Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Thursday accused the military of an attempted coup and brought thousands of supporters to the streets, as months of tensions over its defeat in last year’s war with Azerbaijan came to a head.
“As an elected prime minister, I am ordering all generals, officers and soldiers: do your job of protecting the country’s borders and territorial integrity,” he said during the rally.
Nearby, at another central Yerevan square, opponents of Mr Pashinyan erected barricades and blocked roads.
Armenians have been calling for his resignation since November, when he signed a humiliating peace deal to end a war with Azerbaijan that conceded most of the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Mr Pashinyan’s show of force came after General Onik Gasparyan, Armenia’s most senior military commander, called for his resignation. He was promptly sacked by the prime minister.
Shortly afterwards, he urged his party’s supporters to gather in central Yerevan, the capital.
“We need to keep power in the hands of the people. I consider the statement of the General Headquarters to be a coup attempt,” he had told supporters via Facebook.
Later in the day, the Armenian army said in a statement that it would stay out of politics but the statement by Gen Gasparyan and Mr Pashinyan’s reaction further punctures the thin veneer of stability and cohesion holding the country together.
The defeat of its army in only five weeks by Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh, which Armenia’s military had held since the early 1990s, shocked and humiliated Armenians. Mr Pashinyan and the army have since blamed each other for strategic errors, and the once rock-solid support from the Armenian public for Mr Pashinyan has slipped away.
In his statement, which was counter-signed by dozens of Armenia’s most senior soldiers, Gen Gasparyan said that Mr Pashinyan had brought the country to the brink of collapse and should resign.
“The Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia, and his government, are unable to make adequate decisions in this critical situation for the Armenian people,” he said.
“For a long time, the Armed Forces have patiently tolerated attacks aimed at discrediting it by the current government, but everything has its limits.”
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