Army Chief Onik Gasparyan

Uncertainty Persists Over Armenian Army Chief

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YEREVAN (RFE/RL, Panorama) — The status of Armenia’s top general remained uncertain on Tuesday, March 9,  nearly two weeks after Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan decided to fire him in response to demands for the government’s resignation voiced by the military’s top brass.

General Onik Gasparyan, the chief of the Armenian army’s General Staff, and 40 other high-ranking officers demanded that Pashinyan and his cabinet step down in a joint statement issued on February 25. They accused the government of putting Armenia “on the brink of collapse” after last year’s war in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Pashinyan rejected the demand as a coup attempt and petitioned President Armen Sarkissian to sign a decree relieving Gasparyan of his duties.

Sarkissian refused to sign such a decree on February 27, saying that it appears to be unconstitutional and would deepen the “unprecedented” political crisis in the country. Pashinyan criticized the refusal as “unfounded” and resent his motion to Sarkissian in another attempt to get him to fire Gasparyan.

Sarkissian again refused to sign the decree drafted by the prime minister’s office. But he made it clear that he will not ask the Constitutional Court to invalidate it, effectively paving the way for Gasparyan’s removal.

Under Armenian law, the president can keep blocking the prime minister’s decisions only by appealing to the court.

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A spokesperson for the Constitutional Court said that it had received no appeals from Sarkissian as of Tuesday afternoon.

Sarkissian made no public statements on the issue despite strong pressure from opposition leaders and other critics of Pashinyan’s administration, who have backed the military’s demands. But he did sent a written answer to one of those critics, Ara Zohrabyan, who heads the national bar association.

In his letter publicized by Zohrabyan, the head of state indicated that it is now up to Pashinyan to decide General Gasparyan’s future and face legal and political consequences of that decision.

Zohrabyan condemned Sarkissian’s “inactivity” when he and a group of his supporters gathered outside the presidential palace in Yerevan earlier in the day. He suggested that the president is facing strong pressure from Pashinyan.

Sarkissian has chosen the “path of adventure” by failing to ask the Constitutional Court to determine the legality of the dismissal of Gasparyan, Zohrabyan said on Tuesday.

“We have just received a response from the presidential office. Unfortunately, the president has taken the path of adventure,” he wrote on Facebook.

A close Pashinyan associate, deputy parliament speaker Alen Simonyan, stated, meanwhile, Sarkissian has missed a legal deadline for challenging the legality of Gasparyan’s sacking. The general has therefore ceased to be the chief of the General Staff, Simonian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.

“As a citizen and a lawyer, I and my colleagues will start exposing the president’s fears starting from tomorrow,” Zohrabyan added.

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