Thursday, Pashinian Predicts ‘Crushing’ Election Victory Armenia - Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian greets supporters rallying in Yerevan, . Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said his Civil Contract party will score a “crushing” victory in Sunday’s parliamentary elections as he addressed on Thursday thousands of supporters rallying in Yerevan. “The people of Armenia will certainly and undoubtedly win with a crushing percentage [of votes,]” Pashinian told the crowd that gathered in the city’s central Republic Square. “And yes, everything is decided because the people of Armenia have already decided everything in their minds, hearts and souls.” “Armenia’s citizens have decided that there is a future in Armenia. There is a future!” he said, chanting Civil Contract’s campaign motto. Pashinian went on to urge supporters to gather in the sprawling square on Monday to celebrate the ruling party’s victory. He said it will mark the beginning of an Armenian “steel revolution” involving tougher methods of governance. Pashinian said his campaign rallies held across the country have demonstrated that most Armenians continue to support their government despite last year’s disastrous war with Azerbaijan, which left at least 3,700 Armenian soldiers dead. His main election challengers, notably former Presidents Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian leading two opposition alliances, have claimed the opposite during the election campaign. They have said that Pashinian’s party will not win the majority of parliament seats needed to keep the incumbent prime minister in power. Campaigning in Armenia’s Gegharkunik province earlier on Thursday, Kocharian claimed that his Hayastan (Armenia) alliance is on course to win most votes on Sunday. The two ex-presidents as well as virtually all other opposition figures blame Pashinian for Armenia’s defeat in the war with Azerbaijan stopped by a Russian-brokered in November. In his hour-long speech at the rally Pashinian did not comment on reasons for that defeat. He instead criticized Azerbaijan’s continuing “aggressive statements” and “unconstructive position” in the post-war period. The premier said at the same time that he looks forward to the opening of transport links between Armenia and Azerbaijan envisaged by the truce accord. He said this will allow Armenia to have rail links with Russia and Iran via Azerbaijan. Pashinian reiterated his pledges to deepen Russian-Armenian relations, calling them “the pivot of our security.” He also called for the launch of a “strategic dialogue” with Iran. EU Envoy Calls For Democratic Elections In Armenia Armenia -- Andrea Wiktorin, head of the EU Delegation in Armenia, attends a seminar in Yerevan, March 6, 2020. The head of the European Union Delegation in Yerevan on Thursday urged Armenia’s government, political factions and media to help ensure that Sunday’s general elections are “peaceful” and democratic. “It is time to come together and overcome the crisis in a spirit of reconciliation and solidarity,” Andrea Wiktorin said at a meeting with Armenian civic activists and representatives of the local United Nations office. “I call upon all electoral stakeholders, their supporters and those who use the mass media and social media to increase efforts to contribute to making June 20 a day in which democracy wins, for the future of Armenian children,” she said, according to an EU Delegation statement. Wiktorin added that the EU has allocated almost 1 million euros ($1.2 million) for the proper conduct of the snap polls meant to end a serious political crisis in the country. Much of that money has been provided to local election observers. The June 20 vote is also expected to be monitored by some 300 observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The election campaign has been marked by bitter accusations traded by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and two opposition blocs led by Armenia’s former Presidents Serzh Sarkisian and Robert Kocharian. The Armenian human rights ombudsman, Arman Tatoyan, has criticized their inflammatory campaign rhetoric and, in particular, Pashinian’s pledges to “hammer” his political foes and “purge” local government officials supporting the opposition. Pashinian’s Civil Contract party announced earlier this week that it is planning to hold daylong rallies in Yerevan from June 21-24. It has not yet explained the purpose of the planned rallies. Some opposition figures have speculated that Pashinian could pressure the Central Election Commission not to validate possible election results giving victory to the opposition. The U.S. Embassy in Yerevan on Wednesday urged American citizens living in Armenia to stay away from post-election demonstrations. “Over the next two weeks, demonstrations or rallies related to elections may take place in Yerevan and other locations throughout Armenia,” said a “demonstration alert” posted on the embassy’s website. “U.S. citizens should exercise vigilance, avoid crowds, and remain alert and aware of their surroundings at all times.” Authorities Deny False Data On Karabakh War Missing • Susan Badalian NAGORNO-KARABAKH -- A fragment of a Smerch rocket sticks out of the ground near the town of Martuni, October 26, 2020 The Armenian authorities denied on Thursday opposition allegations that they are grossly underreporting the number of Armenian soldiers and civilians who went missing during the autumn war in Nagorno-Karabakh. Former President Serzh Sarkisian, who leads an opposition alliance running in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, claimed on Wednesday that as many as 1,064 people remain unaccounted for seven months after a Russian-brokered ceasefire stopped the war. Sarkisian publicized a document drawn up earlier this year by a state insurance fund that compensates the families of military personnel killed, wounded or missing in action. He accused the authorities of hiding the real number of missing residents of Armenia and Karabakh. Armenia’s government and Investigative Committee insisted on Thursday that the number currently stands at 275. The document cited by Sarkisian was sent by the insurance fund to Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s office in April. Pashinian spoke around that time of 321 Armenians missing from the Karabakh war. According to the fund’s deputy director, Smbat Saiyan, it has paid monthly compensations to the families of 1,083 missing persons until now. “This doesn’t mean that the number of missing persons now stands at 1,083 because after the first payment we have had cases where a person stopped being considered missing. That is, their whereabouts or the fact of their death has been established or their dead body has been identified,” Saiyan told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. Saiyan said 475 families are continuing to receive monthly compensations for their missing members. He suggested that the smaller number given by the Investigative Committee is more accurate and up-to-date. According to official figures, at least 3,700 other Armenian soldiers and civilians were killed during the six-week war. Defense Chiefs Discuss More Russian Troop Deployments In Armenia Armenia - Russian Ambassador Sergei Kopyrkin inspects Russian troops stationed in Armenia's Syunik region, June 3, 2021. The Armenian and Russian defense ministers have reportedly discussed a possible deployment of more Russian troops along Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan. Vagharshak Harutiunian and Sergei Shoigu again spoke by phone on Wednesday amid a continuing Armenian-Azerbaijani military standoff at disputed portions of the border. The standoff began after Azerbaijani troops advanced several kilometers into Armenia’s Gegharkunik and Syunik provinces on May 12-14, triggering an Armenian military buildup there. In a statement on the phone call, the Armenian Defense Ministry said the two ministers looked at “ways of resolving the existing situation at the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.” “Vagharshak Harutiunian and Sergei Shoigu also discussed the deployment alongside the Armenian Armed Forces of Russian border guards at border sections of Syunik and Gegharkunik,” added the statement. It gave no other details. The Russian Defense Ministry issued no statements on Shoigu’s latest phone call with his Armenian counterpart. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said late last week that Yerevan and Moscow are now exploring the possibility of Russian troop deployments to the two Armenian border regions. He said Russian military officials have visited those areas to inspect “possible deployment sites.” Pashinian proposed on May 27 that Armenia and Azerbaijan withdraw their troops from the contested border sections and let Russia and/or the United States and France, the two other countries co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group, deploy observers there. Baku effectively turned down the proposal. Russia already deployed army soldiers and border guards elsewhere in Syunik following the Armenian-Azerbaijani war in Nagorno-Karabakh stopped by a Russian-brokered ceasefire in November. Syunik borders districts southwest of Karabakh which were retaken by Azerbaijan during and after the six-week war. Reprinted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL Copyright (c) 2021 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Inc. 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.