Pashinian again accused the military of attempting to stage a coup and demanded the removal of Armenia’s top general as he addressed supporters who gathered in the city’s central Republic Square. He also offered to hold crisis talks with opposition groups seeking to topple him over his handling of last year’s war in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Mind your business: the defense of Armenia’s territorial integrity and borders. This is my order and nobody can disobey it,” he said, appealing to the army’s top brass that demanded his resignation earlier in the day.
“The army cannot be drawn into political processes. The army must obey only the people and the political authority elected by them,” he told the crowd that chanted “Nikol prime minister!”
Pashinian also said that President Armen Sarkissian should approve his motion to fire Colonel-General Onik Gasparian, the chief of the army’s General Staff. Alternatively, he added, Gasparian should tender his resignation.
Sarkissian seemed in no rush to sign a decree relieving Gasparian of his duties. In a written appeal to the nation, Sarkissian expressed serious concern over the political turmoil in the country and urged state bodies, political actors and ordinary citizens to show “restraint and common sense.”
The head of state, who has largely ceremonial powers, also said he is “urgently taking steps to find ways of easing tensions and resolving the situation peacefully.” He did not elaborate.
In a joint statement, Gasparian and four dozen other generals and colonels accused Pashinian’s government of mismanaging the country and putting it “on the brink of destruction.” The statement followed the unexpected sacking of Gasparian’s first deputy, Tiran Khachatrian.
The General Staff reaffirmed its demands in another statement issued shortly before the start of the Pashinian-led rally.
Meanwhile, an alliance more than a dozen opposition parties rallied supporters in another Yerevan square to voice support for the military.
Speakers at the opposition rally included Seyran Ohanian and Yuri Khachaturov, former chiefs of the army staff highly critical of the current government. Both retired generals echoed opposition claims that Pashinian is to blame for Armenia’s defeat in the war.
Pashinian insisted that it is the country’s “corrupt” former leaders who are primarily responsible for the outcome of the six-week war stopped by a Russian-brokered truce on November 10.
Addressing thousands of his supporters at Republic Square, Pashinian expressed readiness to start “political consultations” with the opposition on “how to resolve this situation.” He complained that the opposition rejected his December offer to hold snap general elections.
“A change of the government can take place only through elections,” the prime minister said before marching with the crowd to other parts of the Armenian capital.
Opposition leaders and their supporters chanting “Armenia without Nikol!” marched, meanwhile, to the Armenian parliament building and blocked an adjacent street. The two opposition parties represented in the parliament demanded an emergency session of the National Assembly on the deepening political crisis.