YEREVAN (Azatutyun.am)—President Armen Sarkissian refused on Thursday to appoint a new chief of the Armenian army’s General Staff nominated by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
In a short statement announcing the decision, Sarkissian’s office did not specify his “objections” to Pashinyan’s pick for the top military post: Lieutenant-General Artak Davtyan.
Davtyan already headed the General Staff from May 2018 to June 2020. Pashinyan moved to reappoint him on Wednesday after completing the sacking of the previous army commander, Colonel-General Onik Gasparyan, who has demanded, along with 40 other high-ranking officers, the Armenian government’s resignation.
Gasparyan condemned his removal as “unconstitutional” and said he will challenge it in court. The army top brass voiced support for the general.
Pashinyan was quick to dismiss Sarkissian’s objections and insist on Davtian’s appointment.
In a statement issued later on Thursday, Sarkissian’s office said he decided not to file such an appeal, meaning that Davtian will automatically replace Gasparyan later this week despite the president’s second refusal to sign a relevant decree drafted by the prime minister.
Sarkissian pointedly declined to appeal to the court after similarly refusing to sign a decree relieving Gasparyan of his duties. His stance, strongly condemned by the Armenian opposition, paved the way for the general’s sacking.
The Armenian Defense Ministry announced on Wednesday that one of Gasparyan’s deputies, Lieutenant-General Stepan Galstyan, will perform the duties of the General Staff chief pending the appointment of a new army commander.
Galstian was among the senior officers who signed the February 25 statement accusing Pashinyan and his cabinet of misrule and demanding their resignation. The premier condemned the statement as a coup attempt. But opposition groups trying to oust him with street protests welcomed it.
The military’s unprecedented statement came the day after the first deputy chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant-General Tiran Khachatryan, was controversially fired in a presidential decree initiated by Pashinyan.
Khachatryan lost his job just hours after a pro-opposition media outlet quoted him as laughing off Pashinyan’s claim that the Armenian army’s most advanced Russian-made missiles seriously malfunctioned during last year’s war in Nagorno-Karabakh. Khachatryan asked Armenia’s Administrative Court last week to invalidate the decree and reinstate him.
Pashinyan’s claim about the Iskander missile systems provoked a storm of criticism from Russian pro-government lawmakers and pundits. Russia’s Defense Ministry said it was “bewildered and surprised” by the remarks.
Pashinyan effectively retracted them on March 1, saying through a spokeswoman that he was misled by other Armenian officials.