Tens of Thousands Crowd Armenian Capital After Prime Minister Claims Coup

In this file photo, protestors storm Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinian's office after the announcement of a peace deal in the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan on November 10, 2020 in Yerevan, Armenia. (Alex McBride/Getty Images)
Alex McBride/Getty Images

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan denounced “an attempted military coup” on Thursday after a group of Armenian army officers wrote a letter demanding Pashinyan’s resignation earlier that day.

“As [prime minister] my order to all soldiers, officers, and generals of the armed forces is: Gentlemen, do your jobs. Preserve the territorial integrity of the borders of the Republic of Armenia. This is my order, and no one should dare to break this order,” Pashinyan said at a rally of his supporters in the Armenian capital of Yerevan on February 25.

About 20,000 people gathered in Yerevan’s Republic Square to listen to Pashinyan’s speech, which followed a march led by the prime minister through the capital’s downtown area. He was flanked by a significant security detail, according to the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

The gathering was in response to the Armenian Armed Forces General Staff releasing a letter earlier that day demanding Pashinyan and his government resign.

“The General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Armenia expresses its resolute protest against the dismissal of the First Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Armenia for short-sighted reasons, which was carried out without taking into account the national and state interests of the Republic of Armenia,” the letter read.

“In such difficult conditions for the country, such a decision is an anti-state, irresponsible step. The Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia, the government, will no longer be able to make adequate decisions in this critical situation for the Armenian people,” the letter further read.

Armenian army officials, including Chief of the General Staff Onik Gasparian, signed the statement, which was published online.

“Khachatrian had earlier mocked Pashinian’s analysis of Russian weapons used in the war against Azerbaijan” last year, according to RFE/RL.

Pashinyan dismissed Gasparian shortly after the letter’s release Thursday morning.

“The situation is tense, but we must agree that there cannot be clashes,” the Armenian prime minister said at his rally in Yerevan later Thursday.

“I expect that the [Armenian] president [Armen Sarkisian] will sign the decree dismissing Gasparian or Gasparian will announce his resignation, and I will start consultations with the political forces on how we are going to solve this situation,” Pashinyan told his supporters.

While Sarkisian’s role as Armenia’s president is largely symbolic, he said on Thursday that he was addressing Armenia’s power crisis with urgency, and called for all involved parties to “show restraint and common sense.”

Pashinyan has faced increasing pressure to resign from his role as prime minister in recent months over his handling of Armenia’s six-week military conflict with Azerbaijan over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh which launched on September 27, 2020. Some observers criticized Pashinyan’s leadership during and after the conflict, which left Armenia with less territory than it had before clashes broke out over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, which both Armenian separatists and Azerbaijan claim.

Pashinyan signed a Russian-brokered cease-fire deal to end the crisis in November 2020. The agreement forced Armenia to concede seven districts surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan that Armenian separatists had occupied since the early 1990s. The surrender caused a mass exodus of Armenians from the territories to Yerevan and upset many people in Armenia who blamed Pashinyan for the military defeat.

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