Armenian leader scores political point in spat with military

International News

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan gestures while addressing his supporters during a rally in his support in the center of Yerevan, Armenia, Monday, March 1, 2021. Amid escalating political tensions in Armenia, supporters of the country’s embattled prime minister and the opposition are staging massive rival rallies in the capital of Yerevan. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has faced opposition demands to resign since he signed a peace deal in November that ended six weeks of intense fighting with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. (Hayk Baghdasaryan/PHOTOLURE via AP)

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Armenia’s prime minister scored a political point Tuesday in his spat with the top military brass, advancing his motion to fire the country’s top military officer.

A political crisis sparked by Armenia’s defeat in the conflict with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region escalated last week when the military’s General Staff demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan following his move to dismiss a top general. Pashinyan responded by firing the chief of the General Staff, Col. Gen. Onik Gasparyan.

Armenia’s largely ceremonial president, Armen Sarkissian, refused to approve the dismissal order for a second time on Tuesday. However, the president refrained from asking the country’s high court to check whether the order to fire Gasparyan conforms with the constitution, a legal caveat meaning that the dismissal would take effect automatically.

Pashinyan has faced opposition demands to resign since he signed a peace deal in November that ended six weeks of intense fighting with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The Russia-brokered agreement saw Azerbaijan reclaim control over large parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas that had been held by Armenian forces for more than a quarter-century.

Opposition protests seeking Pashinyan’s ouster abated during the winter but intensified again amid a rift between him and the country’s military leaders.

On Monday, thousands of Pashinyan’s supporters and the opposition demonstrators rallied at separate locations in the Armenian capital and then marched across the city. More rallies are planned for Wednesday.

Pashinyan, a 45-year-old former journalist who came to power after leading large street protests in 2018 that ousted his predecessor, still enjoys wide support despite the country’s defeat in Nagorno-Karabakh and the opposition calls for his resignation.

The prime minister has defended the peace deal as a painful but necessary move to prevent Azerbaijan from overrunning the entire Nagorno-Karabakh region, which lies within Azerbaijan but was under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a separatist war there ended in 1994. The fighting with Azerbaijan that erupted in late September and lasted 44 days has left more than 6,000 people dead. Russia has deployed about 2,000 peacekeepers to monitor the Nov. 10 peace deal.

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