By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has called on soldiers to “do your job” and defend the country after he denounced “an attempted military coup” after a group of army officers wrote a letter demanding his resignation.
Appearing before an estimated 20,000 supporters on Yerevan’s Republic Square on February 25, Pashinian said Armenians would not allow the military to take over the country.
“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,” Pashinian told the rally.
The prime minister, who spoke amid a heavy security presence after leading a march through the streets of downtown Yerevan, was reacting to a letter released earlier in the day by the Armenian Armed Forces General Staff demanding he and his government resign.
The letter expressed “resolute protest” against Pashinian’s dismissal a day earlier of Tigran Khachatrian, the first deputy chief of the general staff, calling the prime minister’s reasons “shortsighted” and his action “an anti-state, irresponsible step.”
Khachatrian had earlier mocked Pashinian’s analysis of Russian weapons used in the war against Azerbaijan.
The General Staff accused Pashinian and his government of bringing the country “to the brink of collapse” and said it “will no longer be able to make adequate decisions in this critical situation for the Armenian people.”
The letter was signed by several dozen army officials, including Chief of the General Staff Onik Gasparian.
It was not immediately clear whether the armed forces were willing to use force to back up the statement.
Pashinian quickly moved to dismiss Gasparian following the letter’s publication.
“The situation is tense, but we must agree that there cannot be clashes,” Pashinian, speaking through a megaphone, told his supporters.
“I expect that the 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,” Pashinian told his supporters in the Republic Square.
Sarkisian, whose role is largely symbolic, said he was taking urgent steps to try to defuse the crisis, calling on all involved to “show restraint and common sense.”
The General Staff letter is the latest in a series of protests and calls for Pashinian to resign after what his critics say was the disastrous handling of a bloody six-week conflict between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh last year.
The Russian-brokered cease-fire deal Pashinian signed in November 2020 brought an end to 44 days of fierce fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh where Armenian forces had been largely defeated by Azerbaijan’s Turkish-backed military.
Pashinian was forced to cede control over some territory in Nagorno-Karabakh and all seven surrounding districts of Azerbaijan that had been occupied by Armenian forces since the early 1990s, a move that many Armenians were against.
In the latest demonstration against his rule, thousands of protesters rallied in the Armenian capital of Yerevan on February 20, blocking several adjacent streets and temporarily paralyzing traffic in the city center while shouting “Armenia without Nikol!” and “Nikol traitor.”
Pashinian, who rose to power in a bloodless revolution amid anti-government protests in 2018, has refused calls to step down but has raised the possibility of holding early parliamentary elections.
The February 25 unrest in Armenia unsettled other countries in the region.
Both Russia, Armenia’s closest ally, and Turkey, which backed Azerbaijan in the conflict, were quick to react to the developments in Yerevan.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists that Russia is watching the development of the situation in Armenia “with concern” and called “for calm.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu meanwhile “strongly condemned” what he described as an attempted coup in Armenia.