PM Nikol Pashinyan, who accuses the military of an attempted coup, has faced opposition calls to step down ever since he signed a November 10 peace deal that saw Azerbaijan reclaim control over large parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan addresses his supporters during a gathering in Republic Square in Yerevan, Armenia February 25, 2021.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan addresses his supporters during a gathering in Republic Square in Yerevan, Armenia February 25, 2021. (Reuters)

Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has defied calls to resign and has accused the military of an attempted coup, as divisions over his handling of last year's war with Azerbaijan brought thousands to the streets.

Hours after the general staff of Armenia's military made a shock call for the government to step down on Thursday, Pashinyan rallied some 20,000 supporters in the centre of the capital Yerevan against what he said was an attempt to oust him.

The opposition gathered some 10,000 of its own supporters not far away, then began putting up tents and building barricades outside parliament as it vowed to hold round-the-clock demonstrations.

There were no signs of any military action against Pashinyan, who ordered the armed forces to stand behind the government.

"I am ordering all generals, officers and soldiers: do your job of protecting the country's borders and territorial integrity," he said during the rally.

The army "must obey the people and elected authorities," Pashinyan said.

The defence ministry also issued a statement declaring that "attempts to involve (the military) in political processes are unacceptable."

Pashinyan said he was ready to start talks with the opposition, but also threatened to arrest any opponents who "go beyond political statements".

The prime minister has been under intense pressure over his handling of the conflict for control of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, but has ignored repeated calls to resign for losing swathes of territory to Azerbaijan.

READ MORE: Armenian PM warns army demanding his resignation amounts to coup

Pashinyan finds himself at the centre of a political crisis after the army demanded he resign, a move he said looked like an attempted military coup.

Here are some highlights from the 45-year-old's rise to power and the challenges he has faced in his post:

Rise to power 

Pashinyan emerged as the leader of a wave of anti-government street protests that rocked Armenia in the spring of 2018.

Initially prompted by the election of former president Serzh Sarksyan as prime minister, the protests quickly began targeting the government's perceived political cronyism.

Pashinyan, a former journalist and lawmaker, nurtured his image as a politician close to the people, wearing casual clothes and a baseball cap at protests to clash with the formal suits worn by members of the ruling Republican Party.

The rallies, sometimes referred to as Armenia's Velvet Revolution, forced Sarksyan to resign. Opposition parties then united around Pashinyan to vote him in as prime minister despite resistance from the ruling party.

Reforms and challenges 

Pashinyan pledged sweeping reforms to revamp the South Caucasus country's economy and fight corruption, earning him vast popular support. He fired members of the former political elite and prosecuted former officials for alleged embezzlement.

In December 2018, Pashinyan's My Step Alliance emphatically won snap parliamentary elections that confirmed his popularity.

Despite support for his reforms, Pashinyan has faced criticism from some members of the military apparatus for allegedly being too soft on certain issues.

His opponents have criticised him for not having done his military service. Some even suggested the trademark camouflage T-shirt Pashinyan wore at street protests was meant to compensate for not having served.

Days after Pashinyan took office, clashes between Armenian and Azeri troops erupted on Armenia's border with Azerbaijan's exclave of Nakhchivan. The clashes were short-lived, but Pashinyan's detractors criticised him for not having responded more aggressively.

READ MORE: Azerbaijan and Armenia swap prisoners after peace deal

Nagorno-Karabakh conflict 

Pashinyan's political woes spiralled when he conceded defeat and agreed last November to a Russian-brokered ceasefire to end six weeks of fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijan over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The deal that ended the heaviest fighting in the region since the 1990s secured significant territorial gains for Azerbaijan in and around Nagorno-Karabakh. 

Pashinyan said he had been compelled to agree to the peace deal to prevent greater human and territorial losses. 

The victory was celebrated in Azerbaijan, but prompted angry crowds to storm government buildings in the Armenian capital Yerevan.

Calls for Pashinyan to resign have grown exponentially since the deal, which many Armenians have branded a as a betrayal.

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

Source: TRTWorld and agencies