Pashinyan began the Monday evening rally, tens of thousands strong, by apologising for the ‘all of the mistakes’ he said he and his government had made ‘over the last 10 months’.
The Prime Minister made a new request to the opposition to agree to snap elections. ‘I’m challenging the parliamentary opposition, let's go to the extraordinary parliamentary elections, and I ask you [the people] to support this call, do not be afraid, support this call’, he told the gathered crowd.
This is an apparent about-face, as in recent weeks Pashinyan and his allies had appeared to oppose new elections stating that they were not ‘demanded by society’. Notably, Pashinyan appealed to the ‘parliamentary opposition’, which only includes the factions led by the Bright Armenia party and the Prosperous Armenia party — the current opposition protests, on the other hand, while they include the Prosperous Armenia party, are led by the non-parliamentary opposition.
Bright Armenia party head Edmon Marukyan agreed to Pashinyan’s proposal for snap elections, but only on the condition that he withdraw his order to remove Gasparyan as Chief of the General Staff.
[Read more on OC Media: Political crisis in Armenia continues]
At the rally, Pashinyan also defended his decision to fire the Chief of the Army’s General Staff Onik Gaspayan, calling him a ‘traitor’ and accusing him of carrying out the orders of Serzh Sargsyan, Armenia’s former President who was deposed during the 2018 revolution. Onik Gaspayan, along with the other members of the General Staff had signed a statement calling for Pashinyan’s resignation on 25 February, a move which Pashinyan dubbed ‘an attempted coup’.
Facing down the President
At present, Gasparyan still remains in his position as Chief of the General Staff as Armenian President Armen Sarkissian has refused to sign the Prime Minister’s order to remove him, stating that the decree ‘Prima Facie contradicts the Constitution’. Pashinyan met with Sarkissian on Monday, to discuss the issue, but appears not to have swayed the President’s opinion on the matter.
According to Armenian law, Sarkissian must sign Pashinyan’s order within three days or pass it on to the Constitutional court, which will decide whether the decree is constitutional. Sarkissian has stated that he would express his decision by 3 March.
In a surprise turn, Pashinyan also announced that he is proposing to hold a constitutional referendum this autumn, to revert the country from a parliamentary to semi-presidential republic, though he did not explain his reasons for seeking the change.
After delivering his speech, Pashinyan led the gathered crowd on a march through the streets of Yerevan to commemorate the victims of a post-election government crackdown on 1 March, 2008 that left ten people dead.
While Pashinyan was speaking at Republic Square, several kilometres away, near the Armenian parliament the opposition Homeland Salvation Movement rallied its own supporters.
Ishkhan Saghatelyan, a member of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) and the coordinator of the Homeland Salvation Movement, continued to demand Pashinyan’s resignation and stated that the opposition would continue acts of civil disobedience, including holding a rally on Wednesday.
‘Truth was restored’
The diplomatic row between Russia and Armenia kicked off by Pashinyan’s criticism that ‘only 10%’ of the Russian-made Iskander missiles used by Armenian forces in the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War ‘exploded’, seems to have come to an end.
After Russia’s Ministry of Defence released a statement disputing Pashinyan’s criticism and claiming that no Iskander missiles were used during the conflict, Pashinyan’s spokesperson Mane Gevorgyan walked back the Prime Minister’s earlier claims.
‘The Prime Minister of Armenia came to the conclusion that he was not properly informed about this situation’, Gevorgyan said. ‘Moreover, the Prime Minister's statement has nothing to do with the content and quality of the Armenian-Russian allied relations in the field of military - military-industrial cooperation’.
She added that ‘there is no doubt that Russian weapons are among the best in the world’.
The Kremlin quickly reacted to the statement, with Presidential spokesperson Dimitry Peskov telling journalists that ‘the truth has been restored’.