TRTWorld and agencies