Hello, and welcome to the Armenian News Network, Groong, Week in Review. This week we’re going to talk about the following major topics:
To talk about these issues, we have with us:
David Davidian, who is a Lecturer at the American University of Armenia. He has over a decade of experience in technical intelligence analysis at major high technology firms. David was the first person to use the internet for Armenian causes.
George Tabakian who is the Co-founder of Repat Armenia Foundation and Sahman NGO and Executive director of Arar Foundation which works mainly on projects with the Ministry of Defense of Armenia.
On Tuesday (Feb 23), Pashinyan gave an interview to 1in.am, a large media outlet generally espousing anti-Russian viewpoints that is controlled by national assembly deputy Arman Babajanyan. The interview itself appears to have been an opportunity for Pashinyan to respond to Serzh Sargsyan’s lengthy interview of last week (which we discussed on this podcast).
The most bombshell part of the interview was Pashinyan’s criticism of the Iskander missile. In response to the question about Armenia’s use or non-use of Iskanders, Pashinyan asked “why the Iskander missiles that were launched did not explode or only exploded by 10 percent”?
Previously, several prominent officials, including General Movses Hakobyan and Serzh Sargsyan claimed that Armenia only used the Iskander on one occasion and that was on the last days of the war to target areas near Shushi as the town was in the process of being taken by Azerbaijanis.
This allegation didn’t sit well with Russia for whom the Iskander is a weapon of national pride and what followed was a deluge of criticism and responses from Russian sources.
● Russian government media in general criticized this as an attempt by Pashinyan to hurt Russia’s international standing and Armenian-Russian relations.
● An engineer who designed the Iskander system directly made a statement ridiculing Pashinyan’s claims about the effectiveness of the weapon.
How do we decipher the truth in this story in general?
What’s the state of Armenia-Russia relations? Given that Pashinyan’s was a pre-recorded interview on a friendly news media (which many sources suggested involved heavy editing) and there was no official retraction or correction, can we assume that Pashinyan had no qualms with letting a statement like this go through and actually intended to publicize this message?
This week, news was dominated by Pashinyan’s allegations of an attempted coup against him by the military, specifically the Chief of Staff and top Armenian generals. Before addressing this issue, it’s important to understand the backstory and how exactly this development unfolded, so let me summarize the sequence of events as we know them:
● On Wednesday, Pashinyan signed an order recommending dismissal General Tiran Khachatryan (First Deputy Chief of Staff), reportedly due to the fact that he laughed at his Iskander claim in an interview with Yerevan.Today. This order was signed by President Armen Sarkissian promptly.
● Apparently in response to this firing, the Chief of Staff of Armenian Armed Forces Onik Gasparyan publicly demanded Pashinyan’s resignation. The statement said: “The Armenian Armed Forces have long patiently tolerated the incumbent authorities’ ‘attacks’ aimed at discrediting the Armed Forces, but everything has its limits…” This statement was also signed by most of the top brass, including the commanders of all five army corps.
● Pashinyan responded to the statement by signing an order to dismiss Gasparyan, qualifying Gasparyan’s actions as an attempted military coup.
● The Homeland Salvation Movement hailed the military statement but we should clarify that the statement appears to be careful to not voice support of the opposition and instead claiming that Pashinyan’s actions endanger the military. Edmon Marukyan’s Bright Armenia parliamentary faction also jumped to the defense of the military claiming the statement doesn’t qualify as an attempted coup.
● Unlike Tiran Khachatryan’s dismissal, President Sarkissian refused to sack Gasparyan claiming issues with the constitutionality of the move. Pashinyan immediately responded by sending that he will re-submit the recommendation and the most likely outcome of this will be for the president to refer the issue to the constitutional court.
What are the procedural next steps in this game of ping-pong? And what is your take on what has transpired? Does this qualify as an attempted coup?
Was an attempted coup?
This event was covered widely in international media. The US government issued a carefully worded statement recommending that the military stay out of politics. But out of all the international responses, Turkey’s response was particularly interesting to me as it is not often that Turkish high leadership comments on Armenian internal affairs.
This time, in the duration of 24 hours we heard from Turkey’s foreign minister Cavusoglu, Erdogan’s spokesperson Kalin, and finally Erdogan himself characterized the event as an attempted military coup and urging Armenian military to stay out of politics.
How significant are Turkey’s statements and what is their objective here?
There seem to be a very small number of generals
who haven’t signed Gasparyan’s statement.
● Lieutenant General Andranik Makaryan - Deputy Chief of Staff;
● Major General Arakel Martirosyan - Head of military intelligence department at the General Staff;
● Major General Poghos Poghosyan - Head of armament department at the General Staff; and
● Lieutenant General Jalal Harutyunyan - Head of the Armed Forces Military Oversight Department (this last position is technically subordinate to the defense minister and not General Staff)
Who are these individuals? If Pashinyan succeeds to remove Gasparyan, do you think one of the above will be appointed?
With the military apparently firmly positioned against Pashinyan, there are speculations around the loyalties of the other two power ministries, namely the police and National Security Service.
How are the police and the NSS acting?
The Homeland Salvation Movement protest on Feb. 20 indicated that they’re still able to bring a significant amount of people to the streets. The language between the Vazgen Manukyan-led coalition and the regime is gradually heating up, with MP Andranik Kocharyan openly talking about the government’s monopoly to shoot.
This week, opposition protests continued and seemed to get a boost from the public fight between Pashinyan and the military. In Nikol Pashinyan’s protest, held after the calls for resignation from Gasparyan, Nikol Pashinyan promised an “end to velvet”.
George: Did you attend or observe the protests? Is the opposition capable of reaching their objectives?
It seems that this coming week the tensions will only increase. On March 1 the Homeland Salvation Movement had announced another protest at 4:30pm. And on Saturday, Nikol Pashinyan also announced a protest and march at around the same time, promising this March 1st to be second in significance only to March 1, 2008. We already saw some scuffles last week when Nikol’s crowd approached the Freedom Square where the opposition was gathered. Pashinyan’s ominous linkage of his Monday protest with 2008 evokes a lot of memories of blood spilled in the streets of Yerevan.
It seems that with the amount of advance notice and intentions to amplify their activities, both the government and opposition may get significant turnout. And with Pashinyan’s intention to hold a march and a rally.
There seems to be a significant potential for friction or even violence here. Can events develop negatively?
Earlier this last week a Fly Armenia airways Boeing 737 flight that took off from Estonia destined for Ukraine somehow landed in Iran, after a maintenance stop in the UAE. For a long time there was no word from the Armenian ministry on aviation, but this was finally confirmed by a former advisor of the Prime Minister on aviation. The pilots were not Armenian nationals, and the flight path was not officially authorized.
There are concerns that this airplane may have been hijacked and transferred or sold to Iran, which may trigger U.S sanctions against Armenia.
How can the government be so out of control on such a considerable issue? What more is known?
That concludes our program for This Week in Review episode. We hope it has helped your understanding of some of the issues from the previous week. We look forward to your feedback, and your suggestions for issues to cover in greater depth. Contact us on our website, at groong.org, or on our Facebook Page “ANN - Groong”, or in our Facebook Group “Groong - Armenian News Network”.
Special thanks to Laura Osborn for providing the music for our podcast. On behalf of everyone in this episode, we wish you a good week. Don’t forget to subscribe to our channels, Like our pages and follow us on social media. Thanks for listening and we’ll talk to you next week.
David Davidian, George Tabakian, Iskander, 1in.am, Armenia-Russia Relations, Arman Babajanyan, Serzh Sargsyan, Movses Hakobyan, Shushi, Attempted Coup, Tiran Khachatryan, Deputy Chief of Staff, Onik Gasparyan, general, Yerevan.Today, Armen Sarkissian, Armed Forces, Homeland Salvation Movement, Edmon Marukyan, Bright Armenia, Jalal Harutyunyan, Andranik Makaryan, Arakel Martirosyan, Poghos Poghosyan, National Security Service, NSS, Police, Vazgen Manukyan, Andranik Kocharyan, March 1, 2008, Boeing 737, Estonia, United Arab Emirates, UAE, Iran, Sanctions, US Embassy, Airplane, Fly Armenia Airways