A number of senior military officers have been sacked after a fire in a military barracks killed 15 Armenian service members and injured at least six.
Armenia’s Ministry of Defence reported that the fire started in a barracks in the village of Azat, in the Gegharhunik Province of eastern Armenia, at around 01:00 on Thursday. Two of those injured remain in critical condition.
In a cabinet meeting on Thursday, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Defence Minister Suren Papikyan said the preliminary findings of a military investigation suggested that the fire was caused by a serious violation of fire safety rules.
According to Pashinyan, an officer from the unit had used a ‘large amount of petrol’ in the woodstove used for heating the barracks, with Papikyan adding that the use of petrol in woodstoves was prohibited.
At least eight officers, including the commander of the Second Army Corps, his three deputies, and the head of the fire safety department of Armenia’s armed forces, have been fired. A criminal investigation into the incident was also launched on Thursday.
Pashinyan said that everyone responsible for the incident should be ‘harshly’ punished.
According to local residents, the barracks was an ‘ordinary house’ before 2020, with soldiers only settling there after the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War.
The Armenian government’s quick decision to sack a dozen officers was not welcomed by many in Armenia, with some accusing the government of engaging in populism and dodging responsibility.
‘Unfortunately, no political or moral responsibility exists in Armenia’ wrote Karen Harutyunyan, the editor-in-chief of the independent news agency CivilNet, suggesting that Armenia’s Minister of Defence and the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces should have resigned over the incident.
This call has been echoed in Armenian social media, but Arthur Hovhannisyan, an MP from the ruling Civil Contract Party, told journalists during a parliament briefing that suggestions that Papikyan resign were not ‘relevant’, and that it was wrong to ‘wrap everything around one person’s neck’.