YEREVAN — Armenian President Armen Sarkisian has refused to accept Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s proposal to appoint Artak Davtian as the new chief of staff for the armed forces as the country’s ongoing political stand-off continues.
Sarkisian’s press service announced the president’s decision on March 11, a day after Pashinian announced the departure of Onik Gasparian, saying that the general’s controversial removal was automatic because Sarkisian did not lodge an appeal against the dismissal decree with the Constitutional Court as prescribed by law.
Pashinian’s decision to sack Gasparian from the post of chief of general staff had been rejected by both Sarkisian and the Armenian army’s general staff, which has said that early elections are the only way out of the ongoing political crisis in the South Caucasus nation.
The armed forces have also repeatedly demanded that Pashinian step down, a move he has characterized as an attempted military coup.
At the heart of the turmoil is a Russian-brokered deal Pashinian signed in November that brought an end to fighting over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh at a heavy cost for the Armenian side, which suffered territorial and battlefield losses from Azerbaijan’s Turkish-backed military.
The deal saw Armenia cede control over parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and all seven surrounding districts that had been occupied by Armenian forces since the early 1990s, prompting protests from the opposition and parts of the military.
In light of what they perceived as a national humiliation, Gasparian and other top brass on February 25 called for the departure of Pashinian.
The move triggered the ongoing standoff between the government and the opposition, backed by top military officers. Sarkisian has called for talks to ease tensions even though he added to them with his repeated refusal to endorse Gasparian’s dismissal.
Both opposition supporters and Pashinian’s backers have been holding rallies in the capital since the crisis broke out.
Opposition demonstrators who have surrounded the government building since March 9, at times scuffling with police, blocked access to the parliament building on March 10.
Pashinian has defended the November deal saying it was the only way to prevent the Azerbaijani military from overrunning the entire Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Russia has deployed about 2,000 peacekeepers to monitor the peace agreement.
Pashinian, whose My Step faction dominates parliament, has offered to hold snap parliamentary elections later this year but the prime minister has refused to resign.
Sarkisian has called on Pashinian and opposition leaders to hold talks on March 13.