‘Unexploded’ Russian missiles in Artsakh cause political explosion in Armenia

The Iskander-E operational-tactical missile system (Photo: Russian Ministry of Defense, February 25, 2021)

Words have meanings and consequences as PM Nikol Pashinyan found out when he told a journalist last week that the powerful Russian Iskander missiles, supposedly fired by Armenia during the Artsakh War last November, “did not explode or exploded 10-percent.” This surprising statement was in response to an interview by former President Serge Sarkisyan in which he asked why Pashinyan had not ordered the use of the Iskander missiles during the early part of the Artsakh War.

Several days after the Prime Minister’s highly controversial statement, his spokesperson announced that Pashinyan “was not briefed correctly regarding the Russian missiles.” But it was too late. The damage was done.

No one could have predicted the chain of unexpected events that followed Pashinyan’s words questioning the merits of the Iskander missiles that Russia had exported exclusively to Armenia. A large number of Russian military experts and political leaders reacted very harshly to Pashinyan’s statement viewing it as disparaging of the prized missiles of Russia and the prestige of its defense industry.

However, the reaction within Armenia was no less devastating. When First Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces Tiran Khachatryan, a Lieutenant General, was asked to comment on Pashinyan’s statement about the Iskander missiles not exploding, he responded with a chuckle that it was not possible and not serious.

Upon hearing of this slight, Prime Minister Pashinyan immediately ordered the firing of the Deputy General Staff. His dismissal was endorsed by Pres. Armen Sarkissian, according to the process outlined in the constitution. The Prime Minister had surely overreacted to Khachatryan’s snub, particularly since Pashinyan himself had appointed him in June 2020 and awarded him the prestigious “National Hero” medal for his outstanding role during the Artsakh War.

In retaliation, dozens of top Armenian military leaders released a joint statement on Feb. 25, 2021, demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister and his government. The statement was signed by Onik Gasparyan, Chief of the General Staff and 40 other high-ranking military officers, including 17 generals and commanders of all five Army Corps. Later, several other military and police officials added their signatures.

The military’s statement expressed its “resolute protest” against the “short-sighted and baseless” dismissal of the First Deputy Chief of the General Staff “without taking into account the national and state interests of the Republic of Armenia, solely based on personal and pretentious sentiments.” The statement added that “in such difficult conditions for the country, such a decision is an anti-state and irresponsible step. The Prime Minister and his government are no longer able to make adequate decisions in this critical and fateful situation for the Armenian people. The Armed Forces, for a long time, patiently tolerated the ‘attacks’ by the incumbent authorities to discredit the Armed Forces, but everything has its limits…. The current authorities’ unproductive governing and the most serious errors exhibited in foreign policy have brought the country to the brink of collapse. Based on the created situation, the Armed Forces demand the resignation of the Prime Minister and the government….”

Pashinyan immediately announced on his Facebook page the firing of the Chief of the General Staff. The Prime Minister called the military’s statement “an attempted military coup,” urging his supporters to gather at the Republic Square where he joined them and marched in Yerevan streets holding a megaphone. This was a highly irresponsible act on the part of Pashinyan, venturing to the streets during what he described as an attempted military coup, which could have led to tragic consequences for the country had anyone harmed him.

After Pashinyan ordered the firing of Onik Gasparyan, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, Pres. Sarkissian, having consulted all sides of the political spectrum, refused to sign the Prime Minister’s order, calling it unconstitutional. The Prime Minister then submitted a second dismissal request to the President. Should the President refuse to sign the order for a second time, then the issue will be submitted to the constitutional court for its final decision. It is curious as to why the President endorsed the Prime Minister’s earlier order to sack the First Deputy of the General Staff but refused to sign the order to dismiss the Chief of the General Staff. After all, the First Deputy Chief of the General Staff’s wrongdoing was simply chuckling at the Prime Minister’s statement about the Russian missiles, whereas his boss, the Chief of the General Staff, demanded the Prime Minister’s resignation.

In the meantime, the Armenian military took no further steps beyond its call for the resignation of the Prime Minister which the Prime Minister wrongly described as an attempted coup. However, the statement could be viewed as interference in political affairs which violates the constitution. It is clear that the military’s intent is having the Prime Minister resign without taking any military actions.

Turning to the unconstitutionality of the military’s statement, there are counterpoints to this argument. The military stated that they could no longer remain quiet while the country is on the brink of collapse. The national interest of Armenia has to be of paramount importance. After all, the military is the guardian of the nation’s security. Furthermore, Pashinyan and his supporters cannot all of a sudden claim to be defenders of the constitution, when they have been violating many of its provisions in the past three years. The Prime Minister has repeatedly pressured the courts and has stacked the Constitutional Court with his allies to get verdicts desired by the government. Pashinyan and his supporters similarly pressured Pres. Sarkissian to sign the Prime Minister’s order. Ironically, the democratic principles endorsed by Pashinyan when coming to power have dissipated, turning the country into a one-man rule—a dictatorship. Given the Prime Minister’s partisans’ overwhelming majority in Parliament, other voices have been mostly muzzled. All suggestions to form a government of competent experts have been ignored, leaving Pashinyan with a mediocre and incompetent cadre of officials and advisors.

Pashinyan’s only important attribute is that he is not corrupt — which is very positive, but that alone is not enough to lead the state through such turbulent waters. After all, Armenians are not looking for a saint, but a competent leader who can solve the country’s complex problems.

Furthermore, Pashinyan and his followers did not always practice what they are preaching now. Back in 2018, when there were widespread street protests by Pashinyan and his supporters, a large number of Armenian soldiers illegally left their barracks and marched with the demonstrators. Even though this was a violation of military rules and interference in politics, Pashinyan did not take any action against these soldiers. A similar situation occurred in 1998, when Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsyan forced then President Levon Ter-Petrosyan to resign. No one complained that it was unconstitutional.

Shortly after this new crisis in Armenia, leaders in Azerbaijan and Turkey issued self-serving statements on the situation in Armenia. In my opinion, both of these countries, led by dictators, are in no position to comment on developments in Armenia, let alone give Armenians lectures about democracy. They should look at themselves in the mirror and keep their mouths shut.

Having suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of our enemies in the Artsakh War, Armenians cannot afford now to attack each other. We need to place the national interest above all else. Having lost most of Artsakh and thousands of soldiers, let’s not risk losing Armenia itself.

Pashinyan, the leader of the ‘Velvet Revolution,’ should not have told his followers last week that there will be no more ‘velvet’ which could be interpreted as a threat to anyone who disagrees with him. Should the military also adopt a no velvet approach, the outcome would be tragic for the entire Armenian nation. The best solution would be for the Prime Minister, having lost territories and thousands of soldiers, to resign by his own volition without facing any threats or protests. Otherwise, having demanded Pashinyan’s resignation, the military leaders may carry out their demand by force, to ensure that they themselves are not arrested. Such a group arrest would deprive Armenia of its entire military leadership. Months from now, under calmer conditions, new parliamentary elections should take place with a clean slate, hopefully excluding Pashinyan and the other former leaders. The people have the right to decide by a majority vote who their new leader should be.

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Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated to Armenia and Artsakh $917 million of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, since 1989 (including its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He has been decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

3 Comments

  1. Without doubt Pashinyan needs to be removed. He is incompetent and is causing great harm to Armenia. He IS THE LOSER of Artsakh. It IS his fault and responsibility. The idea by some that this is “ALL OUR FAULTS” is nonsense. Its like blaming the passenger for an incompetent drivers accident. The idea that he will somehow fix the course is folly. He is useless to crush the enemy without so he goes after the “enemy” within. He hates being criticized whether just or unjust. He is neither politically, economically or militarily savvy and thin skinned to boot. A dangerous scenario to be at the helm another day making decisions for the entire Armenian Nation. He needs to be removed.

    As for the Iskander, there was a recent article stating that Armenia did launch a rocket at Azerbaijan towards the end of the war to make Azerbaijan agree to a cease fire. But according to the article the Israeli made air defense system, really an American paid for and designed system sold by Israel to Azerbaijan, supposedly shot it down. Whether true or not is yet unclear. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Russian made rocket isn’t all that its cracked up to be as it was touted that there is ‘no defense and against an Iskander’.

    Either way Pashinyan is sinking Armenia deeper into disarray and yet seems to pretend its not his fault and everyone should just “let him do his job”. He needs to be removed.

  2. Nothing from anyone makes any sense and hasn’t from day one. The incompetent leaders of Armenia are not even good at lying, having been trained to be “expert” liars. That is the reason I am convinced that this whole thing was a long-time plan involving the traitors of Armenia installed by Russia acting as “leaders”, Russia itself and the two Turk nations.

    I am also disturbed, though not surprised, at the attitude of our diaspora, having lost so much yet remaining silent sitting next to a pink elephant in the room. I think the shock of this betrayal has not even played out yet.

    I said this before and I will repeat forever: if this was a real ‘war’ the sovereignty of Armenia itself would never have been on the chopping block. When convenient, Artsakh if a free independent country, when convenient, Artsakh’s problem is Armenia’s problem. It does not work that way, except we do not have our own leaders leading our nation to get any problems solved. What we have is a bunch of uneducated simpletons trying to play “we are the government”.

    There is a very telling article I recommend you all read which was published at Novaya Gazeta in Russian. The title is actually quite telling just by itself: “Long-term loyalty to Russia cost Armenia dearly”.

    A couple key takeaways:
    -When Armenia was coerced into abandoning Europe’s economic integration and instead join Russia’s Poverty Club called the “EEU”, Armenia requested Artsakh be included in the EEU, and Russia told them “Artsakh is not recognized by the international community… TWO MONTHS AFTER ATTACKING AND ANNEXING CRIMEA”.

    -Armenia was trying to recover from the Artsakh war and the devastation caused by the First Thief of Armenia (Levon Ter Petrosian) and thus got loans from Russia which in the early 2000 was $100 million and costing $18 million per year to service. At the same time, Russia wrote off loans totaling **$30 BILLION** to a host of far away nations not intimately connected to its security: Tanzania, Iraq, Laos, Benin, Guinea, Viet Nam, Ethiopia, etc were all FORGIVEN, and meanwhile “ally” Armenia hosts a Russian base on Armenia’s expense, while getting usurious loans which Armenia could have gotten much cheaper from western countries.

    Yeah some “ally”.

    To read the article, I suggest getting the Russian version and copy-paste part by part in any translate app. The article…

    https://novayagazeta.ru/articles/2020/12/18/88427-starshiy-brat-s-bolshoy-dorogi?fbclid=IwAR16oqHlcLcZHq4hxeGG63VDTmMbGU4dUCTS5EcF8amtwmG0AAr-dZ0KBag

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