By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The mysterious case of an Armenian opposition parliamentarian detained in the United States on January 15 is being handled by the anti-terrorism Department of Homeland Security (DHS), it emerged on Monday.
The information suggests that the case against Tatul Manaserian of the Artarutyun (Justice) alliance may be based on something more serious than a past custody battle with his U.S.-based former wife which many believed has to do with his arrest. There has still not been any official explanation of its motives.
The U.S. embassy in Yerevan on Monday again declined to specify what Manaserian is suspected of, and referred all inquiries to DHS. It also told RFE/RL that although Manaserian arrived at the Dulles airport in Washington with an Armenian diplomatic passport, he did not have immunity from detention.
“While Mr. Manaserian entered the United States on a diplomatic passport, he is not entitled to diplomatic immunity,” the U.S. mission said in a statement. “Immunity is not conferred by a diplomatic passport or an official visa.”
Armenian officials agreed with the explanation. Levon Mkrtchian, a former deputy foreign minister, argued that Manaserian is not a diplomat working at an Armenian mission in the U.S. and accredited with the State Department.
DHS was set up by President George W. Bush following the September 11 terrorist attacks to cope with new security threats facing America. Terror prevention is the main stated focus of its operations. Also, one of the agency’s division’s took over responsibility for immigration-related issues such as naturalization and work authorization from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in March 2003.
Manaserian lived and worked in the U.S. from 1992 through 1997, reportedly teaching economics at a college in California. He returned home with his teenage son who was said to have been flown to Armenia without the consent of Manaserian’s former wife. She took the boy back to Los Angeles a few months later.
Manaserian’s relatives have linked his arrest to that dispute. Some of them also suggested that the parliament deputy got in trouble because of having a U.S. tourist visa stamped on his diplomatic passport which is supposed to be used for official trips abroad.
Meanwhile, Artarutyun leaders said they are putting together “necessary documents” that should prompt the U.S. authorities to release their lawmaker. “I think that what happened is a misunderstanding,” said Victor Dallakian, a fellow member of Artarutyun’s faction in the National Assembly
But Mkrtchian, who now leads the parliamentary faction of the governing Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), cautioned that things might be more serious than was initially thought. “They probably had some grounds for arresting a deputy of the National Assembly,” he told RFE/RL. “If that was a result of a misunderstanding, the issue will be solved very quickly.”