Stand-off between Army and government in Armenia

Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan appeared to be well entrenched on Thursday despite the fact that the command of the armed forces called on him and his government to resign. Opposition attempts to rally round the call and force the prime minister out failed when Pashinyan called his own supporters out on the streets. Radio Liberty reporting from Yerevan estimated the pro-Pashinyan crowd to have been around 20,000.

Opposition leaders also addressed their supporters in the centre of Yerevan, after which the demonstrators moved to the vicinity of the Armenian parliament where they set up tents.

An attempt by two opposition parties, Prosperous Armenia and Bright Armenia, to convene a special sitting of the parliament failed when the government members did not turn up, thus depriving the meeting of a quorum. 

Earlier in the day Pashinyan signed the dismissal of army Chief of Staff, Onik Gasparyan, saying that he will not allow the army to go against the will of the people. The dismissal has to be signed also by president Armen Sargsyan, who has yet to do so. Pashinyan told the crowd that he had told Armen Sargsyan he either signs the dismissal or he will be himself an accomplice in the coup attempt.

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Government and opposition supporters gathered on the main streets of Yerevan on Thursday afternoon as tension rose following a call by the Army command for prime minister Nikol Pashinyan and his government to resign. There were some minor scuffles between rival supporters, amid calls by political leaders for calm. 

Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov phoned his Armenian counterpart A.G. Ayvazyan. The Russian side stressed that "we regard the situation as an internal affair of Armenia, we count on its settlement in a peaceful manner", the website of the Russian foreign ministry stated.

On its part, Turkey has condemned what it called an attempted coup in Armenia. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Thursday stated that as a country that "opposes any types of coups, no matter what – Turkey condemns the coup attempt in Armenia."

"We are against coups and coup attempts wherever in the world,"  the Turkish foreign minister stated during a joint press conference with his Hungarian counterpart Peter Szijjarto in Budapest. He added that the Caucasus has gained a chance for stability and peace that must not be missed.

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A serious situation is unfolding in Armenia following a statement by the command of the Armed Forces, calling for the prime minister Nikol Pashinyan and his government, to resign. On his part Pashinyan has described the statement as an attempted coup, and dismissed the heads of the military whilst calling on his supporters to gather in the main square of Yerevan.

Amid a tense political situation in the country, on the morning of Thursday (25 February) the military command issued a statement expressing strong disapproval of Pashinyan’s sacking of Tiran Khacharyan, the First Deputy Chief of the General Staff.

The statement, signed by the Chief of General Staff, his deputies, and over 3 dozen top military commanders, said that “the prime minister and the government are no longer able to make reasonable decisions.”

“For a long time, the Armenian Armed Forces were patiently tolerating the “attacks” by the incumbent government aimed at defaming the armed forces, but everything has its limits.” The general staff added that the government’s “ineffective” administration and “serious mistakes in foreign policy” have led the country to the verge of destruction. “The army has always been with the people, just like the people are with the army," it added. 

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan responded to the statement describing it as an attempted  military coup. He said he had fired the heads of the Army and put the Minister of Defence temporarily in charge.

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Pashinyan with megaphone

Pashinyan said live on Facebook that the most important task now is the preservation of the authority of the people and of the the civil authority, calling the statement of the General Staff as a “military coup attempt”.

“You know that I have taken the whole responsibility of what had happened on me and have tried to do everything to answer all the questions by myself personally. But we have reached a stage, where, unfortunately, we cannot avoid asking questions to some of our high-ranking military officials, because if we want to make all the truth about the war known, we must ask questions to some of our top military officials. But our beloved generals do not like the fact that we, the public, the civil authority, the government can have questions addressed to them on some episodes. But this is inevitable. This doesn’t mean that the answers of these questions should be definitely followed by some developments. But we must know the answers of some questions relating to concrete combat, military episodes. We need to understand what ties existed between some top officers and some political circles, who were the people who were communicating with the Army during the war”, Pashinyan said.

He clarified that he invites the citizens to the Republic Square for these issues. “But I want to call for calmness and come to the Republic Square as a participant of a peaceful civilian meeting. I also want to call on our military to continue fulfilling their functions of the defense of Armenia and not to lose the vigilance, everything is under control, everything is under the control of our soldiers, and any action contradicting the service processes must be ruled out”, the PM added.

He considered Army’s, Armed Forces’ engagement in politics impermissible. Pashinyan expressed confidence that the current situation will be solved within the law. “This means, we will soon appoint new Chief and deputy Chiefs of the General Staff of the Armed Forces. The defense minister has been tasked to fulfill all his functions, service duties and ensure the normal operation of the Armed Forces. I invite you all to the Republic Square to talk about our plans and discuss several urgent issues”, he said.

source: commonspace.eu with Armenpress (Yerevan) and agencies.
photo: Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan joins supporters on Yerevan's main square following a call by the Army command for his resignation. (Screen grab from Armenia 1 TV)

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