YEREVAN — Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has called on soldiers “to do their jobs” and defend the country after he denounced army officers who wrote a letter demanding his resignation calling it an attempt to stage a coup.
Appearing before an estimated 20,000 supporters on Yerevan’s Republic Square on February 25, Pashinyan said Armenians would not allow the military to take over the country.
“The situation is tense, but we must agree that there cannot be clashes,” Pashinyan, speaking to supporters through a megaphone, said hours after he announced the dismissal of General Staff chief Onik Gasparyan.
“They tried to drag our army into an anti-popular, anti-constitutional process. Today I clearly stated that the statement initiated by the general staff is an attempt of a military coup, and the people will not allow it,” he said.
“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!”
“The threat of a coup is largely manageable, it was an emotional reaction, and we should not be strict with our brothers. The top army brass was simply dragged into the process, but even those, whom I decided to dismiss from their posts, are not only our brothers, but brothers and soldiers of our Motherland, so be calm,” Pashinyan said.
Answering a question about the threat of clashes, he noted that there is always a threat, since the situation is tense.
“But we must agree that this will not happen in Armenia. The most important thing is that we are all calm, we have no enemies inside the country. But there are issues that must be discussed, and this is the main reason for our rally today,” Pashinyan said.
In his words, there should be a fraternal atmosphere in Armenia, which does not mean that there will be no political dialogue. Pashinyan urged citizens to prevent incidents and clashes and promised to clarify all issues during his speech.
Pashinyan indicated that Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunyan remains loyal to him. “Any attempt to involve the armed forces in any political process is unacceptable, the Armenian Defense Ministry said in a statement today.
“The Armed Forces of the Republic of Armenia protect the borders of the country and ensure its security. The army is an apolitical structure, and any attempt to involve the armed forces in any political process is unacceptable. Any such attempt threatens the stability and security of Armenia. The Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Armenia will respond to any such action in a worthy way,” the statement says.
Army General Staff Calls for Pashinyan Resignation
Armenian military’s top brass demanded on Thursday PM Pashinyan’s and his government’s resignation on Thursday, accusing them of misrule and incompetence.
“Armenia’s prime minister and government are no longer able to make adequate
decisions for the Armenian people in this crisis and fateful situation,” read a joint statement signed by Colonel-General Onik Gasparyan, the chief of the army’s General Staff, and four dozen other high-ranking officers.
“The Armenian Armed Forces have long patiently tolerated the incumbent authorities’ ‘attacks’ aimed at discrediting the Armed Forces, but everything has its limits … The incumbent authorities’ inefficient governance and very serious foreign policy mistakes have put the country on the brink of destruction,” charged the statement.
The statement appeared to have been triggered by the sacking of Gasparyan’s first deputy, Tiran Khachatryan, which was initiated by Pashinyan late on Tuesday. Its signatories, among them the heads of General Staff divisions as well as the commanders of all five army corps, condemned the sacking as an “irresponsible and anti-state move” reflecting Pashinyan’s whims, rather than Armenia’s defense and security needs.
The opposition alliance called the Homeland Salvation Movement hailed the military’s unprecedented demand and urged supporters to rally in another Yerevan square to voice support for the top army generals. It accused Pashinyan of seeking to provoke “civil clashes and bloodshed.”
The Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), a key member of the alliance, also backed the military in a separate statement. “Nikol Pashinyan has a last chance to resign without upheavals,” the BHK leadership said.
Bright Armenia (LHK), another major opposition party not affiliated with the alliance, called on both sides to avoid any street gatherings and defuse tensions. The LHK stated at the same time that the political crisis cannot be resolved without Pashinyan’s resignation.