“Armenia’s prime minister and government are no longer able to make adequate decisions for the Armenian people in this crisis and fateful situation,” read a joint statement signed by Colonel-General Onik Gasparian, the chief of the army’s General Staff, and four dozen other high-ranking officers.
“The Armenian Armed Forces have long patiently tolerated the incumbent authorities’ ‘attacks’ aimed at discrediting the Armed Forces, but everything has its limits … The incumbent authorities’ inefficient governance and very serious foreign policy mistakes have put the country on the brink of destruction,” charged the statement.
The statement appeared to have been triggered by the sacking of Gasparian’s first deputy, Tiran Khachatrian, which was initiated by Pashinian late on Tuesday. Its signatories, among them the heads of General Staff divisions as well as the commanders of all five army corps, condemned the sacking as an “irresponsible and anti-state move” reflecting Pashinian’s whims, rather than Armenia’s defense and security needs.
Pashinian was quick to condemn the statement as an attempt to stage a coup d’etat and urged supporters to gather at Yerevan’s Republic Square to “decide our further actions.”
“It is unacceptable for the armed forces to engage in politics and make political statements,” he said in a video address livestreamed on Facebook.
Pashinian indicated that Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian remains loyal to him. He said he also decided to fire Gasparian.
A crowd led by Pashinian began marching through the center of Yerevan in the afternoon. The prime minister was due to address a pro-government at 4 p.m. local time.
The General Staff statement came amid renewed anti-government protests staged by an alliance of Armenian opposition parties blaming Pashinian for Armenia’s defeat in the recent war in Nagorno-Karabakh and demanding his resignation. The army top brass warned the authorities to “refrain from using force against the people.”
The opposition alliance called the Homeland Salvation Movement hailed the military’s unprecedented demand and urged supporters to rally in another Yerevan square to voice support for the top army generals. It accused Pashinian of seeking to provoke “civil clashes and bloodshed.”
The Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), a key member of the alliance, also backed the military in a separate statement. “Nikol Pashinian has a last chance to resign without upheavals,” the BHK leadership said.
Bright Armenia (LHK), another major opposition party not affiliated with the alliance, called on both sides to avoid any street gatherings and defuse tensions. The LHK stated at the same time that the political crisis cannot be resolved without Pashinian’s resignation.
Pashinian again ruled out his resignation as he joined pro-government demonstrators and spoke to journalists. “I am not sure that could solve the problem,” he said. “I made several proposals [to the opposition] and they were rejected and I believe that the people’s power must be protected and preserved.”