February 19, 2020 / 2:32 PM / a month ago

Armenian PM dismisses two senior defense officials

FILE PHOTO: Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (not pictured) hold a joint news conference at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, February 13, 2020. REUTERS/Annegret Hilse

YEREVAN (Reuters) - Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan sacked two high-ranking military officers at the defense ministry following criticism over the high number of deaths in the armed forces.

The decree on dismissal of the military police chief Artur Baghdasaryan and the head of the army’s personnel department Aleksan Aleksanyan, both major generals, was published on Wednesday.

Pashinyan, who came to power in a peaceful revolution two years ago after protests against corruption and cronyism, on Monday held consultations with heads of law enforcement agencies discussing situation in the army.

Official statistics say 13 servicemen have died since the beginning of the year due to different reasons, including health problems or suicide, although not in shooting incidents around neighboring Azerbaijan’s breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The ex-Soviet states of Azerbaijan and Armenia fought a war over the breakaway territory in the early 1990s in which thousands were killed on both sides. The ceasefire was brokered in 1994, but sporadic shooting still breaks out.

Zhoghovurd newspaper and other local media reported that the dismissals might be related to speculation that Baghdasaryan, who was appointed by the former president in 2017, intended to use force against peaceful protesters during the 2018 revolution.

Pashinyan sacked National Security Service chief Artur Vanetsyan and Chief of Police Vallery Osipyan.

Vanetsyan, who became the National Security Service head after the 2018 revolution, sent Pashinyan a letter, also published in local media, in which he criticized the prime minister’s working methods.

Reporting by Nvard Hovhannisyan; writing by Margarita Antidze; editing by Angus MacSwan

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