Protests rock Armenia as PM slams ‘coup’ attempt

Nikol Pashinyan is under mounting pressure to quit over his handling of the Nagorno-Karabakh war, but his supporters have come out in force.

Pashinyan has faced opposition calls to step down ever since he signed a November 10 Russian-brokered peace deal that saw Azerbaijan reclaim control over large parts of Nagorno-Karabakh [Stepan Poghosyan/Photolure via Reuters]

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan accused top military officers of attempting a coup after they demanded that he step down, adding fuel to months-long protests calling for his resignation.

Anti-government sentiment swelled last November, after the conflict with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region ended, and gathered pace again this week. The conflict saw thousands killed on both sides and swathes of territory in and around the mountainous region ceded to Azerbaijan.

With pressure on Pashinyan mounting as protesters decry his handling of that war, the military on Thursday issued a statement calling for his resignation.

Pashinyan responded by firing Onik Gasparyan, the head of the army’s General Staff.

He then took to the streets of the capital, Yerevan, in a bid to rally supporters behind him – a move that worked, with thousands coming out to back him.

But throngs of opposition demonstrators also came out to protest in the city, chanting “Nikol, you traitor!” and “Nikol, resign!” while blocking streets and paralysing traffic around the capital.

This blog has now closed. These were Thursday’s updates:

Defence ministry says ‘unacceptable’ to involve army in politics

Armenia’s defence ministry issues a statement saying that the army is not a political structure and that any attempts to involve it in politics are inadmissible.

“The army is not a political institution and attempts to involve it in political processes are unacceptable,” the ministry said. “Each such attempt is a threat to the stability and security of the Armenian Republic.”

Pashinyan has repeatedly rejected calls to step down despite opposition protests [File: Artem Mikryukov/Reuters]

Armenia in ‘unprecedented crisis’

Richard Giragosian, director of the Yerevan-based Regional Studies Center think-tank, says there is “an unprecedented new danger and risk of a potential military coup” in Armenia.

“We are approaching an unprecedented crisis that’s threatening the integrity of normally stable civil-military relations,” Giragosian told France 24.

“And what we see is the prime minister [Pashinyan] may overreact; he’s calling supporters to gather in the streets with the real risk of deadly confrontation.”

Pashinyan: From street protester to embattled Armenian PM

Pashinyan is facing the greatest challenge to his leadership since his rise to power amid a wave of anti-government demonstrations in 2018.

Find out more about the 45-year-old’s political career to date here.

Azeri leader issues warning over Nagorno-Karabakh

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev warns Armenia against “revanchist thoughts” following the conclusion of last year’s Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

“The war [in Nagorno-Karabakh] is over,” Russian state news agency RIA Novosti quoted Aliyev as saying.

“If someone lives with revanchist thoughts, he will see this fist, it is in place, and our patience should not be tested,” he said. “We will never again allow any threat to us or our citizens who will return to the liberated lands.”

Pashinyan tells the army to do its job

Addressing his supporters at a rally in Yerevan, Pashinyan says that Armenians will not allow a military coup to take place and tells the army to do its job and defend the country.

Pashinyan said the question of his resignation could only be decided by the people because he was elected by the people.

Pashinyan swept to power in May 2018 amid a wave of anti-government street protests [Stepan Poghosyan/Photolure via Reuters]

Armenian president taking ‘urgent measures’ to defuse crisis

Armenia’s President Armen Sarkisian says he is taking urgent steps to end the political crisis.

“Reaffirming the role of the presidency as a balancing body, I am taking urgent measures to defuse tensions and find ways to resolve the situation peacefully,” Sarkisian said in a statement.

He also called on “everyone – state bodies, law enforcement agencies, political forces, all citizens – to show restraint and common sense”.

“Every ill-considered word or action increases tensions and deepens the crisis,” Sarkisian said.

The president’s role in Armenia is largely symbolic.

‘His tenure does hang in the balance’

Al Jazeera’s Robin Forestier-Walker, who has extensively covered the conflict over the years, provides some context to the situation here:

Former president calls for Pashinyan to go

Adding to the pressure on Pashinyan, former Armenian President Robert Kocharyan says the prime minister “must go” as he called on Armenians to “stand by” the country’s armed forces.

“The authorities who have lost the war and surrendered the land must go,” Kocharyan wrote in a statement posted on Facebook. “This is the prime necessity for our national rebirth.”

Turkey strongly condemns ‘coup’: FM

Turkey’s foreign minister condemns what he calls a coup attempt against Pashinyan and says it is unacceptable for the military to call for the resignation of a democratically elected leader.

“We are against any coup d’etat or coup attempt, no matter where it takes place in the world. We strongly condemn the coup attempt in Armenia,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a news conference in Budapest.

Turkey strongly supported Azerbaijan in the recent Nagorno-Karabakh war.

Russia calls for a peaceful resolution

Russia says it is concerned by the growing political tensions in Armenia, where it has a military base.

Speaking to reporters on a conference call, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called on the military and Pashinyan’s government to resolve their differences peacefully and within the framework of the constitution.

Armenia is a close Russian ally.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies