MOSCOW (Reuters) – Armenia’s government said the dismissal of a top army general at the centre of a political crisis went into effect on Wednesday, almost two weeks after Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan fired him and accused the military of a coup attempt.
The army had demanded Pashinyan quit on Feb. 25, prompting Pashinyan to sack the chief of the army’s general staff. But that move needed the approval of the president, which he declined to give.
The standoff is a major challenge for Pashinyan, who was swept to power by protests in 2018 but has been under fire over his handling of last year’s conflict between ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Pashinyan’s government said in a statement on Wednesday that the general’s dismissal was now legally effective because the president had not signed the decree within the time allotted or gone to court under specific articles of the law.
“Head of the General Staff Onik Gasparyan … is legally dismissed from his post from March 10,” the statement said.
In a statement in response, Gasparyan denounced his dismissal as unconstitutional and said that Armenia’s political crisis could only be ended by Pashinyan’s resignation and snap parliamentary elections, the Interfax news agency reported.
“I will continue to serve the motherland and the Armenian people in a different capacity,” he said, without elaborating.
Another statement attributed to the leadership of the armed forces said it agreed with Gasparyan’s statement and his overall assessment of the situation, News.am and Russian media outlets reported.
“There is one solution to the current situation, it is in the message (from Gasparyan),” the statement was quoted as saying.
Pashinyan later proposed Artak Davtyan, the former chief of general staff, to replace Gasparyan, the TASS news agency reported.
Pashinyan has faced calls to resign since last November when he agreed to a Russian-brokered ceasefire that halted six weeks of fighting between ethnic Armenian and Azeri forces over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The deal secured significant territorial gains for Azerbaijan in and around Nagorno-Karabakh. The enclave is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but is populated and until recently was fully controlled by ethnic Armenians.
Pashinyan, who has rejected calls to resign, said he had been compelled to agree to the peace deal to prevent greater human and territorial losses.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Larry King)