Speaking at another rally organized by him in Yerevan’s Republic Square, Pashinian again rejected those demands as a coup attempt and said Colonel-General Onik Gasparian, the chief of the Armenian army’s General Staff, must himself step down.
He charged that the February 25 statement by the army’s top brass was initiated by Gasparian at the behest of former President Serzh Sarkisian. He accused Sarkisian and other opposition leaders of using the military in a bid to end “the people’s power.”
Pashinian moved to dismiss Gasparian immediately after the statement that accused the current government of having put Armenia “on the brink of collapse” after the recent war in Nagorno-Karabakh.
President Armen Sarkissian refused, however, to sign at the weekend a decree relieving the country’s top general of his duties. Despite the rebuff, Pashinian resent the draft decree to Sarkissian for approval.
Addressing thousands of supporters, the prime minister urged Sarkissian to stop blocking Gasparian’s dismissal. He confirmed that he met with the president earlier in the day but gave no details of their conversation.
In his hour-long speech, Pashinian also renewed his offer to hold snap parliamentary elections, which he first made in late December following opposition protests sparked by Armenia’s defeat in the war.
Opposition forces dismissed the offer, saying that such polls must be held by an interim government after Pashinian’s resignation. The ruling political team stated afterwards that it longer sees the need to dissolve the Armenian parliament controlled by it.
“We will agree to pre-term parliamentary elections if that offer is accepted by the parliamentary forces,” Pashinian said. He singled out the two opposition parties represented in the parliament: Bright Armenia (LHK) and Prosperous Armenia (BHK).
LHK leader Edmon Marukian said on Sunday that his party would settle for elections organized by the current government in order to defuse mounting political tensions in the country. Marukian said that as part of this compromise deal Pashinian must stop trying to sack General Gasparian.
Unlike Marukian’s party, the BHK is a key member of the Homeland Salvation Movement, an alliance of more hardline opposition groups trying to topple Pashinian with street protests. Thousands of its supporters rallied on Monday on a street outside the parliament building in Yerevan where the alliance set up a tent camp late last week.
“We will leave the street only if we oust that traitor,” the alliance coordinator, Ishkhan Saghatelian, told the crowd. He said that the opposition demonstrations are gaining momentum and will continue in the days ahead.
The Homeland Salvation Movement has voiced strong support for Gasparian and 40 other high-ranking army officers who signed the anti-government statement. Accordingly, the alliance has praised President Sarkissian for not firing the army chief.