The Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, accused senior military officers of attempting to stage a coup after the army called for resignation, prompting thousands of supporters to rally.
The Army’s request was made in a written statement on Thursday, in response to his handling of the country’s Azerbaijani conflict with Nagorno-Karabakh, which ended in November last year and Armenia lost Control over disputed areas and surrounding areas.
The Chief of the Army’s General Staff and other senior military officials said: “The current mismanagement by the authorities and serious errors in foreign policy put the country on the brink of collapse.”
Two former presidents, Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sarksyan, issued a statement calling on the Armenians to provide support to the military.
It is unclear whether the military is willing to use force to support its statement.
Since the 45-year-old Pashinyan signed the November 10 peace agreement with Azerbaijan, he has faced a request to resign, but this is the first time the military has publicly asked him to resign.
He told his followers to rally with the support of the capital Yerevan, where he gave a fierce speech to thousands of people condemning the general’s request.
He said: “The army cannot participate in the political process. The army should obey the people and the political power elected by the people.”
Pasinyan said that he has disbanded the chief of staff of the armed forces, but the president still has not approved this move.
Russia has traditionally been a close ally and has a military base in Armenia. Russia expressed its shock at the incident.
Interfax news agency quoted the Kremlin spokesperson as saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin called on all parties to exercise restraint in the Armenian political crisis in a phone call with Pahinhin on Thursday.
Robin Forestier-Walker of Al Jazeera reported in Tbilisi, Georgia that if the military were to seize Pahinyan’s power, it would be “unprecedented” in the Republic of Armenia.
He also said that what happens next may depend on “whether Moscow supports Pahinyan or does not intervene without participating.”
“Putin does not approve of Pashinyan because of his reformist, pro-democratic, and almost liberal qualifications. But since the war [with Azerbaijan]Pashinyan certainly showed that he is happy to do everything he can to make Russia happy. Armenia is now very dependent on Russia,” he said.
The territorial loss of Nagorno-Karabakh and its surrounding areas last year was a heavy blow to the Armenians, who fought a war with Azerbaijan in the enclave in the 1990s, killing at least 30,000 people.
The mountains are internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but are populated by Armenians. Russian peacekeepers have been deployed to the area.
Pashinyan is a former journalist. He came to power in a peaceful revolution in May 2018. He said he was responsible for everything that happened, but refused to resign, saying he needed to ensure the security of the country.
Pasinyan said: “The most important issue now is to hold power in the hands of the people, because I think this will be a military coup.”
When he came to power in a protest called the Velvet Revolution in Armenia in 2018, he established an image of being close to the people. He often wore a baseball cap and opposed official corruption.
On Thursday, as he led thousands of people across Yerevan, he used a handheld speaker to greet passers-by.
In nearby Liberty Square, more than 20,000 opposition supporters held a parallel rally, some of whom agreed to stay there until Pashenyang stepped down.
The demonstrators paralyzed the traffic around Yerevan, chanting “Nicole, you traitor!” and “Nicole, resign!”
There were sporadic street fights between the two sides, but hostile demonstrations led by Pashinyan and his enemies later in the day took place in different parts of the capital.
Call for calm
In the evening, some opposition supporters set up roadblocks on the city’s central street.
The Ministry of National Defense said in a statement that the military is not a political organization and any attempt to make it participate in politics is unacceptable.
Pasinyang called on the opposition to stop protesting and suggested talks.
The U.S. Embassy in Yerevan urged all parties in Armenia to “practice calm and restraint, and peacefully ease tension without violence.”
In Brussels, European Commission spokesperson Peter Stano also called on the opposing parties to “avoid any remarks or actions that might lead to further escalation.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stated that Turkey strongly condemns Armenia’s coup attempts and opposes all coup attempts anywhere in the world.