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Armenian Army Chief Still In Limbo


Armenia - President Armen Sarkissian and General Onik Gasparian at an official awards ceremony in Yerevan, July 5, 2019.

The Armenian military said on Wednesday that its top general will continue performing his duties for now despite Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s efforts to have him fired.

Pashinian petitioned President Armen Sarkissian last week to sign a decree relieving General Onik Gasparian of his duties shortly after the chief of the military’s General Staff and 40 other high-ranking officers accused the Armenian government of misrule and demanded its resignation.

Sarkissian refused to sign such a decree on Saturday, saying that it appears to be unconstitutional and would deepen the “unprecedented” political crisis in the country. Pashinian criticized the refusal as “unfounded” and resent his motion to Sarkissian in another attempt to get him to fire Gasparian.

Sarkissian on Tuesday appeared to have paved the way for Gasparian’s removal, again refusing to sign the proposed decree but making it clear that he will not ask the Constitutional Court to invalidate it.

Under Armenian law, the president can keep blocking or at least delaying the general’s sacking only by appealing to the court.

Sarkissian’s second decision prompted serious concern from leaders of the Homeland Salvation Movement, an opposition alliance seeking Pashinian’s resignation. They met with him on Wednesday morning.

The head of state also held another separate meeting with Gasparian. In a statement issued shortly afterwards, the General Staff offered its interpretation of complex legal requirements and procedures for the dismissal of its chief.

The statement said, among other things, that Gasparian is legally allowed to remain “the supreme military commander of the Armed Forces” until the end of this week.

The government’s initial reaction to the statement was cautious, with Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinian calling it “contentious” during the government’s question-and-answer session in the parliament. Pashinian also attended the session but chose not to comment. He earlier condemned the military’s demands as a coup attempt,

ARMENIA -- Opposition supporters rally outside the National Assembly building to demand Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian's resignation over his handling of last year's war with Azerbaijan, March 3, 2021
ARMENIA -- Opposition supporters rally outside the National Assembly building to demand Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian's resignation over his handling of last year's war with Azerbaijan, March 3, 2021

A leader of the Homeland Salvation Movement, Vazgen Manukian, echoed the military’s interpretation of the law when he addressed supporters continuing to demonstrate in downtown Yerevan.

Manukian claimed that Sarkissian and lawyers from the presidential staff assured the oppositionists that Gasparian can remain army chief until March 8. “We got half of what we wanted … but we have time to fight on,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sarkissian’s office did not clarify whether it indeed believes Gasparian can continue to lead the armed forces for at least several more days.

Legal experts were divided on the issue. One of them, Tigran Yegorian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that Gasparian will automatically lose his post in the coming hours because Sarkissian has not challenged in the Constitutional Court the legality of his dismissal. Yegorian dismissed the military’s latest statement as “an empty piece of paper.”

But Ara Ghazarian, a constitutional law expert, insisted that Gasparian’s sacking must be put on hold because the president has decided to ask the court to determine whether a relevant legal clause conforms to the Armenian constitution.

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