Armenian President Armen Sarkissian has refused to sign a prime ministerial order to dismiss the army’s chief of staff, deepening a national political crisis.
The country has faced turmoil since Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan signed a Russian-brokered peace accord in November, sealing a humiliating defeat to Azerbaijan after six weeks of fierce fighting over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Divisions widened on Thursday when Pashinyan defied a call by the military to resign, accusing it of an attempted coup and ordering the chief of the general staff, Onik Gasparyan, to be fired.
On Saturday, Sarkissian said in a statement he would not back the sacking.
“The president of the republic, within the framework of his constitutional powers, returned the draft decree with objections,” the presidency said.
It added the political crisis “cannot be resolved through frequent personnel changes”.
President of #Armenia refuses to sign PM decree to sack the Chief of the General Staff calling the move unconstitutional
ArmPM is sending back to the President the decree w/ his reservations.Says President’s refusal to sign the decree is not conducive to the rsltn of the impasse
— Lena Zaqaryan (@LenaZaqaryan) February 27, 2021
For his part, Pashinyan said he will again send a demand for Gasparyan’s resignation.
“This decision does not contribute to resolving the situation at all,” he said in a Facebook post. “I am again sending the petition to dismiss the head of the General Staff to the President of the Republic, expecting that it will be signed in accordance with the established procedure.”
Pashinyan has been facing growing calls to quit his own position.
Earlier in the day, 5,000 opposition protesters waving Armenian flags and calling for Pashinyan’s resignation gathered for the third day running outside the Parliament in the capital, Yerevan.
Some protesters have now set up camp there.
“Today Pashinyan has no support. I call on the security services and the police to join the army, to support the army,” said Vazgen Manukyan, a former prime minister who has been named by the opposition to replace Pashinyan.
“I am sure that the situation will be resolved within two to three days,” he told the crowd.
Al Jazeera’s Robin Forestier-Walker, reporting from Yerevan, said the presidency’s move was “definitely a sign that support from the political institutions in Armenia is waning for Pashinyan”.
Pashinyan has faced fierce criticism since he signed the Nagorno-Karabakh deal, which was seen as a national humiliation for many in Armenia. The prime minister said at the time he had no choice but to agree to sign the “unspeakably painful” deal or see his country’s forces suffer even bigger losses.