Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has warned of an “attempted coup” against him as he fired a top army official in response to the military’s call for his resignation.
Pashinyan has faced protests and calls to quit since November from critics angered by his handling of the six-week Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan. The demonstrations had gone dormant for a spell in the depth of Armenia’s winter but have resumed in recent days.
aving previously rejected the calls to step down, Pashinyan announced Thursday’s move against Onik Gasparyan, the head of the army’s General Staff, in an address to the nation broadcast on Facebook. He urged the military to only listen to his orders.
“The most important problem now is to keep the power in the hands of the people, because I consider what is happening to be a military coup,” Pashinyan said.
He was later seen marching through the capital, Yerevan, with hundreds of supporters.
The developments came as anti-government protesters renewed their calls for Pashinyan to quit.
Throngs of opposition demonstrators also swarmed the streets of Yerevan on Thursday, chanting “Nikol, you traitor!” and “Nikol, resign!” while blocking streets and paralysing traffic all around the capital, the Associated Press news agency reported.It was unclear whether the army was willing to use force to back its statement, which was issued earlier on Thursday and signed by Gasparyan and other top military officers.
“The ineffective management of the current government and the serious mistakes in foreign policy have put the country on the brink of collapse,” the statement said.
Tensions between the army and Pashinyan had already been rising amid the renewed protest movement; Pashinyan fired the first deputy chief of the General Staff, Tiran Khachatryan, earlier this week.
Khachatryan had derided the prime minister’s claim that just 10 percent of Russia-supplied Iskander missiles that Armenia used in the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh exploded on impact.
Moscow calls for calm
Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as Azerbaijan’s land but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces and self-appointed Armenian officials, backed by Armenia since an earlier war between the rivals concluded in a ceasefire in 1994.
The recent conflict in the mountainous region claimed thousands of lives and saw swathes of territory in and around the enclave ceded to Azerbaijan. The war ended when both sides signed a Russian-brokered peace deal.