Armenian president refuses order to dismiss army chief as political crisis worsens

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By Euronews with AFP
Opposition demonstrators carrying Armenian national and region of Nagorno-Karabakh’s flag. Armenia, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021.
Opposition demonstrators carrying Armenian national and region of Nagorno-Karabakh’s flag. Armenia, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021.   -  Copyright  AP Photo

Armenian President Armen Sarkissian on Saturday refused to sign an order from Prime Minister Nikol Pachinian dismissing the head of the army, further aggravating the political crisis in the country, where several thousand people again took to the streets.

"The president, within the framework of the powers conferred on him by the Constitution, has returned the text (ordering the dismissal of the head of the army) with objections," the presidency explained in a statement.

The political crisis "cannot be resolved by frequent changes of officials," it added.

Shortly afterwards, Pachinian said on Facebook that he would refer the order back to the presidency, stressing that the decision had "not at all" defused the crisis.

It came as around 15,000 people demonstrated on Saturday in Yerevan for the third day of protests in a row, demanding the resignation of the prime minister.

Demonstrators marched in the centre of Yerevan, while many people cheered them from their windows or balconies.

At 7.30 pm, the procession arrived in front of the parliament, where some of the demonstrators set up camp, an AFP journalist said.

Around 5,000 demonstrators had gathered there earlier in the day, calling on parliamentarians to take action.

Political commentator Eric Hacopian, speaking to Euronews from Yerevan said Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan still needs to explain the reasons behind his decision to fire the Army's Chief of Staff and his deputy.

"He never explicitly said the reasons why. Many people see it as because of the failures of the army in last year’s war."

"This current crisis has been going on since the end of the war in November."

The catalyst for the recent unrest in Armenia is last year's bloody conflict with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno Karabakh region, which saw thousands killed on both sides.

Swathes of territory in and around the mountainous region were ceded to Azerbaijan when the two sides signed a November 10 Russian-brokered peace deal and Pashinyan has faced protests ever since.

What sparked recent unrest?

The trigger for recent events was comments made by Pashinyan about the alleged ineffectiveness of the Iskander missile system.

The military's top brass released a statement saying "the prime minister and the government are no longer able to make reasonable decisions", according to Armenpress, the country's state news agency.

"For a long time, the Armenian armed forces were patiently tolerating the 'attacks' by the incumbent government aimed at defaming the armed forces, but everything has its limits," the officials were cited as saying.

Pashinyan retaliated by sacking the head of the army’s General Staff, Onik Gasparyan, further angering the military elite.

He accused top military officers of attempting a coup, at this point rallying his supporters to gather at the march telling them: "The army is not a political institution and attempts to involve it in political processes are unacceptable."