Armenia’s deepening political crisis continues to intensify following last week’s controversial calls for the resignation of PM Nikol Pashinyan, who summoned his supporters to Republic Square on Monday after President Armen Sarkissian refused to endorse an order to dismiss the Chief of the General Staff of Armenia’s Armed Forces.
“The Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia and the Government are no longer able to make adequate decisions in this critical situation for the Armenian people,” read the February 25 statement signed by the country’s top military leaders. “Inefficient governance by the current authorities and grave mistakes in foreign policy have brought the country to the brink of collapse.”
President Sarkissian called Pashinyan’s draft decree to dismiss Colonel General Onik Gasparyan “unconstitutional.” The PM has publicly criticized the president’s decision and his motives. The president’s office released a statement today reiterating its neutral stance, upholding, “The president of the Republic does not represent the interests of any political force.”
The Prime Minister decried the most recent formal calls for his resignation a “military coup attempt,” whereas the opposition movement, which has been demanding the PM’s resignation since his signature of the November 9 trilateral ceasefire agreement, welcomed the statement from the General Staff of the Armed Forces. Both supporters and opponents of the PM have traveled to Yerevan from across the country to participate in ongoing demonstrations. Massive rallies were held across the city today, on the thirteenth anniversary of the deadly March 2008 post-election riots when 10 people died and hundreds were injured after the national police and military forces were deployed to disperse protesters. Pashinyan was arrested as one of the leading activists of the 2008 protest movement; former President Robert Kocharyan is currently on trial, charged with overthrowing the constitutional order.
“A crime and tragedy took place on March 1, 2008 at the instigation of Pashinyan,” declared Homeland Salvation Movement council member Andranik Tevanyan, addressing the gathering on Monday evening. The Homeland Salvation Movement has been blockading the major Baghramyan Avenue since Thursday, pitching tents overnight in spite of the freezing winter temperatures. “That was his first taste of Armenian blood. Then that number multiplied tenfold, hundredfold, thousandfold, and now he is already responsible for the deaths of 10,000 Armenians,” he continued.
Today people chanted slogans including “Armenia Without Nikol,” “Nikol is a traitor” and “Nation, Army, Victory” while marching through the city. “Keep your backs straight, and keep your hands up,” Ruben Mkhitaryan implored. “For the past four months, every day has been November 9 for all of us. November 9 continues every morning, every night. One thing is necessary in order for us to turn a new page and for a new day to dawn for the Armenian world: an Armenia without Nikol.”
Meanwhile in Republic Square, Pashinyan addressed the events of March 1 in a one-hour speech before a crowd of supporters. “On March 1, 2008 the leaders of Armenia at the time unleashed the army on the people. It is important to record that there are people guilty for these events who stand trial, and that the events of March 1, by my assessment, have been exposed,” he asserted. “Today those same people try to unleash the army on the people and the legitimate leadership and government elected by the people,” he continued.
Pashinyan once again invited opposition parliamentary and extra-parliamentary forces to participate in snap parliamentary elections. Edmon Marukyan has stated that his Bright Armenia Party is prepared to partake in early elections. The Homeland Salvation Movement, however, has rejected this option, insisting on the PM’s immediate resignation.
Supporters of the first president of Armenia Levon Ter Petrosian and his Armenian National Congress Party also hosted a separate rally in the capital city to commemorate victims of the March 1st crackdown. In 2008 tens of thousands of protesters opposed the election of Serge Sarkisian over Ter Petrosian on counts of electoral fraud. Domestic and international observers have recorded widespread irregularities in the election process.