By Ruzanna Stepanian
Samvel Babayan, Nagorno-Karabakh’s former military leader set free on Friday, is now in Yerevan and needs to undergo medical treatment after spending more than four years in a maximum security prison, his relatives and friends told RFE/RL on Monday. One of them said that he might travel abroad for that purpose soon.
Babayan, once the most powerful man in the unrecognized republic, arrived in the Armenian capital immediately after being pardoned by Karabakh President Arkady Ghukasian whom he had allegedly plotted to assassinate. Officials in Stepanakert said the amnesty is a “partial” one, meaning that he will be on a one-year probation.
Babayan’s wife Irina said that the former commander of the Karabakh Defense Army will not speak to journalists for the time being. She said he has instead been receiving relatives, friends and political allies at their Yerevan apartment. Among those who met him was Hrant Khachatrian, a senior member of the opposition Artarutyun (Justice) alliance.
“Samvel Babayan hasn’t changed in terms of his appearance, mental horizon and ability to understand things,” Khachatrian said. “You would never think that you are talking to someone who has been in jail for about five years because he is informed about almost everything.”
“That said, you could notice some traces of prison life on his face. He is definitely in need of medical treatment,” he added.
Babayan was arrested in March 2000 just hours after an attempt on the life of Ghukasian and sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment a year later for allegedly masterminding the plot. He denied any involvement. His supporters insist that the case against the former army chief was politically motivated.
There has been no official explanation for Babayan’s unexpected release. Ghukasian’s office said only that he was in a group of more than 30 convicts pardoned by the Karabakh leader. It is not clear whether Babayan applied for an amnesty.
Babayan’s release was welcomed by Vahan Hovannisian, a leader of the governing Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) whose Karabakh branch is not always supportive of Ghukasian’s policies. “I am happy that Samvel Babayan is free,” Hovannisian told RFE/RL. But he refused to speculate about possible motives for the pardon.
“There was apparently one reason for that,” said Artashes Geghamian, another opposition leader and longtime Babayan supporter. “It was clear to all of us from the outset that Samvel Babayan has nothing to do with that assassination attempt. Some people apparently turned remorseful and decided to rectify the mistake committed by themselves four and a half years ago.”
Khachatrian, for his part, suggested that “for many people, if not for everyone, Samvel Babayan is now more useful being at large than in prison.”
(Photolur photo: Samvel Babayan.)