Ever since the Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan signed the ceasefire agreement between his country, Russia and Azerbaijan in November last year, ending the 44-day war in the disputed region of Nagorno Karabakh, Armenia has turned into an unstable country. Split between debating the pros and cons of the agreement, it is a country divided, though no one can deny that it suffered heavy losses in terms of casualties and territory. The war left thousands wounded and hundreds missing, whose families demands on the government remain unanswered, as well as a never-ending POW crisis. It did not help that the political crisis coincided with the outbreak of Covid-19 throughout the country.
Prime minister’s supporters listen to his speech at the Republic Square (photos: AFP)
Since the signing of the agreement, an angry nation, led by the country’s opposition parties, took to the streets demanding the resignation of the prime minister. “Armenia without Nikol” has been the chant heard in the capital Yerevan for four months now. “Nikol the traitor” too became an iconic slogan not only in protest chants but also on the city’s walls. A more recent slogan, “Armenia without Turks”, addresses the prime minister’s actions against the country.
Last week, a group of army generals joined the protesters in Yerevan, calling for Pashinyan’s resignation in a joint statement. Tensions had escalated when the prime minister claimed that only 10 per cent of the Russian-supplied Iskander missiles used by the army actually exploded during the war. In a statement, the General Staff of the Armenian Armed Forces called for the country’s leadership to resign, blaming the prime minister who signed the agreement, for trying to deflect blame onto the military.
“From now on, the prime minister and the government of Armenia are unable to make correct decisions regarding the crisis in our country. For a long time, the Armenian Armed Forces have patiently endured ‘attacks’ intended to discredit it by the current government, but everything has its limits. The armed forces honourably fulfilled their duty, fought shoulder to shoulder with their people against the enemy,” the statement read, warning the government against using force to suppress its own people, whose children were martyred defending the motherland in Nagorno-Karabakh. “The army has always been with the people, and the people with the army,” the statement concluded.
In a live broadcast from his Facebook page, Pashinyan responded by dismissing Chief of the General Staff Onnik Gasparyan, who signed the statement, calling the movement “a military coup attempt”. But President Armen Sarkissian refused to sign the decree and sent it back to the prime minister, saying that the move was unconstitutional. Pashinyan resubmitted the demand. In his live speech through his page, the prime minister invited his supporters to a gathering at the Republic Square, Monday. Hundreds have been camping outside the parliament building since then, chanting “Nation, army, victory”. A song dedicated to the army has accompanied all opposition gatherings. “Our hearts are always strong, fiery/ Our swords are always strong, sharp/ Let everyone know, we are called the Armenian Army.”
Before even Russia could comment, Turkey responded to the latest developments. “We strongly condemn the attempted coup in Armenia. We are absolutely against coups and coup attempts anywhere in the world,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a news conference in Budapest.
Turkish political analyst Uzay Bulut says that during the 44-day war in Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan – with the help of Turkey – committed many atrocities against Armenians.
“Turkey and Azerbaijan indiscriminately shelled and bombed entire towns and villages across Artsakh, including homes, churches and maternity hospitals, so when the Turkish authorities condemn any incident in Armenia in the name of ‘democracy’, the civilised world should see that as grotesque,” she told Al-Ahram Weekly. “Particularly given turkey’s own history of coups and lack of democracy, Turkey has no right to lecture any nation about how they should govern their own affairs,” Bulut added. The Turkish analyst, formerly based in Ankara, thinks that as long as Turkey aggressively denies the 1915 Armenian Genocide “and helps Azerbaijan attack Artsakh, Turkey’s actions and statements concerning Armenians should always be seen as malevolent, hostile and destructive.”
Although Pashinyan insists on staying in office, and after the humiliating defeat in the Nagorno-Karabakh war, and despite the continuous calls for his resignation, during his speech at the Monday gathering Pashinyan said the Armenian people are the ones who should decide whether he should remain in power or resign, as the opposition has been demanding for months. One of the main topics of his speech was the statement by the army’s general staff demanding his resignation. He said the statement reflected the influence of the former government on the army generals.
On the other hand, former defence minister Seyran Ohanyan addressed the rally headed by the opposition parties, a few kilometres away. Ohanyan supported the army and said that the prime minister had no right to dismiss military staff. “Was the army supposed to stay silent on giving our lands to the Turks and Azeris? No. Then the army did the right thing,” he said.
Until the newspaper went to print, Sarkissian had refused to sign the order to dismiss Gasparyan for the second time, applying to the Constitutional Court. Unless it is legally blocked, Pashinyan’s decree will automatically be in force on 4 March. Worried about the situation, the opposition parties’ representatives demanded an urgent meeting with the president, on Tuesday.
A former journalist, the current prime minister came to power in 2018, after massive street protests that ousted his predecessor Serj Sarkissian.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 March, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly