Harutiunian, senior pro-government parliamentarians and other officials accompanying him laid flowers at the grave of Vazgen Sarkisian, a former prime minister and one of the army’s founders assassinated in 1999, to mark his 62th birthday anniversary.
The annual wreath-laying ceremony had traditionally been attended by most senior generals. Only one of them, Andranik Makarian, visited at the Yerablur military pantheon with Harutiunian this time around.
Makarian, who is a deputy chief of the General Staff, was among a handful of officers who refused to sign last week a joint statement by the military’s top brass that accused Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s government of misrule and demanded its resignation.
Pashinian rejected the demand as a coup attempt and drafted a presidential decree relieving the chief of the General Staff, Colonel-General Onik Gasparian, of his duties. President Armen Sarkissian appears to have delayed Gasparian’s sacking at least until March 8.
Makarian declined to explain his refusal to sign the military’s unprecedented statement when he was approached by reporters at Yerablur. “All officers of the Armenian army are in the army and stand with the army,” he said, refusing to comment further.
Harutiunian was also reluctant to comment on the standoff which deepened a post-war political crisis in Armenia. “Dear journalists, today is Vazgen Sarkisian’s birthday and I’m not going to answer any questions,” he said.
Harutiunian was appointed as defense minister in November shortly after a Russian-brokered ceasefire that stopped the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. He is believed to remain loyal to the prime minister.