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Uncertainty Persists Over Armenian Army Chief


Armenia -- Colonel-General Onik Gasparian (C), the chief of the Armenian army's General Staff, meets with senior Russian military officials, Yerevan, January 25, 2021.

The status of Armenia’s top general remained uncertain on Tuesday nearly two weeks after Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian decided to fire him in response to demands for the government’s resignation voiced by the military’s top brass.

General Onik Gasparian, the chief of the Armenian army’s General Staff, and 40 other high-ranking officers demanded that Pashinian and his cabinet step down in a joint statement issued on February 25. They accused the government of putting Armenia “on the brink of collapse” after last year’s war in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Pashinian rejected the demand as a coup attempt and petitioned President Armen Sarkissian to sign a decree relieving Gasparian of his duties.

Sarkissian refused to sign such a decree on February 27, 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 again refused to sign the decree drafted by the prime minister’s office. But he made it clear that he will not ask the Constitutional Court to invalidate it, effectively paving the way for Gasparian’s removal.

Under Armenian law, the president can keep blocking the prime minister’s decisions only by appealing to the court.

A spokesperson for the Constitutional Court told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that it received no appeals from Sarkissian as of Tuesday afternoon.

Sarkissian made no public statements on the issue despite strong pressure from opposition leaders and other critics of Pashinian’s administration, who have backed the military’s demands. But he did sent a written answer to one of those critics, Ara Zohrabian, who heads the national bar association.

In his letter publicized by Zohrabian, the head of state indicated that it is now up to Pashinian to decide General Gasparian’s future and face legal and political consequences of that decision.

Zohrabian condemned Sarkissian’s “inactivity” when he and a group of his supporters gathered outside the presidential palace in Yerevan earlier in the day. He suggested that the president is facing strong pressure from Pashinian.

A close Pashinian associate, deputy parliament speaker Alen Simonian, stated, meanwhile, Sarkissian has missed a legal deadline for challenging the legality of Gasparian’s sacking. The general has therefore ceased to be the chief of the General Staff, Simonian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.

Neither the prime minister nor the government made any statements to that effect, however.

Gasparian also remained silent about his current status and intentions. In another statement issued last week, the General Staff said that he can retain his post at least until March 9.

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