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Armenian PM tells army to obey people as thousands rally in his support in Yerevan

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan (C) greets his supporters as he arrives at the main square in Yerevan, on February 25, 2021. (Photo by AP)

Thousands of people in the Armenian capital have filled the streets to voice their support for Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan who said the military had staged an attempted coup against him, telling generals that they must obey people and steer clear of politics.

Pashinyan announced in a statement Thursday that the army had demanded he and his government step down, calling on his supporters to hold a rally in central Yerevan, to foil the attempt.

“The most important problem now is to keep the power in the hands of the people, because I consider what is happening to be a military coup,” he said.

After the statement, the premier, 45, appeared with his wife, son, and daughter outside the main government building, where several thousands of his supporters had responded to his call and convened in the center of the capital.

“The danger of the coup is manageable. We don’t have enemies inside Armenia. We have only brothers and sisters,” Pashinyan, a former journalist, told the demonstrators.

Pashinyan: Army must do its job, obey people

Pashinyan called on the army to fulfil its duty and obey the people and elected officials.

Addressing the rally he said, "As an elected prime minister, I am ordering all generals, officers and soldiers: do your job of protecting the country's borders and territorial integrity," adding that the army "must obey the people and elected authorities."

Noting that Armenians would not allow a military coup to take place, Pashinyan said the question of his resignation could only be decided by the people, because he was elected by the people.

Armenian Defense Ministry also issued a statement saying that the country's army is not a political structure and any attempts to involve it in politics were inadmissible.

"The army is not a political institution and attempts to involve it in political processes are unacceptable. Each such attempt is a threat to the stability and security of the Armenian Republic," the Defense Ministry added.

During the past several months, the Armenian prime minister has been under immense pressure to step down over what the opposition and protesters describe as his mishandling of the 2020 conflict with Azerbaijan. Till now, Pashinyan has resisted mounting pressure to resign. 

He approved a Russia-brokered deal to end Yerevan’s conflict with Baku over the Karabakh region, committing himself to the withdrawal of all Armenian forces from the occupied Azerbaijani territories.

Pashinyan also agreed to cede swathes of territory in and around Karabakh to end fighting, in a move that has outraged Armenians who consider the deal as a “concession of defeat".

Earlier on Thursday, the army added its voice to those calling for him to step down.

“The ineffective management of the current authorities and the serious mistakes in foreign policy have put the country on the brink of collapse,” the army said in a statement.

It lambasted Pashinyan for sacking the first deputy head of the army’s general staff, a move it slammed as irresponsible, groundless and detrimental to the state.

The premier earlier said he had dismissed the head of the general staff of the armed forces, but the decision needs to be approved by the president. He also said a replacement would be announced later and that the crisis would be resolved constitutionally.

It is yet unclear whether the military is willing to use force to support its statement, in which it called for Pashinyan to step down.

Former presidents Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sarksyan called on Armenians to throw their support behind the military against the incumbent premier.

Additionally, several thousands of anti-government demonstrators, cheering and clapping, held a rival protest on a different square in Yerevan.

Iran spokesman: We are monitoring developments in Armenia

Later on Thursday, the spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry told reporters that Tehran is closely monitoring the ongoing developments in Armenia.

Saeed Khatibzadeh called on all sides to the political crisis in Armenia to show self-restraint and avoid violence.

Turkey slams attempted coup against Pashinyan

In a statement on Thursday, Ankara “strongly condemned” what it described as an attempted coup in neighboring Armenia.

“We strongly condemn the attempted coup in Armenia. We are absolutely against coups and coup attempts anywhere in the world,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a news conference in Budapest, Hungary.

The top Turkish diplomat also warned that coup attempts threatened to destabilize the whole Caucasus region, “Therefore, we are against it.”

“In democracies, people could criticize the government and demand its resignation. This is natural. But the army's call on the government to resign, let alone stage a coup, is unacceptable," Cavusoglu went on to say.

Russia expresses 'concern'

Separately on Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow was concerned over what was going on in Armenia, calling for calm.

"We are watching the development of the situation in Armenia with concern. Naturally, we call for calm,” he said.

The spokesman added that Russian President Vladimir Putin has also called Armenian prime minister, discussing the crisis in the Caucasian country and calling for restraint from all sides.

In a related development, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told his Armenian counterpart Ara Ayvazyan by telephone that Moscow considered the crisis a domestic matter for Armenia, expressing hope that it would be settled peacefully.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavorv also talked to his Armenian counterpart, Ara Ayvazyan, through a phone call on Thursday.

Lavrov expressed hope for a peaceful settlement of the political crisis and resolution of disagreements between the government and the military.

"The Russian side stressed that we see the situation as Armenia's domestic issue and hope it will be settled peacefully," the Russia's Foreign Ministry reported.

During the phone call, Ayvazyan briefed Lavrov on the latest developments, the ministry said.

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