Gasparyan Crisis in Armenia: Is it end of the road for Pashinyan?

During the tense process experienced over the coup debates in Armenia, a new phase has been entered as of March 10, 2021 and Onik Gasparyan, the Chief of General Staff of Armenia, was officially dismissed. This means, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan achieved a partial victory during the tension triggered by protests and continued with coup debates, following Nagorno-Karabakh War. However, Gasparyan once again invited the Armenian Prime Minister to resign, stating that he is on his duty.[1] Moreover, the application of Armenian President Armen Sarkisyan to the Constitutional Court to check the constitutionality of the amendments made in the “Law on Military Service and the Status of Military Personnel” in 2018 indicates Pashinyan’s victory may not be long lasting. Because, through this application, Sarkisyan aim to check the legality of Gasparyan’s dismissal. At this point, it becomes a necessity to examine the process in detail.

The defeat of Armenia in Second Nagorno Karabakh War, between 27 September 202 and 10 November 2020, caused the outbreak of a major political crisis in the country in question. Following the defeat, a ceasefire agreement signed in Moscow let a great reaction from society and consequentially massive protests organized all around country.

Demonstrations carried by large segments of society since 20 November 2020 and they demand for the resignation of Pashinyan, who protesters blame for the defeat. Accordingly, the name of Former Prime Minister Vazgen Manukyan has started to be pronounced jointly by the masses. The opposition parties demanded for transformation, establishment of a transitional government led by Manukyan on 5 December 2020.[2] Additionally, it has been observed that the politicians whom origin relates to Nagorno Karabakh region such as Former President Robert Kocharyan and Former Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan become prominent figures and they also referred as “Karabakh Clan”. The intense reactions and political opposition to Pashinyan, shifted its focus to the coup debates with the declaration published by the Armenian General Staff on February 25, 2021.

Recalling the Pashinyan’s statement, 90% of the Iskander missiles purchased from Russia are not working, the tension in the country has increased rapidly.[3] The Armenian Deputy Chief of Staff Tiran Khachatryan harshly criticized Pashinyan, saying that it was impossible for the missiles to fail.[4] Following the incident, Pashinyan dismissed Khachatrian. This led the coup attempt.

In the final stage, Onik Gasparyan, the Chief of General Staff of Armenia, invite Pashinyan to resign on February 25, 2021 through the social media accounts of the General Staff. He called Pashinyan not to deceive and not to use force against the people. “Pashinyan administration could not take the necessary decisions” is remarkable point of aforementioned statement.[5] At this point, it can be argued that, through coup the Armenian Army wants to regain the prestige it lost due to the defeat, in the eyes of the people. However, Pashinyan called his supporters to the streets, stating that he did not think of resignation and that it was a coup attempt.[6] Consequentially, both Pashinyan supporters and opponents carried out various actions.

In this environment, the Prime Minister of Armenia signed the decree regarding Gasparyan’s dismissal and submitted it to President Sargsyan’s approval.[7] However, Sarkisyan rejected the decree in question two consecutive times. Pashinyan signed the draft third time and submitted to approval of president.  The decision entered into force by 10 March 2021, due to the law that does not permit president to reject draft for the third time. The Pashinyan Administration announced that Gasparyan was formally dismissed. Nevertheless, Sarkisyan yielded the issue to the Constitutional Court following the government’s statement.[8] On the other side, Pashinyan signed the decree that appointed Artak Davtyan as the Chief of General Staff and submitted it to Sarkisyan for approval. Although plausible option for Sarkisyan is approval of Davtyan for decrease the tension in the country, the crisis regarding Gasparyan’s dismissal reveals that the issue has grave importance to be resolved in unperturbed way. For this reason, Sargsyan is likely to reject the draft proposing Davtyan to become Chief of General Staff.  In other words, Armenia has faced an administrative crisis and the two-headed structure of governing mechanism in the country have become a significant problem. Moreover, Gasparyan stated that he is on his duty, indicates a military coup is an ongoing risk for the process.

Present developments reveal that Pashinyan faces with opposition, military and the President; yet resisting to them. Moreover, there is a possibility that the Constitutional Court will stand against Pashinyan. This can create an environment in which the Armenian Prime Minister falls into a struggle with almost all state institutions. Therefore, this possibility cause Pashinyan’s partial victory achieved with his decision to dismiss turn into a defeat.  Because a person who have tense relations with all the state institutions is not possibly maintain his duty as Armenian Prime Minister.

As a matter of fact, Pashinyan is a pro-Western leader who took over the power with Velvet Revolution. Therefore, the Prime Minister of Armenia and his supporters believe that the economic development of the country will be possible by turning to the Western World. On the other hand, the opposition argues that the economic situation is worsened by the defeat of the war. Pashinyan is responsible, foreign policy of Armenia should be shaped by geopolitical concerns and in this context, the re-implementation of the traditional policy based on establishing good relations with Russia should pursued. Names such as Manukyan, Kocharyan and Sarkisyan, who came to the fore during the protests, are also politicians known for their proximity to Russia. Moreover, the coup attempt took place following the Armenian Prime Minister’s criticism of Russian military technology. This whole picture points out that Russia wants to punish Pashinyan.

The Prime Minister of Armenia, who came to power with the Velvet Revolution, is seeking for ways to pursue his duty by using his democratic authority. In the current situation, the decision of Constitutional Court will determine the course of the process. Because, if the Constitutional Court finds Pashinyan’s decision legally appropriate, the Armenian leader will have achieved a great victory. It can eliminate the risks of a coup and a new revolution. However, if the Constitutional Court adopts an decision contrary to Pashinyan’s expectations in Gasparyan’s point, the Prime Minister of Armenia will fall into confrontation with all state institutions. This could mean the end of the road for Pashinyan. Because, this situation will make the government inoperable.

In conclusion, the social reaction that started with the defat in the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in Armenia turned into a great administrative crisis. Two-headed administration in the country obstructed the decisions of political authority. It is observed that the opposition, the Army and the President agreed to punish Pashinyan because of the defeat of the war. At the same time, these developments are interpreted as an attempt to dissolution of a Western leader in Armenia by cadres known to be close to Russia. Therefore, the end of the process may be shaped according to the decision of the Constitutional Court. The aforementioned decision may enable Pashinyan to turn into a strong leader who eliminate the risk of a coup and accordingly Armenia to turn towards the West in a much more determined manner. Else it may leave the Armenian Prime Minister with no option other than resignation.


[1] “@elnurismajil: Paşinyan, Genelkurmay Başkanlığı Görevine Yeni Bir Aday Önerirken; Onik Gasparyan Yeniden Paşinyan’ın İstifasını ve Erken Parlamento Seçimleri Talep Etti. Ermenistan İçin Olumsuz Sonuca Götürecek Kriz Devam Ediyor.”, Twitter, https://twitter.com/elnurismajil/status/1369607227112357889, (Date of Accession: 10.03.2021).

[2] “Armenia’s Opposition Names Vazgen Manukyan as Its Candidate for Prime Minister”, Civil, https://www.civilnet.am/news/2020/12/03/Armenia%E2%80%99s-opposition-names-Vazgen-Manukyan-as-its-candidate-for-prime-minister/411521, (Date of Accession: 10.03.2021).

[3] “Пашинян Заявил Оo Низкой Эффективности Ракетных Комплексов «Искандер» (Pashinyan Zayavil o Nizkoy Effektivnosti Raketnykh Kompleksov «Iskander»)”, Komersant.ru, https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/4703373, (Date of Accession: 10.03.2021).

[4] “Товарищ генерал, вы уволены: замначальника Генштаба Армении отправили в отставку за то, что он опроверг ложь Пашиняна (Tavariş general vı uvelenı: zamnaçalnika genştaba Armenii otpravili v otctavku zat o şto on oproverg loj Paşinyana)”, KP, https://www.kp.ru/daily/27244/4372709/, (Date of Accession: 10.03.2021).

[5] “Karabağ Darbesi”, Yeni Şafak, https://www.yenisafak.com/dunya/karabag-darbesi-ermenistanda-darbe-mi-oldu-ermenistanda-neler-oluyor-3601059, (Date of Accession: 10.03.2021).

[6] Aynı yer.

[7] “Ermenistan Başbakanı Paşinyan: Genelkurmay Başkanı Gasparyan Görevden Alındı”, Euronews, https://tr.euronews.com/2021/03/10/ermenistan-basbakan-pasinyan-genelkurmay-baskan-gasparyan-gorevden-al-nd, (Erişim Tarihi: 10.03.2021).

[8] “Конституционный суд получил обращение Армена Саркисяна (Quod deferendum sit appellationi a Constitucionum Court accepit Armen Sargsyan)”, Armenia Sputnik, https://ru.armeniasputnik.am/politics/20210310/26747923/Konstitutsionnyy-sud-poluchil-obraschenie-Armena-Sarkisyana.html, (Date of Accession: 10.03.2021).

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Doğacan BAŞARAN
Doğacan BAŞARAN
ANKASAM Uluslararası İlişkiler Uzmanı

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