Armenia’s political crisis was plunged into deeper uncertainty on March 2 after the president refused to sign an order to dismiss the head of the military.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian moved to dismiss the chief of the General Staff after accusing top military brass last week of attempting a coup when they called on Pashinian to resign over his handling of last year’s war with Azerbaijan.
Armenia’s largely ceremonial president, Armen Sarkisian, refused to approve the order dismissing chief of the General Staff Onik Gasparian for a second time on March 2.
However, the president did not ask the Constitutional Court to rule on whether the order to fire Gasparian complies with the constitution, a technicality that legal experts said means the dismissal would likely take effect automatically if the head of state does not appeal to the top court by March 4.
Political tensions in Armenia have been high, with supporters of Pashinian and the opposition staging rival rallies in the capital.
Pashinian has faced mounting protests and calls from the opposition for his resignation following a six-week conflict between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh last year.
At the heart of the turmoil is the Russian-brokered deal Pashinian signed in November that brought an end to the fighting after Armenian forces suffered territorial and battlefield losses from Azerbaijan’s Turkish-backed military.
Under the deal, Armenia ceded control over parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and all seven surrounding districts of Azerbaijan that had been occupied by Armenian forces since the early 1990s.
Last week, the discontent spilled over into the military after Pashinian dismissed Tiran Khachatrian, the first deputy chief of the general staff, who mocked the prime minister’s analysis of Russian weapons used in the war against Azerbaijan.
In response, several dozen high-ranking military officers signed a letter accusing Pashinian and his government of bringing the country “to the brink of collapse” and calling for his resignation.
Pashinian said the move amounted to “an attempted military coup” and immediately moved to fire Gasparian, adding a new layer to the political crisis.
Pashinian, whose My Step faction dominates parliament, has refused opposition demands to resign but has hinted at accepting early parliamentary elections under certain conditions.