Armenian President Declines To Sign Order Dismissing Army Chief

Armenian President Armen Sarkisian

YEREVAN -- Armenian President Armen Sarkisian has refused to sign off on the dismissal of the head of the country’s general staff whose firing by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on February 25 prompted a political crisis.

According to a February 27 statement posted on Sarkisian’s website, the president considered the firing of General Onik Gasparian unconstitutional.

The president’s move gave Pashinian five days during which to resubmit the dismissal order. However, Pashinian announced immediately that he had already sent it back to the president.

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Pashinian wrote on Facebook that Sarkisian’s decision “is by no means conducive to the resolution of the situation.”

Sarkisian now has three days to either sign the order or submit it to the Constitutional Court for review.

In his statement, Sarkisian stressed that he was not supporting either side in the dispute over Gasparian’s firing and that “the armed forces should maintain political neutrality.”

At an opposition rally in Yerevan, former Prime Minister Vazgen Manukian, who has been put forward as a replacement for Pashinian, said with the decision, “the president has proved that he stands by the army.”

“I hope we will see statements from the police and the national security service that they too have sided with the army,” he added.

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Pashinian has said he fired Gasparian after what he called an attempted coup aimed at removing him. Gasparian and other top military officials had issued an open letter calling for the resignations of Pashinian and his cabinet over their handling of a six-week conflict between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces over the Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh last year.

Pashinian, whose My Step alliance holds a majority in parliament, has rejected opposition demands for early elections.