YEREVAN -- Armenian lawmakers have voted to lift martial law, imposed at the beginning of a war with Azerbaijan over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, as the country prepares for early parliamentary elections in June.
The move on March 24 was part of an agreement between embattled Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and the opposition after a crisis over the handling of the six-week war, which ended in what many Armenians felt was a humiliating defeat.
The bill was initiated by the opposition Prosperous Armenia and Bright Armenia factions and supported by Pashinian's majority My Step bloc. The measure passed easily, with 118 votes in favor and one abstention in the 132-seat assembly.
The fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan in and around Nagorno-Karabakh ended in November with a Moscow-brokered cease-fire deal. More than 6,000 people were killed during the conflict.
Under the truce agreement, a chunk of Nagorno-Karabakh and all seven districts around it were returned under Azerbaijan's administration after almost 30 years of control by ethnic Armenian forces.
Baku lifted martial law in Azerbaijan in December, but Yerevan was much slower to act -- two opposition attempts to abolish the restrictions were thwarted by Pashinian's bloc as the prime minister faced street protests over the outcome of the conflict.
Prosperous Armenia and Bright Armenia, as well as extra-parliamentary parties and groups have accused the government of maintaining martial law to prevent the opposition from impeaching Pashinian. The government has rejected the accusations as groundless.
My Step was said to be delaying lifting martial law until there was a consensus on the need to hold early elections, which last week were set for June 20. The elections were initially scheduled for December 2023.
Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but the ethnic Armenians who make up most of the region's population reject Azerbaijani rule.
They had been governing their own affairs, with support from Armenia, since Azerbaijan's troops and Azeri civilians were pushed out of the region and seven adjacent districts in a war that ended in a cease-fire in 1994.