dpa/GNA – In the midst of a domestic political crisis, the Armenian military has sided with the opposition and demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who in turn accused the generals of attempting a military coup.
“It is the clear conviction and stance of the generals and officers, with one purpose – to serve for the salvation of our homeland at this critical moment,” the Armenian Armed Forces said in a statement cited by news agency Armenpress.
“The prime minister and the government are no longer able to make reasonable decisions,” the military said in an earlier statement.
Pashinyan spoke on Facebook however of an “attempt at a military coup” and immediately announced the dismissal of the head of the armed forces’ general staff, Onik Gasparyan. He dubbed later repeated calls for his resignation an “emotional response” from the military.
The military representatives noted in their statements that Pashinyan had recently dismissed the deputy chief of general staff.
The 45-year-old told his supporters in the capital Yerevan the attempted coup would not work. “Everything will end peacefully,” Pashinyan said, adding the situation was “under control.” He also said he had no plans to leave the country with his family.
In the afternoon, tens of thousands of people joined an opposition rally, according to a local reporter for dpa. The same number took to the streets in support of Pashinyan.
A large contingent of police was deployed around the Defence Ministry.
Observers spoke of a tense situation but they did not expect him to resign. The people would have to decide, Pashinyan said.
The largest opposition party, Prosperous Armenia, urged him to vacate his post and warned him against bloodshed.
Opposition representatives planned to spend the coming night in Yerevan’s central Freedom Square. They were prepared for the fight, a spokesman said.
President Armen Sargsyan called on his compatriots to exercise restraint.
Pashinyan has been under extreme pressure since the end of fighting over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh more than three months ago because the opposition holds him personally responsible for the defeat to Azerbaijan.
Most recently, tens of thousands of people called for his resignation in new protests, which Pashinyan has repeatedly refused to accept.
In the fighting from September 27 to November 9 over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is mostly inhabited by Christian Armenians, Muslim-majority Azerbaijan reclaimed large parts of the territory it lost to Armenia in the early 1990s. In total, more than 4,700 people died.
Azerbaijan looked to Turkey with which it shares religious, historical and cultural links for support in the conflict, while Armenia looked to Russia for similar reasons.
As former Soviet republics, both countries maintain links with Moscow.
According to the Interfax agency, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that the situation in Armenia was being observed “with concern.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a press conference with his Hungarian counterpart Peter Szijjarto in Budapest that his country “strongly condemns the coup attempt in Armenia.”
Turkey believes “a window of opportunity” for stability in the region should not be wasted, Cavusoglu said, adding Ankara had not been in contact with the Armenian authorities about the developments.