Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian sacked on Monday Armenia’s top army general and the heads of the police and National Security Service (NSS) amid a deepening coronavirus crisis in the country.
Pashinian gave no reasons for the unexpected shakeup announced on his Facebook page. He only thanked Lieutenant-General Artak Davtian and national police chief Arman Sargsian and NSS Director Eduard Martirosian for their work.
Pashinian indicated later in the day that they were dismissed because of breaching or failing to enforce the coronavirus-related state of emergency in Armenia.
Sargsian and Martirosian were named to run two law-enforcement bodies on a permanent basis less than three months ago. They had served as acting heads of the police and the NSS respectively since September.
Pashinian said that Sargsian will be replaced by another police colonel, Vahe Ghazarian, while Martirosian’s replacement is his recently appointed deputy, Argishti Kyaramian.
The 29-year-old Kyaramian headed an anti-corruption government body until last month. Unlike his predecessor, he has never worked in Armenia’s most powerful security service before. Kyaramian is widely seen as a political appointee.
The new chief of the Armenian army’s General Staff is Lieutenant-General Onik Gasparian. He has served as Davtian’s first deputy until now.
Pashinian commented on the sackings when he chaired in the evening a meeting of senior government officials dealing with the coronavirus epidemic. Sargsian and Martirosian were also present at the meeting.
“It’s high-ranking state officials that must first and foremost demonstrate with their actions the importance of following anti-epidemic rules,” said Pashinian. “Unfortunately, we see cases where that does not happen.”
At an ensuing news briefing, Pashinian effectively confirmed that Davtian was fired because of hosting on Sunday his son’s wedding party despite the state of emergency. He also seemed to fault the police and NSS chiefs for not preventing the wedding.
“In crisis situations things get to a point where discipline, order and precise and unconditional execution of actions stemming from the country leader’s statements take precedence over all other issues,” he said in that context.
According to “Hraparak” daily, the wedding was attended by about 100 guests in possible violation of social distancing rules set by the government.
A government task force enforcing the state of emergency pledged in the morning to look into the wedding’s legality and, if necessary, hold the general’s family accountable.
“Everyone is equal before the law, and if I committed any violation I will certainly bear responsibility for that,” Davtian said in a statement issued shortly before his sacking. “Of course, I believe that there was no violation but let relevant bodies determine that.”
Davtian was appointed as army chief of staff shortly after the 2018 “Velvet Revolution” that brought Pashinian to power.
The sackings come as a growing number of opposition figures accuse Pashinian of mishandling the coronavirus crisis and demand his resignation. The premier’s political allies dismiss such calls.