Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian says that Lieutenant-General Artak Davtian has become Chief of the General Staff of the Armenian Armed Forces “by virtue of law.”
Pashinian, who nominated Davtian as the new army chief earlier this month amid a standoff with the armed forces’ General Staff and its chief, Onik Gasparian, made the announcement on Facebook on March 22.
President Armen Sarkisian has repeatedly refused to accept Pashinian’s proposal to appoint Davtian as the new chief of staff for the armed forces as the country’s ongoing political deadlock continues.
“Given that the president has not signed the appointment order drafted by the prime minister and has not appealed to the Constitutional Court, Artak Davtian is deemed to be appointed chief of the Armed Forces General Staff by virtue of law,” Pashinian wrote on March 22.
Gasparian was dismissed shortly after he and four dozen other high-ranking officers demanded in a joint statement issued on February 25 that Pashinian and his cabinet step down.
Gasparian and other generals and senior officers had accused Pashinian of pushing Armenia to “the brink of collapse” after last year’s war in Nagorno-Karabakh and called for his resignation. This prompted the prime minister to dismiss Gasparian and accuse the officers of a coup attempt.
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. This came 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.
The Armenian Army’s General Staff has said that early elections are the only way out of the ongoing political crisis in the South Caucasus nation.
The move triggered the ongoing stand-off 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.
Pashinian has defended the November cease-fire 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 he has refused to resign as prime minister.
Artur Hovannisian, a lawyer for Gasparan, who has challenged the legality of his dismissal in court, said on March 22 that his client would file a complaint against Davtian’s appointment.
“Relevant statements on this crime will be sent to authorized bodies,” Hovannisian told the Armenian website Aysor.